I landed at Laguardia Airport after a harried weekend trip to Austin for a friend’s wedding the night before. I was hungover. I was miserable. I nearly missed my connecting flight in Houston, where a bronze statue of George H.W. Bush mocked me as I sprinted past him, sweating, while he is forever frozen in the apex of a casual jacket throw over his shoulder. It was February 5th, 2017 – Super Bowl Sunday. I just wanted to get home – from Laguardia to Williamsburg – and sleep, so I could be up in time for work the next morning. In short, I was not doing well. I usually take the opportunity that the Super Bowl provides to have friends over, eat a ton of Tex-Mex, and, almost every other year since I’ve been watching professional football, root for my team, the New England Patriots. I’ve watched them win thrilling games, and I’ve watched them lose heart-breakers. And this year, I wanted them to lose.
Last year, Tom Brady put a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker before reporters were let into the room. When asked about it, he responded that he and the then-candidate were friends, who he would love to see as president. It was a dumb, nothing moment. And then, the rest of the year happened. Brady was suspended for the first four games of the regular season, and Trump used an endorsement from Brady and a letter of encouragement from Belichick as cheer-fodder at a rally in New Hampshire. Brady went on a legendary tear, having one of his most efficient seasons, and contending for the MVP deep into the season, despite missing 25% of the games. Then, Trump won, and Brady again refused to give an elaborate answer when pressed on his thoughts on the new President given their history, walking out of one press conference and stonewalling another.
I had always looked beyond the criticism of Brady and Belichick over the past decade and a half as jealousy, or fans taking aim at low hanging fruit re: Brady’s Ken Doll act, or Belichick’s impression of Emperor Palpatine. Had chalked up Spygate (Patriots caught filming the other team’s defensive practice) as nonsense, as other teams had also been implicated as doing similar things. Had clung to the scientific theories which proved the possibility of balls being at an allowable PSI during Deflategate, rather than following Occam’s Razor. And then, I got it. They were the bad guys. It felt like I was rooting for The Yankees, but, somehow worse. If this team won, Trump would have claimed the victory as a reward for the team’s leader and head coach having supported his candidacy. And that could not stand.
This year, the Pats were playing the offensively overpowered Atlanta Falcons, led by their always-a-bridesmaid quarterback, Matt Ryan. The night before, while I drank and danced and toasted with friends in Texas, Ryan was winning his first MVP award, seeming to set the table for a historic weekend for the veteran Falcon. Win one more game, and he’s got the Lombardi too, and all against the league’s simultaneous poster boy and villain, Tom Brady, overpowering the mastermind, Bill Belichick, in an upset for the ages.
I swore I wasn’t going to watch the game at all. Then I saw that you could stream the game for free, and I said I’d check it out. After all, I’d be in the air, and looking for a distraction. Instead, we began cruising at 36,000 feet, and I headed over to the site that said I could watch the live broadcast at no cost, and was hit with an airline-specific landing page, telling me I could purchase Wi-Fi for the low-low price of ten bucks. My frustration with the bait-and-switch outweighed my principles and I scrolled through the TV channels to find the game. Boom. I could purchase access to the TV channels for the low-low price of six bucks. I had won, had beaten the system. Right? I swiped my card, and George H.W. Bush mocked me all over again, being wheeled out to officiate the coin-flip, after having been hospitalized amid grave rumors a mere two weeks before. It was like he knew about the statue in the airport. I should have known, the old “president as harbinger of doom” trick.
Then, the Patriots seemed happy to fulfill my wish of watching them fail. They were atrocious, as a team, right from the kickoff. When I got off the plane, it was 14-0, and from the time my screen cut out to when I walked outside of the terminal, Brady had thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown. 21-3 at halftime, and chyron after chyron told me and the hundreds of millions more watching that no team had ever overcome a ten-point decifit in the championship, let alone more than twice that.
The cab ride felt like it would never end. And, I knew that I had to move my car before I could even go upstairs to collapse and sleep, because it was parked on the wrong side of the street. I moved it, and climbed up to my apartment. I didn’t mind, because a cosmic wrong was being righted as I rolled from block to block. I threw on the game, and saw the scoreboard flip to 28-3, and nodded. There were only 24 minutes of game time left. They were down by 25 points. This was happening. This was good. But my calm hatred blinded me to a simple, unavoidable truth. One I had found comfort in for more than half of my life. One I had marveled at. One I had been witness to, in happier times:
Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, and he’s been paired with, maybe, the game’s greatest ever coach.
The Falcons didn’t score again. The Patriots scored five times, four of them touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns needed two-point conversions after the touchdowns or all was for naught. They got both. Of course. And Brady, in the fourth quarter alone, had 246 yards passing, on his way to a Super Bowl record 466 from the air. It was his 25th playoff win, the most all-time. He won his fifth Super Bowl (so did Belichick) and his fourth Super Bowl MVP, both records. The debate is now over as to who is the best to ever play the position.
I was riveted, against everything I stood for, but I noticed I didn’t feel the weird pride that comes with watching “your” team win. I didn’t feel the electricity of witnessing the team you love make history. I just watched in disbelief as the results poured in.
Most articles about this game would have spent a lot more time on the Pats comeback, but, why? We all knew, deep down, that it was coming. Even with the insurmountable lead, and all the momentum problems, and the Falcons blowing them off the field. It had to come. It was the Patriots, and it was theSuper Bowl for the 2016 season, and it was going to remind us of that, by giving us the best championship game we could ever ask for, and having the bad guys win.
Here’s to next year.