Monday, January 17, 2011

The Thrill of Defeat

As a sports fan I don't know that there's anything that makes me feel as good as watching the New England Patriots lose. I think I might even prefer it to watching my team win, which is a really perverse thing to say.

There's a moral righteousness that comes from cheering against the Pats, a feeling as though the game of football itself is standing behind you every time Brady is sacked or the cameras pan to the sideline to show Belichick scowling with displeasure at a botched fake punt .

You know somewhere inside that anytime the Patriots are losing, the game of football is winning.

The most articulate description of this phenomenon was given on ESPN's Page 2 column by Patrick Hruby immediately after the Pats Super Bowl loss in 2008 :

In this glorious moment, when words seem so inadequate to express the joy all non-frontrunning sports fans feel, the first thing that comes to mind is this: We are all Giants. We are all New Yorkers, just as surely as JFK declared himself to be a Berliner in 1963. How can we not feel profound brotherhood with Eli Manning, with Tom Coughlin and all the others to whom we owe both the sight of little Billy Belichick sprinting off the field in an ungracious, you-took-my-Legos huff and our collective freedom from the Boston Globe's "19-0: The Historic Championship Season of New England's Unbeatable Patriots?"

February 3, 2008, marks the ushering in of a new age that seems so far from the promise of another historic day, Feb. 2, 2008 [the Patriots still undefeated, Tom Brady still upright], and a somewhat historic season, 2007-08, which we thought might conclude with a New England title and Belichick publishing "The Passive-Aggressive Manager's Handbook to Grumpy, Self-Serious Perfection in Football and Life." The first decade of the new century instead reminds us that games are worth playing, that odds primarily exist to enrich bookies, that America's preeminent advertising platform can still deliver a compelling sports experience and that Boston fans can now add 18-1* to Bill Buckner and Bucky F'n Dent.

In their ruthless professionalism and obsession with offensive metrics, in their ends-justify-any-means subterfuge and Only-Sing-When-You're-Winning single-mindedness, the Patriots embodied the most disturbing, dehumanizing aspect of modern athletics: Transforming play into work. In the long term, this attitude is untenable, because football is really nothing more than a complicated version of 5-year-olds chasing a soccer ball around a park, falling into each other and having a good time. It is the gap-toothed smile of Michael Strahan, crusty Coughlin enjoying a Gatorade bath. Joylessness, even under the pretext of competitiveness or dressed up in an extra-colorful Patriots hoodie, is never a force that can make sports worth watching or caring about. That is why today we are all Giants.
Everything Hruby said still applies  to the Patriots of 2010. Their serious, hyper-competitive attitude looked appropriately ridiculous as their season was ended by a bunch of fun loving New Yorkers who celebrated their victory by running around with their arms out like children imitating the flight of planes. Once again the youthful spirit of play was affirmed in a way it only can be when it comes from a New England defeat.

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