Monday, February 6, 2012

Always the Groomsman - Super Bowl XLVI Post-Mortem

One of my best friends in the world lives in LA and works in the movie biz. Jared and I have known each other just shy of 20 years now, and over that time, I have seen enough to know that he is the single luckiest guy I've ever met. Case in point: we went to a Philadelphia Phantoms minor-league hockey game when we were in high school. Walking around the concourse, Jared saw that they were firing t-shirts into the crowd. He stopped, turned to us and said, "I'm gonna go get a shirt." Never mind that maybe a dozen or so of these things get fired into a crowd of at least 12,000 people. Never mind that he didn't really know where the shirt-catapult guy was basing his operation. Jared walked in from the concourse, caught a t-shirt without changing direction, turned back around and came back to us, victory in hand.

You can't make this stuff up. And you couldn't script it any better.

Jared is a lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball, and the New York Giants in football.

See where I'm going with this?

Since Jared got married this past July, he has watched both of his favorite teams go on miracle runs to the championships of their respective sports.

The Cardinals staged an other-wordly comeback in the wild-card standings to make the playoffs, knocked out two teams far superior to them in the regular season, and, one out away from being sent packing in Game 6 of the World Series, came back twice in the 9th and 10th innings to tie, before David Freese forever became a household name in the state of Missouri, and the annals of baseball history.

The Giants went 9-7, making the playoffs because the NFC East was a four-team punchline. Before the regular-season finale, my man Tim Cowlishaw tweeted, "The NFC East: Where a team that got swept by the Redskins will play a team that got swept by the Eagles for the division title." Beating the Falcons at home? So what? But then they rolled over Green Bay at Lambeau, with a Hail Mary at the end of a half. Then they stole a game they should have lost off of the knees and hands of Kyle Williams. And then Tom Brady's first play from scrimmage in Super Bowl XLVI was a safety, a guy who was a substitute teacher when the season began intercepts a pass intended for a Pro Bowl tight end, one of the game's most reliable and consistent receivers suddenly let "clutch" slip through his fingers, and the &%$!#@ Giants are Super Bowl champions. Again.

They're the first 9-7 team ever to win a Super Bowl since the league expanded the schedule to 16 games. Statistically, in yards allowed per game, they're the worst defense ever to win a Super Bowl (which would have been true no matter who won, cause the Patriots were even worse.) They're the first team ever to win it all despite being outscored by their opponents during the regular season (400-394).

But none of that matters. Unless you're in the movie business and are looking for the amazing storyline. Cause they just won the Super Bowl. Period.

So all that's been rattling around in my head since Brady's Hail Mary fell short is: Why? Forget my question, as a Philadelphian living in New York, of why do these New York fans deserve this? Of the ones who cared and didn't just come out of the woodwork in the last three weeks with their brand-new hats and jerseys, most of them were calling for Coughlin's job two months ago, already waving the white flag on the season. No. The question is one of absolutely unbridled self-pity:

Why does this never happen to us? Always the groomsman. Never the groom.

Remember the 2008 Eagles? They went 9-6-1, cause the Bengals were so good that year, we couldn't beat OR lose to them. That was Week 11. But on the last day of the season, both the Bears and Bucs lost, so that the winner of our game with the Cowboys would make the playoffs. And we won 44-6. Road playoff wins over the Vikings and Giants set up the unlikely NFC Championship game with the Cardinals. Down 24-6 at halftime, the Eagles roared back to take a 25-24 lead on that 62-yard pass play to DeSean Jackson.

And if it had ended like that, leading to a Super Bowl appearance against the Steelers, the script would have written itself.

But we know how it ended. With another Philadelphia thud, the kind that hurts the most because you'd nearly given up, then had your hopes fully restored to foolish levels, so that coming back to reality was a more precipitous drop.

Remember the 2010 Flyers? Made the playoffs on the last day of the season with an unlikely shootout win over Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. As a seven-seed, kicked the crap out of the Devils in 5, which set the stage for the greatest comeback in sports history, from 3-0 in the series, and 3-0 in Game 7 to Boston. Exploited home-ice advantage against the also-overachieving Canadiens to make the Stanley Cup Finals. Tied up Game 6 late to force overtime.

Again, the script writes itself. Patrick Kane's weak short-side goal that only he and Michael Leighton knew went in ended everything, and we were left in our all-too-familiar state of crushed depression.

Even with the '08 World Series, Philadelphia is still a championship-starved city. So much so that we couldn't care less if the story is poetic or epic or dramatic. Nary a Phillie fan's soul gave a hoot that the Series was won in a game that took three days to complete.

So while the story behind a championship doesn't matter, why does it seem the greatest stories in sports history are always scripted--and completed--everywhere else? 

All I've got today is that the last time the Giants won the Super Bowl, the Phillies went on to win the World Series.

And hey, there's always next year, right? Right???