By REED NELSON
In the provincial territory of Fanhood that calls football its king, I reside at the house of the New York Giants. That means that Super Bowl XLIX fell somewhere in between Grown Ups 2 and the 2004 ALCS on my personal enjoyability spectrum.
As a child, I grew up in between Connecticut and New York, and thus was forced to decide between three distinct fan paths in or around 1994: Historically Significant, But Currently Not So Much (Yankees, Knicks, Giants, Rangers); Historically Tortured, But Sometimes Not And Also Very Far Away Because Kids Don’t Understand Distance (Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots, Bruins); Little Brothers With Occasional Success And Much Closer Than The Boston Option (Mets, Jets, Islanders/Rangers, Knicks-Never-Nets).
I was the oldest of two, which means very little except that Child Me never really identified with the Mets path. I liked live sporting events, and also enjoyed cheering for the teams that the greatest number of people in the stadiums housing those live sporting events were cheering for, so the Boston/New England route was out, too.
I sided with the Tri-State Area set, and hitched a ride on an unimaginable train of success for a young fan. To make things infinitely better, six-year-old me reveled in the powers of my choice-making abilities: The other two possible fan-tracks weren’t exactly paying their emotional investors dividends, and Yankees hats were arguably the most ubiquitous clothing item in all of pop culture for that decade, or at least pop culture that mattered to me for over a decade. Double win.
Those Yankees racked up four World Series rings from 1994-2001, played in five and made the postseason every year in that span save the 1994 season because no one made the postseason in 1994. The Knicks went to two NBA Finals, and actually had a chance to win in one of those. The Rangers won a Stanley Cup in 1994, a feat they hadn’t accomplished since before the US got involved in WWII. And the Giants even managed a Super Bowl appearance in that timeframe, even though that Super Bowl played out like the football-equivalent of when Godzilla took on the Golden Gate Bridge.
In other words, it was a good eight-year stretch to get my fan legs under me. But it also turned out to be terrible preparation. Think drivers ed in a Formula 1 car. My early experience was an outlier, not the norm, but I didn’t know so I got cocky. I got entitled. I would say things like, “Of course the Yankees are going to end up with (Pick literally any player who has ever hit the free agent market with an iota of buzz).” I would ride hard for Danny Kanell. I probably compared Derek Jeter to “a better, more well-rounded version of what Ghandi and John Lennon’s science child” would be like.
I also never really learned about tough seasons, bad losses or franchise-altering injuries. John Starks was a nightmare in Game Seven in 1994, but I was young enough to give him a pass and I still remember him most for being the dude who actually hit Reggie Miller, which means he’s cool in my book. Sure, the Giants’ run in 2000 ended in misery, but even 12-year-old me had relatively tempered (re: IRRATIONALLY AND STUBBORNLY HIGH) expectations for what Kerry Collins could do against one of the five best defenses of all time.
In addition to not learning that losing — eventually — is the norm for 96 percent of all teams everywhere, I also was on the right end of some truly zany plays early on. Jeffrey Mayer was wonderful currency in the emotional piggy bank. Larry Johnson’s four-point play lives on in my memory as a cross between Brad Pitt’s flying-downward sword kill in Troy and the finale of the South Street Seaport Fourth of July fireworks show. Jeter also flipped a baseball to Jorge Posada at an extremely opportune time once.
To say that I was a spoiled brat in terms of sports expectations is not only fair, it’s accurate. But being a spoiled brat in a fluid, semi-fictional world that You have zero control over is not exactly a stable occupation, especially when you grew up in the throws of the New York-Boston sports rivalry. If your team wins, it’s expected; if a Boston team wins, it’s devastating. It’s a shitty response, but it’s a conditioned one, ‘My foe’s failure means far more to me than my own success.’
Because of this, I’ve Eternal Sunshine‘d entire seasons from my brain, in most cases because they ended up just short of a title, a Boston team won that year and I handle losing with the demeanor of a port-o-potty tumbling down a hill. 2001? Almost drove 13-year-old me to drink. 2004? Therapy needed, probably, but none received. 2007? Still have that one, because Eli and Helmet Catches and IT’S STILL INCREDIBLE AND I WATCH THE DVD ALL THE TIME. Sorry for that. I hate 2013 as a sports year also, and 2012 was almost retroactively tainted for me, as a victorious Giants fan, because I have to consider a Red Sox title in between then and now, whenever “now” is.
