Everyone says the Patriots’ season became meaningless when they lost the Super Bowl to the Giants. All the wins, all the records, all the great feats of 2007 — up in smoke with one pass to Plaxico Burress.
But you know what? I don’t buy into that. And you don’t have to, either. We live in a society that has decided to shower the “winners” with a ridiculously disproportionate level of praise and credit and to strip all value from every other competitor or team that didn’t reach the mountaintop (where there’s only room for one). I don’t really know why we’ve decided to see things that way, but I, for one, particularly in this specific case, do not buy it.
Yes, the Giants won the Super Bowl. They are the Super Bowl Champions. They are to be commended. They earned it. They deserve it. They and their fans should feel awesome. The Patriots did not win the Super Bowl. But the Patriots of 2007 are still one of the greatest NFL teams of all time. And the 2007 Giants are not.
Now I hear you saying: “You can’t consider a team to be the best ever if they didn’t win the championship – you fool!” But that’s only true if we buy into what pop culture has drilled into us since we were tiny tots crawling on the floor in front of Sunday afternoon football games on TV. We have been taught since we were born that only the winner can feel proud, and that every team or competitor that doesn’t win failed. And by God, if you don’t win the big game, well, you’re just a footnote and nothing more. LOSER!
But do you really believe that about the 2007 Patriots? Isn’t part of the reason that it’s so hard for us to make sense of their Super Bowl loss that there’s a deeper part of us that KNOWS they had a truly remarkable season and that they were still — by far — the best football team in the league this year — and THIS DECADE? And this deeper part of us (I’m talking to you, Pats fans) knows they still deserve a parade in Boston. And this deeper part of us ACHES to go to that parade and to cheer for them for playing so incredibly well this year, for giving us a feeling we’ve literally never had before with any team in Boston — a complete, unassailable belief that we are invincible.
OK, so that feeling of invincibility ended up vanishing with less than a minute left in the Super Bowl, but that feeling was still quite a thrill, quite a gift to all of us in Patriots (and Red Sox) Nation. And even in losing to the Giants, the Patriots played with a level of effort that deserves our admiration. So they lost. Does that mean we abandon them? Is the only reason we loved them that they kept ending up with more points than the other team when the game was over? Was that really the only stinking reason?
No. For me, it was more than that. And maybe I didn’t realize that fact until they lost to the Giants. Their wins were a reflection of their beautiful excellence. And I loved them because of their beautiful excellence. Before this season, I always thought of the 1986 Chicago Bears as the greatest NFL team ever. (They were 18-1 too. But their loss came during the regular season, so we don’t hold it against them.) But if I could pick one team in history to win one game against ANY team, I would pick the 2007 Patriots (with a healthy Tom Brady). And you know all the TV sportscasters WANT to say the same thing (because deep down, they know it’s true), but they are afraid to because they know they’ll get ridiculed (as I will) for praising a team that “lost the big one.” They’ll get ridiculed (as I will) for going against the code of our society that says, “Only the winners of the Super Bowl can hold their heads high.” That’s just hogwash. And declaring it so helps me deal with their loss. It relieves some of the pain. It sustains my appreciation of the Patriots, and that feels good. (Try it!)
So, what’s the meaning of the 2007 Patriots? That you can still be considered one of the greatest teams of all time and LOSE the big game. That no team, no competitor is invincible. (When I yelled at the TV, “Why did you miss that??” as Samuel dropped that potential interception on Manning’s final drive, my 8 year-old son said to me, “Because he’s human, Daddy.”) That you can still be considered a “winner” by fans and by commentators even if you come in second. And that, if you choose to buy in to the “rule” that only one team and one set of fans has the right to feel good at the end of the season — well, that’s a rule that’s going to give you a lot of pain in your life.
Yeah, I’m incredibly disappointed that the Patriots lost. Still stunned. A little numb. No doubt, winning is better than losing. But I won’t line up behind the people that want to just forget about them. The 2007 New England Patriots were awesome. And one play with 0:35 seconds left doesn’t eradicate an entire season of jaw-dropping performance. Unless you decide that it does. But I just don’t buy it.