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So this thing is finally, mercifully, thankfully over. That much we know, given that teeming, hundred-armed mass of humanity exalting in St. Louis, celebrating the end (based on your province of origin) of either a fanciful curse or a pathetic losing streak. And I'm happy for many long-sufferers: my favorite Bostonian, Chris Adey, who'll marry the lovely Leah in Ogunquit, Maine., this weekend; Rajinder Kumar Narang of Westport, Conn., who toasted his beloved Sawx with his equally beloved martini; and above all Bill Buckner, who might finally get his life, and legacy, back. But most of all, I'm happy for me, and all the rest of you who've had enough of this quixotic quest.
In the bottom of the seventh Wednesday night, as Derek Lowe cut down Cardinals like the ace he was supposed to be, FOX flashed those inevitable, obvious "guess-how-long-it's-been" graphics, and I almost put my foot through the screen. When the Sox last won the Series -- and if you don't know the year that happened, stop reading, for you'll never feel my pain -- Vitamin C and penicillin hadn't been discovered yet. The nation's population was a mere 106 million. The life expectancy was 54 years. Women could not vote (though if they had been able to, I've always wondered: How different a country would this be today? Another Blog for another day, perhaps....). The NBA and NFL didn't yet exist.
That last change, as fate would have it, saved me from having to buy a new TV set. For it reminded me that there are some people who I'm happier for than even myself: namely, all the players and coaches and front-office folk of the New England Patriots, who flat-out own a league that does much more than just exist now. Not that you'd know it. Oh sure, they've won two of the last three Super Bowls, have an ungodly win streak, and have a team so resilient and devoid of ego that you can't help but admire them. (Maybe that's why they're so unappreciated. If they're not loudly congratulating themselves, how impressive can they really be?)
Sure, all the Patriots have done is give this region the success it's so long craved from the heretofore losers now cavorting on the Busch Stadium turf. All they've done lately is win 21 consecutive games, be perfect for over a calendar year, to the joy of a tiny fraction of besotted New Englanders still misty-eyed at the prospect of a successful end to a baseball season. Really, all the Patriots have done is become the world champions that the Sawx, their snakebitten municipal brethren, finally are.
As FOX weaves shots of champagne showers and Beacon Street rowdies, I remember a line from the HBO documentary, Curse of the Bambino, an interesting oral history of how ponderous the yolk of Sawx fandom weighs on one's shoulders. (Full disclosure: It is regrettably narrated by Ben Affleck, but it's watchable nevertheless.) In the hourlong film, a fellow, when asked about the Patriots' Super Bowl victory parade in 2002, acknowledges the estimated 500,000-strong throng had done New England proud by its turnout. "Yeah," he agreed, "but if the Sawx win it, that parade'll make this one look like a tea party." He was right, and for good reason: it has been a long, long time, and the euphoria rocking the Northeast has been paid for by generations of fans no longer with us. Provincial support of the Sawx has always defined its inhabitants in stark, painful terms, and now that all these people have their win, I'm all for giving them a shot at the Parade to End All Parades.
And when it's over, hopefully, those delirious, intoxicated masses will return to their homes all over New England and beyond, and realize how lucky they are to have another team capable of satisfying that new craving in their bellies: that need for seasons that end with dogpiles in prime time, beneath the pop of a thousand flashes. Perhaps it'll even occur to them how much they've already missed, even if they watched and cheered and smiled these last three years. Because after two championship moments, so many thought to themselves (even if they'd never admit it), "Wow, another title. If only it were the Sawx...."
Yep, all you have left now are your Patriots, the most underappreciated unbeaten in NFL history. Now that this transcendent, historic, era has finally come to an end, I hope it's clear that those dudes in Foxborough are more than enough.
NFL'S TOP FIVE (or SIX) TEAMS, BECAUSE I SAID SO
1. New England (6-0): With everyone wondering if the streak ends this week in Pittsburgh, Pats coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel have to be licking their chops at the prospect of scheming a rookie quarterback, even if that QB is Ben Roethlisberger, the best newbie of the bunch (something I've been saying since March). And another thing: how has no one yet hired Crennel or offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to be the head coaches they deserve to be?
2. Philadelphia (6-0): Losing Brian Westbrook to a cracked rib will hurt, but remember: Philly's one of the few offenses in the league that uses the pass to set up the run, which means that 34-year-old Dorsey Levens should be fine. At least he was in OT last week in Cleveland (four carries, 32 yards). And a Jamal Lewis/Jonathan Ogden/Todd Heap-less Ravens team should scare no one.
