Sunday, January 21, 2007

same song

Kind of amazing it took Bill Simmons this long to figure out that we're all sick of the Pats. It's rare you see the symptoms of self-denial in the form of 3000-word rants on popular web pages. Simmons goes on a long tangent about a so-called "hater-culture", how we chew up and spit out celebrities like Leborn's Lemonade Lightning. This itself is a pretty bad look, whimpering because his team isn't popular anymore. That's like the antithesis of fandom.

The Patriots are not the Yankees because, in a vacuum, it's not easy to hate the Patriots. We hate the Yankees because they are the baseball equivalent of the millionaire developer trying to bulldoze the neighborhood park (and the shack where Ol' Luther lives) in your average 80's adventure movie. And as forgettable movies are the crux of Simmons's played-the-fuck-out cultural references, he should be familiar with the dynamic. You have a good thing and the man in the suit with the briefcase wants to ruin your fun for personal gain by throwing around money. And so he will buy out your rookie all-star for ten times what you can afford. He doesn't care about his reputation; he loves the negative press. And if you look at the 80's villian's entourage, it's all skeevy mob types. Giambi, Jeter, Sheffield, even Ol' Dirty Randy until recently, all unsavory individuals. A-Rod is the fat one they all crack on.

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The Patriots would be lucky to have that kind of character. Simmons even says this:
They don't have any self-promoting a-holes doing sack dances or touchdown dances, they haven't been whistled for any substance abuse violations, and as far as I can recall, not a single Patriot filmed a commercial this season.
Yup, your team's boring. No charismatic elder statesmen, no controversial superstars, no fucking personality. Just a pretty boy quarterback, a grumpy, enigmatic coach, and an endless list of interchangable wide receivers. Playing on both sides of the ball like Vrabel or Brown is not revolutionary, as I imagine every single player on the field has put in work elsewhere. Half the team could probably helm the Raiders next season if they so desired.

A note on Belichick (and also Brady). When fellating the Patriots, NFL talking heads like to point out that the team "just wins". And that's pretty much the case; Brady does have the most game winning drives of any NFL quarterback (if in-game graphical montages are to be believed). But that's really all you can say about the Brady/Belichick combo. They win. They play average football very well. During the games last weekend, GW9K and I were pondering who we would root for should the Colts and Pats meet, as they did, in the AFC Championship, and we made a note of this. Even if Peyton Manning never wins a Superbowl, his style is unique and somewhat revolutionary, and watching him is watching greatness. Whereas watching Brady is like watching any other quarterback on a good, incredibly lucky day. So while I'm willing to agree that Belichick is one of the finest coaches to ever stroll his fat ass down a sideline, his success is not enough to make him compelling.

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When Simmons starts going off about the nuts and bolts of the game, he sounds like that kid who still likes U2, trying to sell you on the new U2 album ten years after anyone with taste stopped caring about U2. We know how great the two quarterbacks are, and we know how The Edge gets revolutionary sounds out of his guitar. We know that you can never count out Tom Brady, and we know about Bono's heartwrenching concern for his fellow man. We know Adam Vinateri switched teams, and we remember Rattle and Hum. We're still not buying the album.

And that's the point right there. Simmons doesn't understand that, in sports, neither success nor technique correlate with popularity. As Ian eventually points out, teams ride their personalities more than their stats or their playbook. Yeah, Colston and Brees were as integral a part of the Saints' '06 run as anything done by either Bush. But even if they had rode an emotional wave to a scrappy, Eckstein-esque eight wins, they would have been a team to watch. And this year's Jets "just won" too, but they "just won" despite opening the season without a running back, and with the tearingest rotator cuff in New York City under center. The Patriots are the Patriots, and as long as they are an extension of the Brady/Belichick ticket, their fanbase is not going to change a whole lot. And, actually, when the sports commentariat groaned at the prospect of another Pats/Colts AFC Championship, it had less to do with anyone being sick of either team than it did with them being sick of the exact same storyline year after year. So popularity isn't even relevant.

This column isn't just annoyingly self-absorbed. It's troubling. That dude trying to give you a copy of the new U2 album he just burned for you? He doesn't like music. He likes U2. So Simmons begs the same question here: does he like football, or does he like the Patriots? (Although I guess "does he like football, or does he like betting on football" is an appropriate question too. Just sayin.)

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