Monday, February 7, 2005
Updated: May 31, 2:29 PM ET
This NEVER gets old
By Bill Simmons
Editor's Note: Page 2's Bill has been filing round-the-clock reports from Jacksonville, Fla., in Super Blog II. Here is his final entry from the Patriots' third Super Bowl victory in the last four years:
DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6 | DAY 7
Did you miss Media Day? What's wrong with you?
Posted, Monday, Feb. 7, 2005 -- 8:15 a.m.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Ever played cards in Vegas with someone who can't stop winning? Once they're playing with house money for the night, they invariably start doubling their bets. Why? Because it's human nature. They can't help it. And if they keep winning and that stack of chips starts changing colors, you can always count on them making one enormous, "I know I shouldn't be doing this, but I can't help it" wager.
Winning is always enjoyable. Winning big? Now that's an experience.
For Patriots fans, Super Bowl XXXIX turned out to be the "I can't help it" wager ... and we nailed it. That makes three championships in four years, with enough house money to last for two more decades, as well as an official pass into the Pantheon of Memorable NFL Teams. And that's all fantastic. Really. I'm just not sure how to react. After the Rams game in New Orleans, I was hugging random strangers, chugging hurricanes and singing TV theme songs in crowded bars. Three years later, I found myself sitting in a ballroom at the Patriots' postgame party -- held at the Renaissance in St. Augustine -- quietly cutting into a piece of prime rib. What can you say? We won again. Nobody expected anything less.
Even in defeat, the Philly fans remained the enduring story of the week. They started descending on the city of Jacksonville in the middle of the week, tens of thousands of them, few of them with tickets, all of them with green Philly jerseys and goofy mustaches. They kept multiplying and multiplying ... by Saturday, every other person in Jacksonville had a mustache. They weren't just enjoying themselves; they were living a dream. At the Maxim party on Saturday night, there were random Philly fans stumbling around in full Eagles gear, like they couldn't imagine heading out in public in anything else. Driving for coffee on Sunday, I passed at least 10 Eagles fans holding cardboard signs and begging for tickets, offering as much as five grand for a pair.
Meanwhile, the Patriots fans were nowhere to be seen; after two Super Bowls and the negative Jacksonville stories, most of them apparently decided, "Ah, screw it, I'm watching this one at home." We were decidedly outnumbered for the game -- both outside the stadium and inside the stadium -- by something like an 8-to-1 margin. And these Philly fans were loud. They kept chanting a hijacked version of the "J-E-T-S!" chant (substituting the letters "E-A-G-L-E-S!" in there), sang some fight songs, even engaged in some pointed trash-talking. Without the usual number of high rollers, and without the usual number of Patriots fans, it must have felt like a home game for them.
Like it mattered to the Patriots. They spotted Philly a seven-point lead, wiped the blood off their collective lip, tasted it, smiled, then marched down the field for the tying score. That's my favorite quality of the Brady Era -- name the big game, and they probably answered a possible momentum-turning touchdown with a score of their own. It's uncanny. In this particular instance, they looked like crap for most of the first half -- dumb penalties, squandered turnovers, you name it -- and still salvaged a tie at halftime. Nobody can win ugly quite like this Patriots team.
Was I mildly concerned? Absolutely. The thought of being trapped in downtown Jacksonville with hordes of belligerent Philly fans, all of them chanting songs and celebrating their first title in 45 years ... I mean, does this sound even remotely appealing? But the Patriots settled down in the second half, as the running game started clicking and Deion Branch officially became "Mr. February," helping the Pats to a 10-point lead with a number of enormous plays. On offense, Philly had the Pats scouted pretty well, finding mismatches with Westbrook and taking chances downfield with their taller receivers, only McNabb couldn't quite pull off the game plan. He was on pace for the worst 400-yard game in Super Bowl history. After a crippling interception in the fourth quarter, the Philly fans even panicked and started booing him. Just the confidence boost he needed. When McNabb and Andy Reid unleashed the first-ever Six-Minute Drill down the stretch -- needing two scores in the final six minutes, but huddling the offense up after every play -- they guaranteed themselves a summer of "Will we ever win with these guys?" stories in Philly. I've seen 80 year-old men use a urinal with more urgency.
Something else happened during that Six -Minute Drill: The Philly fans gave up. They didn't leave their seats or anything; they just mentally packed it in. The game turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy for them, just another kick in the groin, only on the biggest stage imaginable. I recognized this only because it used to happen in Fenway during the pre-Dave Roberts Era, when the fans expected things to fall apart at the worst possible times, then sulked when it actually happened. Ironically, this also happened to Patriots fans in the pre-Snow Game Era. Basically, you need a miracle to erase the bad karma, something unexpected that changes the collective mindset of an entire fan base, something that makes them believe again. I hope this happens for Philly fans some day, if only because they're about four more excruciating losses away from collectively entering a psych ward.
As for the Patriots, they made the ending interesting -- they always do -- squandering a game-clinching drive in three downs, then yielding a 30-yard TD (for the cover) when Eugene Wilson's broken wrist finally came back to haunt them. They failed to run out the clock again, but that was followed by a beautiful pooch punt from Josh Miller and one last gawd-awful McNabb interception. Game over. Unlike the dominating efforts against Indy and Pittsburgh, this game reminded me of the Cards-Sox World Series -- immensely satisfying, strangely anticlimactic -- and part of me wonders if Belichick likes it that way. Now he can spend the summer telling his players, "We might be the three-time champs, but everyone's saying that doesn't matter because we won all three Super Bowls by only three points apiece; they're saying we were lucky!" Even if it isn't actually true.
So that was that. And I will remember four things about last night, beyond everything else I just mentioned:
1. That the Pats finished the season with one starting defensive back from Week 1.
2. That Tom Brady played three playoff games against teams with a combined 45-8 record ... and finished with five TD passes and zero interceptions. According to my math, he's also 9-0 in playoff games, although he has never thrown for 49 touchdowns in a regular season. So there's still some work left.
3. Terrell Owens loping around the field and making big plays, an inspiring performance if there ever was one. You have to hand it to him.
4. Not that the Pats cleanly fielded Philly's onside kick near the end, but that there was never a doubt in the first place. And that's another great quality about this Pats team -- how they bang out all the Little Things. When they try a fake field goal where the receiver pretends to run off, then comes back on the field, it actually works. When they throw a play-action pass to a linebacker, he actually catches it. When they need to catch an onside kick to clinch a game, they actually catch it. And so on. If you're looking for a reason why this team wins 95 percent of its close games, other than Brady, that's the biggest one. What a team.
One last story: After a brief cameo at the postgame party, I said my goodbyes and headed outside, only to be stopped by the horns of police motorcycles escorting a stretch limousine. After circling around the main entrance, the limo pulled to a stop in front of the party tent as a crowd of curious Patriots fans watched from the sidewalk to see who came out. Suddenly the door opened and Robert Kraft emerged, the trophy clutched in his right hand like an Oscar. He took a couple of steps, turned to the crowd, milked a dramatic beat, then raised the trophy over his head as the fans cheered. It was like watching a hunter showing off a fresh kill to some buddies. The Eagles are dead! Long live the Patriots dynasty! Then he headed inside to celebrate with his friends and family. Again.
That's the thing about winning. It never gets old.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.