October 23, 2007


Colts-Patriots tilt shaping as battle of Good vs. Evil (Gregg Easterbrook, October 23, 2007, ESPN)

Patriots at Colts on Nov. 4 is shaping up to be one of the most attractive and exciting NFL regular-season games ever staged. The pairing is fabulous; the teams are the league's best; and there is a chance both will take the field undefeated. Plus, Patriots at Colts has a powerful, compelling narrative. Namely -- Good vs. Evil.

The fact that I don't even need to tell you which team represents Good and which stands for Evil says a lot about how low New England has sunk. You knew instantly which was which, didn't you?

Argument for the Indianapolis Colts as paladins who carry the banner of that which is beneficent: Sportsmanship, honesty, modesty, devotion to community, embrace of traditional small-town life, belief in higher power, even love of laughter. The Colts are the defending champions, so they obviously play well on the field. Yet after winning the Super Bowl, they have remained humble and appealing. Through prior years of postseason frustration, they never complained or pointed the finger outside their team. Their players are active in community affairs and don't carp about being assigned to a nonglamorous Farm Belt city with an antiquated stadium. Their coach, Tony Dungy, smiles in public and answers honestly whatever he is asked: He never yells at players or grimaces at bad plays and, when defeated, doesn't act as though it's the end of the world. Although religious, Dungy said on the night he won the Super Bowl that God doesn't care about football games, which shows perspective. The team's star, Peyton Manning, stands for love of family, constantly appearing in public with his brothers, father and mother. Manning is happily married and a major donor to a children's hospital. Manning spends a lot of time at children's camps and events, and he constantly makes fun of himself. Ladies and gentlemen, representing Good, the Indianapolis Colts.

Argument for the New England Patriots as scoundrels in the service of that which is baleful: Dishonesty, cheating, arrogance, hubris, endless complaining even in success. The Patriots have three Super Bowl rings, but that jewelry is tarnished by their cheating scandal. They run up the score to humiliate opponents -- more on that below -- thus mocking sportsmanship. Their coach snaps and snarls in public, seeming to feel contempt for the American public that has brought him wealth and celebrity. Victory seems to give Bill Belichick no joy, and defeat throws him into fury. Belichick and the rest of the top of the Patriots' organization continue to refuse to answer questions about what was in the cheating tapes -- and generally, you refuse to answer questions if you have something to hide. The team has three Super Bowl triumphs, yet its players regularly whine about not being revered enough. The team's star, Tom Brady, is a smirking sybarite who dates actresses and supermodels but whose public charity appearances are infrequent. That constant smirk on Brady's face reminds one of Dick Cheney; people who smirk are fairly broadcasting the message, "I'm hiding something." The Patriots seem especially creepy at this point because we still don't know whether they have told the full truth about the cheating scandal -- or even whether they really have stopped cheating. They say they have, but their word is not exactly gold at this juncture. Ladies and gentlemen, representing Evil, the New England Patriots.

In the Good vs. Evil narrative of the Colts and Pats, running up the score is a telling factor: It reveals a team's sportsmanship or lack of same, and whether a team shows sportsmanship in public might offer insights into its character in private. New England is scoring so many points the Patriots offense looks like cherries and oranges spinning on a slot machine. The Flying Elvii stand plus-159 in net points, by far the best scoring margin in the NFL. This is supposed to be impressive. But I think it's creepy, and New England's creepy on-field behavior is only underscoring the seediness of the Beli-Cheat scandal.

...who can make more effective use of this emerging narrative than Bill Belichik? The only real danger for such a dominant team is complacency, which he can combat by getting his guys to play to shut up the critics and stoking a foxhole mentality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 23, 2007 7:36 PM

Notice how Easterbrook weaves in the Democrats=good, Republicans=evil theme as well? Easterbrook has long been anti-Pats.

Posted by: AWW at October 23, 2007 8:50 PM

After reading this piece and the latest Don Banks article at SI.com (where he predicts 19-0), I think New England is ripe for a loss in a close game (like the Vikings of 1998).

When the Dolphins went 17-0, they won a lot of close games, and trailed in some of them (including early the AFC Championship). I don't think they were the greatest team ever (that would be the '76 or '78 Steelers, the '89 SF 49ers, or a couple of other teams), but they never lost, no matter the type of game it was.

Remember the 2005 Colts? They were supposed to go 16-0 and then meet the Pats in the AFC Championship - but they lost their last 3 games, the Pats got beat in Denver, and Pittsburgh outmuscled Indianapolis in the divisional playoff game.

I also keep thinking that Tom Brady has had 6 uninjured years in the NFL. No other top quarterback (except for Brett Favre and Elway) has done that, and Favre played hurt a lot in the 90s. Remember when Dan Marino tore his Achilles and missed the rest of the season? The clock is ticking for Brady (and Peyton, too).

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 23, 2007 10:08 PM

Other than the gratuitous cheap shot at Dick Cheney,* he's basically right.

The Pats aren't 100% evil by any means, and there are things they do very well that are deserving of respect: no other team makes superstars out of other teams' castoff players, and no other coaching staff adjusts its game plan to its opposition as effectively. However, they have a disgusting tendency to run up the score (call a fake spike when ahead 35-7?) on hapless opponents--and that eventually will incur the wrath of the Football Gods. (Remember Reche Caldwell?)

*Wasn't it Bush who's supposed to be the "smirking chimp fratboy" anyway? Greg, check your DailyKos "Official Guide" more carefully!

Posted by: Mike Morley at October 24, 2007 7:12 AM