3. Minnesota (5-1): Daunte Culpepper is unreal, but give the rest of the deserving folks credit. Rookie running back Mewelde Moore gives the Vikes a third bona fide NFL starter, Marcus Robinson and Nate Burleson are plenty good enough to lessen the blow of Randy Moss' injury, the O-line's been great, and...well, Culpepper is damn good.
4. Jacksonville (4-2): Every time -- and I do mean every time -- you think that this is the week the Jags don't come back in a game's final minute, Byron Leftwich makes like Montana again and we're left to try to put it together. But the performance of the Jags' studly D against the Colts' jackrabbits on Indy's turf was as impressive as any this year. Bottom line: How do you pick against these dudes? (Other than in San Diego, that is....)
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5. Indianapolis (4-2): Odd that the Colts would lose at home, and to a team that scores so few points. Odder still was the on-field pushing match between Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. Odder still were Manning's and Wayne's denials of said disagreement, contradicted by TV replays. Odder still is the fact that According to Jim is still in production, but that's something else entirely....
6. New York Jets (5-1): Like I said last week, 5-1 ain't so bad. But a draw play on third-and-5 and less than three minutes left? Hmm ... Dolphins on Monday night is just the balm they'll need.
DROPPED OUT: New York Giants (4-2): Oh well. Tiki Barber is a stud, but asking him to be the entirety of your offense is suicide. Which is to say, 10 checkdowns to Tiki does not a passing game make.
THREE SPORTING THOUGHTS (NFL Edition)
1. Is it me, or does an early bye week end up hurting more teams than it helps? I'd argue that pro football -- the most regimented and militaristic of sports -- requires so much repetition, so much sameness, for players to successfully run today's high-powered offenses and complicated defenses, that a week off seems almost guaranteed to destroy a team's collective rhythm. Having a break in, say, Week 10 -- when rest and recuperation is at a premium -- has its good points, but right now, it's a problem disguised as a in-season vacation.
2. I spoke to St. Louis Rams' offensive tackle Kyle Turley Wednesday afternoon, who sounded good, even if he's resigned to a long road back from his chronic back injury, which means he's lost for the year. Under doctors' orders, he's been unable to lift heavy weights since training camp, and has lost "about 50 pounds," he said. "But I'm getting my ass kicked working out with a trainer, who's got me lifting nothing more than 10-pound weights. I'm two days away from a six-pack." Kyle, the nation's NFL media, behind our notebooks and microphones and tape recorders, turn our cliché-addled eyes to you. Get healthy soon....
3. I, for one, cannot wait for Patriots-Steelers....
THREE SPORTING THOUGHTS (non-sports edition)
1. I had the pleasure of meeting legal analyst Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom at a dinner party a couple nights back, and we got to chatting about her unavoidable fixation on the Scott Peterson murder case. So now, I put it to all of you who've followed the case with any bit of regularity: Guilty or innocent? And more to the point, will he be found guilty or not guilty?
2. Read Arthur Phillips' The Egyptologist. And then read his first book, Prague. Funny, fascinating, exhilarating reading. He's so good it almost depresses me.
3. Affleck has the worst management staff of any famous person ever. In light of Surviving Christmas -- the first back-to-school yuletide film that I can remember -- how many more nails will he willingly drive into his own career coffin? At this rate, he'll be endorsing Tony Little Ab-sizers within the year. And only if Turley is unavailable....
UCSB MEN'S SOCCER UPDATE (BECAUSE I FEEL LIKE IT)
The second-ranked Gauchos took -- well, there's no easy way to say this -- a HIDEOUS loss last week, falling 1-0 to UC Irvine on the home pitch. It was just their second loss of the season, but one they could hardly afford in what's suddenly become a tight race with longtime foil Cal State Northridge for the Big West Conference title. (CSUN also lost last week, however; bully for the 'Chos.) In the boys' defense, they were playing without stud 'keeper Danny Kennedy, though his replacement, sophomore Kyle Reynish, filled in admirably. "We will recover from this," a super-dejected Kennedy intoned into my voice mail after the loss. "Keep the faith." They rebounded with a 2-0 win over Cal Poly a couple nights later, so we remain on board. Danny, my man, consider the faith kept. Record: 12-2-1 overall, 5-2-0 in conference.
It's 2:30 a.m., and I'm tired, and in a few hours I'll rise and fly to San Diego, where I'll indulge my need for home-state eats (roadside In-n-Out: double-double, animal style, no tomatoes; Manhattan Beach's Local Yolk: the finest omelettes in the land; and Mexican -- any Mexican) and try to figure out how on earth those Chargers are about to open the year 5-3. (Hint: It has something to do with Drew Brees, and football's best unknown, Antonio Gates.) So that's all for this week. Until next Thursday....