This past Sunday, the New England Patriots succumbed to the intense pressure that inevitably accompanies a team when it tries to become the first ever to go an unprecedented 19-0 in the National Football League. Surely, just getting to the Super Bowl is challenging enough; but to be memorialized the way the Patriots have been, being labeled the greatest team ever and coping with the expectation of surefire victory…it’s not something I can fathom, and not something I would try to. I mean, I’m no sports pro. To be honest, I don’t even really like football.
And yet, something about Sunday’s game proved surprisingly captivating–and no, I’m not talking about the startlingly offensive SalesGenie ad with the cartoon pandas. Perhaps it was the notion of “making history,” the idea that, in some small way, we might be privy to a moment in time that will be recorded and remembered for years to come. No, we’re not playing the football or setting the potential records, but in our own small way us common folk, football fan and non-football fan alike, might look back at future references to “that historic game” and wax nostalgic about that snowy day in early February when we watched the Patriots clobber the New York Giants–names that might not even mean anything ten or twenty years down the line–while munching on buffalo wings and nachos and drinking beer.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen–or at least the part about the Patriots winning, anyway. In case you’ve been living under a rock this past week, the underdogs staged a what will be later described as “epic” (but in reality was somewhat underwhelming because it seemed, for some reason, inevitable) drive to the end zone, taking a three-point lead with a mere thirty seconds left on the clock. The Patriots could’ve come back–maybe–but, alas, fate was not on their side. Super Bowl XLII will be remembered as the one that could’ve almost been historic, kind of, if it’s remembered twenty years from now at all.
But if you really think about it, perhaps the Patriots’ loss is our gain. Yeah, it’d be neat to witness an “historic” event, but then every other time a team went 18-0 leading up to the Super Bowl, the best said team could do would be to match an already existing record. And let’s face it: that’s not exciting. That doesn’t garner record-breaking audiences, which preliminary Nielsen reports claim Sunday’s game did with an astounding 97.5 million viewers, making it the second most-watched American broadcast ever. Now, should another team go 18-0 a few seasons from now, we’ll all be equally excited to tune in and watch what may once again become an “historic moment.” The Patriots’ loss turns into the audience’s (and the TV networks’) gain.
Furthermore, once a record’s set, does anyone really give a damn? The excitement is in the build-up; the release, while satisfying, negates the possibility of ever achieving the same excitement again. Records are kind of like illegal substances; the more you take, the more it takes to replicate the thrill, to increasingly dwindling results. Were the viewers who watched the ’72 Dolphins make their perfect run as excited this time around to see another team try and do the same (albeit, with a few more necessary victories) thirty-six years later?
Perhaps they were. After all, thirty-six years is a long time–enough to wipe out any tolerance that might have built up in the process. And alas, it may be another thirty-six years before faced with this type of event once again. Maybe then the record will be 24-0, or 30-0; or maybe we’ll be watching China vs. Canada playing for the International Football League championship; or maybe we’ll all be watching European-style football instead (I know, I know, not bloody likely.)
Anyway, the bottom line is, the Patriots lost, and history will have to be saved for another day, another year, another team, perhaps, in another season. But look on the bright side–we’ve still got beer, buffalo wings, nachos, and aging rock stars performing underwhelming halftime shows on giant guitar-shaped stages with what looks like Guitar Hero play-along scrolling tabs illuminated in the background while well-constructed girls jump around and shake their chests for the camera in a rush of happy inebriation. And thankfully, these are the kinds of joys that remain fresh, no matter how often the occasion.