Four Quarters of Magical Thinking for the Patriots


As an estrogen-based life form, I was thrilled by the possibility of another of my kind, the incomparable Zenyatta, leaving the boys in the dust in last Saturday’s Breeder’s Cup Classic and emerging as the most über-horse ever. She has it all: beauty, brains, great heart and killer moves on and off the track. How could she lose? Well, as everyone now knows, she did.

In Sunday’s game against the Browns, even after Gronkowski’s knuckleheaded fumble on the 3 yard line at the end of the first half, when the score was a controllable 17-7 and a touchdown would have shifted the odds and the momentum, even into the third and amazingly the fourth quarters, I still believed that the Pats would somehow pull this one out of the fire.

How could they lose? How could they lose to Cleveland?? They have it all: the brains of Bill, plenty of talent, guts and experience, and arguably the handsomest quarterback of all time. They also possess, as a team, an uncanny knack of somehow usually managing to do what needs to be done, whether it’s capitalizing on others’ mistakes or coming up with ingenious strategies to confound the opposition. Most of all, like Zenyatta, they look like they’re having fun out there – somehow, amid the business and the brutality, they haven’t forgotten that it’s a game they’re playing.

The big Brown meltdown was essentially a failure on all fronts: nobody looked pretty, nobody rose from the mud smelling like a rose. Whatever the Patriots’ mojo is – their particular alchemy – on Sunday their golden touch remained solid lead.
I’ve always been fascinated by what it means to be a fan.

We identify (especially when they win) — they become us except that they do all the work, take all the hits, enjoy all the fame and make all the money. Without any causal agency, we feel as if what happens on the field is somehow personal. And sometimes, like I felt on Sunday, as the Brown’s score inexorably ticked up, we’re convinced that the right attitude or action, if we can just figure it out, can shift the outcome.

Oh well. Come Monday morning, all the denial in the world can’t change the headlines. The truth must be faced – they lost inexplicably, improbably, but bigtime – and lessons must be learned. What those lessons are, I trust Bill knows, and knows how to distribute punishment and resolve in just the right doses to keep their focus firmly ahead. However, he’s not a magician and sometimes the hat turns out to be empty. We’ll find out Sunday night against the Steelers if the Pats’ pathetic performance against the Browns was a fluke or an omen. (And, of course, in the manner of all fairy tales, two in a row doesn’t have to mean no happy ending.)

Meanwhile, I can only hope that Zenyatta is blissfully unaware of disappointment. I hope that in her dreams the course was just a tad longer, that she flew by her closest challenger right before the finish and not a tad after. Maybe a part of her understands that this race didn’t turn out like all the others but in my mind, her career – in a mysterious way made more beautiful by its imperfection – was, and forever will be, magical.


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