Sports

Sheehan ’12: We shouldn’t be here

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, February 3, 2012

 

It was a snowy night in Foxborough, Mass. Jan. 19, 2002. It was an even snowier night along the coast of eastern Maine. The seventh-grade incarnation of myself sat on the floor of my aunt and uncle’s house and watched the fourth quarter of the New England Patriots AFC Divisional Game against the Oakland Raiders. An unimposing, awkward pre-teen, I wasn’t typically interested in watching most sports because I was so uncoordinated and unable to play them myself. The exception was the Patriots, a tortured team that had lost two Super Bowls and won none. I had been watching the team for four years. And it was only the second time they had made the playoffs. 

I was also incredibly upset.

Our rookie quarterback, Tom Brady, had just fumbled the ball when he was hit by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson on a corner blitz. Deep down, I knew what that meant. Oakland recovered the ball. The game was over. All that needed to happen was a confirmation from the referee that the play would stand as called. Since I was a 12-year-old kid who had probably only watched 40 football games up until this point, I was optimistically cheering for the ball back. I still remember my dad’s friend leaning in from the recliner he sat in and firmly telling me, “It’s over.” 

But lo and behold, the call was overturned on an obscure, rarely used — but correct — call known as a the “Tuck Rule.” The Patriots kept the ball and won the game because of it. 

A week later, the Patriots were in the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even as a snotty-nosed seventh-grader, I can remember thinking, “We shouldn’t be here.” But the Patriots won that game, too, and suddenly they were in the Super Bowl. It was then I thought, “No, but we really shouldn’t be here.” If you want to believe that the only reason the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams that day was because of alleged signal stealing, you go right ahead, but that isn’t what happened.

No, this was something different. It was a power that I saw at work six years later. A power that we were up against in Super Bowl XLII against the New York Football Giants.

That Super Bowl was a matchup of one of the three greatest football teams ever assembled against a team that was fortunate to make the playoffs. What happened next was a string of miracles that still haunts me to this day. When Eli Manning scampered out onto the field to lead the Giants’ final drive of the game, they were down 14-10. The Giants looked lost on offense. Suddenly, it was fourth and one. Stopping Brandon Jacobs ends the game. But…

Vince Wilfork slips and the hole he leaves gives Jacobs the first down. Next play, a terrified Eli Manning flees a collapsing pocket, running with the unprotected ball outside of his body. Adalius Thomas knocks the ball from his hands for a fumble, but…

The ball bounces underneath Eli and the Giants retain possession. Next play, a similarly scared Eli whips a ball off of his back foot into the Patriots secondary. Asante Samuel measures up the interception, but…

The ball bounces off of his hands and harmlessly to the ground. Next play…

The Tyree catch.

I’m incredibly bitter about this loss — in case you couldn’t tell — but it’s tough to argue that the Patriots were supposed to win that game with the overwhelming evidence in the string of miracle plays that happened. Just as the lowly Patriots of 2001-02 were destined to beat the Rams, the Giants of 2007-08 were destined to beat the Patriots. This sounds like I’m joking, but I’m not. At a certain point, an underdog football team reaches a belief that it is their destiny to win the championship, and that certainty manifests itself into an unbeatable aura that trumps all else. Look at the 2005 Steelers championship team, the Green Bay Packers 2011 championship team, or even this Giants 2012 playoff team.

In football, it’s almost always better to be the team who is not supposed to be there. The thing is, that team doesn’t exist in this Super Bowl. That’s what’s so interesting. This Super Bowl should have been some combination of the Steelers, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, Packers or even the San Francisco 49ers. But the Steelers and the Texans were robbed by their injuries, and the Saints, Packers and Niners were undone by miscues. Suddenly, the Super Bowl is between a team that needed an 11th-hour field goal block to keep their season alive and a team who didn’t beat an opponent with a winning record until last week.

The Patriots are — for some reason — three-point favorites despite being beaten in their own house by the Giants earlier this year. These same Patriots had the incredible good fortune of an easy schedule, in which they played two above .500 teams all year, had a first round bye, and had the easiest playoff win ever over the Denver Broncos. Everyone knows this, and the Giants are the popular pick to win the Superbowl.

But…

That makes the Patriots the favorites and the underdogs. It makes the Giants the underdogs and the favorites. Both teams are incredibly fortunate to be where they are today, and both truly seem to believe that this title is their destiny. Both teams seem to have this “power” that I mentioned before working for them and teams that have that power don’t lose.

But…

Something has to give, and I personally hope it’s one of those passes Eli throws off of his back foot. 

 

Sam Sheehan ’12 watched the Patriots lose his freshman year at Brown and would like some demons banished before graduating. Talk sports with him at sam_sheehan@brown.edu or follow him on Twitter @SamSheehan.

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