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But suddenly entire championship teams are engaged in vanilla warfare. Gladiators? If the '86 world champion Boston Celtics of Larry Bird and Bill Walton were Maximus, the '04 San Antonio Spurs are Tedious Maximus. And they're hardly the only team to put the ring back in bor-ring.
The New Jersey Devils rose to prominence with the neutral-zone trap, play in a geographical neutral zone in the Meadow-lands and occupy an emotional neutral zone in the hearts of hockey fans. If the Cowboys were America's Team, die Devils are Switzerland's Team.
But they scarcely have a monopoly on monotony. Not one of our champions polarizes people the way the Raiders or Lakers or Yankees or Fighting Irish do. If the Department of Homeland Security had to assign a color to our emotional state, it might well be teal, as worn by last season's identity-free Florida Marlins, whose pitchers Ugie Urbina and Tim Spooneybarger blurred in the mind's eye into one prototypical über-Marlin named Ugie Spooneybarger.
Teal, too, is the color of the NFC champion Carolina Panthers, whose Rod (He Hate Me) Smart even inspires indifference. At worst (after two weeks of unceasing publicity) He Grate Me. And if I'm not careful—given his record of fathering five children by five women—He Impregnate Me. But hate? Hardly.
The Patriots were perhaps our last, best hope for polarizing the nation, with their State of the Union invitations and their multiple Super Bowl visits. But die team's various public faces—quarterback Tom Brady, kicker Adam Vinatieri, coach Bill Belichick—are like three conjugations of the same infinitive: George Bland, George Blanda, George Blandest.
And so our slump continues. We are living in die opposite of die Golden Age of Sport. Call it our Beige Age. We need only one infuriating champion to break the spell: a Steel Curtain, a Big Red Machine, another bunch of Broad Street Bullies, to cite just one year—1975—full of riches. (Listening, Lakers?) But until then, it pains me to say, the worst is still to come.