It’s a ridiculous place to occupy in the grand gamut of Fanhood, I understand, but I’m a product of my environment.
And until, like, August of 2013, I could at least take solace in the notion that while my teams weren’t continuing at a torrid pace, the Giants’ two Super Bowl wins and the Yankees’ ring in 2009 could keep me in the group that tops the Fanbase That Got Both Geographically and Chronologically Lucky Enough To Think They’re The Best At Being Fans list. It’s a coveted spot. We had a good run over the course of 18 years, hosting eight ticker tape parades while planning a few others that never quite came to fruition.
But it’s officially time to relinquish the belt. It would sting if this belt was handed off to LA fans. It would be a gut punch to have the belt ripped off by the somber folks in Chicago. But to have it taken — and deservingly so — by Boston? That’s basically running my foot over with a steamroller while someone else does all the things at the beginning of “Method Man” to me simultaneously. On an emotional level at least.
But the cross-platform dynasty that Boston fans have gotten to witness — beginning in 2001, when Tom “Sixth Round” Brady began his Anakin-like transformation1 into Tom Fucking Brady, hitting its stride when the 21st Century’s Trojan Horse dressed up as a Dave Roberts and ran the Yankees into oblivion, and continuing through Sunday night — has been insane. All told, the city has won nine championships in that timeframe, one more than New York did over a stretch that lasted four less years.
I hate sports.
They beat the shit out of me. Watching that last quarter of Super Bowl XLIX was an emotional exercise rivaling anything Guantanamo messes around with. Depending on the outcome you were hoping for, you experienced abject horror, unbridled joy, nail-biting anticipation, utter disbelief, total relief, elation, deflation, anger, confusion, annoyance, disdain, sympathy, empathy and that feeling from when you were in grade school and in first period you realized that an essay was due in second period but you didn’t do the essay but then your friend tells you its cool because the essays not due ’til next time and you relax only until your other friend tells you that your first friend is stupid and the essay is definitely due in less than an hour so you double down on the loathing and anxiety and despair until you ultimately just say fuck it and decide not to care and go to the vending machine instead of caring. The spectrum was covered.
And now, after that Glendale-ian Greek Tragedy, it’s officially time to come to terms with things that will be said that are probably true but that I (and, I’m assuming, most Group A New York fans) wish weren’t.
First, Chancellor Palpatine. He’s angry, he’s terse, he cheats, he wins. I have nothing bad to say about Belichick anymore. It’s useless. It’s talking shit on steel or trees or something. His place in football history is set, and it’s probably at the top of one pile or another. He’s won four Super Bowls, was two impossible Eli Manning passes away from two more, and did it during a hard-cap era that is, according to people who know these things, very hard to negotiate for long periods of time.
Hats off, Bill. Go enjoy a warm tonic water or whatever it is you drink on me. You deserve it.
dude. Dude. DUDE. DUUUUUUDDDE. You’re a rockstar, and that’s all.
Darrelle Revis’ name wasn’t mentioned all game, for the most part, and that is by far the most Darrelle Revis Game Darrelle Revis could’ve had because that means that Darrelle Revis was doing Darrelle Revis’ job and not bringing attention to Darrelle Revis by allowing opposing wideouts to beat Darrelle Revis unless officials get in the way of Darrelle Revis, causing Darrelle Revis to get knocked off his coverage. Darrelle Revis.
And finally, Tom Brady. People are going to be calling him the Greatest of All Time, which is fine. He probably is, but I refuse to acknowledge it. I’ve written about 10,000 words on the topic that won’t see the light of day because they’re most likely angry and hate-filled and irrational and nonsensical, but the gist of those words is this: To me, the honor of GOAT is both silly and sacred. Those two things go together like ski jumping and wind gusts, but the pairing of those two characteristics also mean that I consider it pretty banal, but a banality that’s tradition. It isn’t a necessary benchpost for discussing football, because the GOAT is a super weird thing to discuss, regarding any matter, in the first place. It’s a subjective means for assessing large swaths of time. Statistics are supposed to clarify the debates, but in some instances they muddy them.
For instance, while movies are not much like sports, they are subjectively and objectively graded. If you were to go based solely on statistics, depending on the statistics you chose to weight more heavily you would decide one of two things: Either the pool from which to choose the Greatest Movie of All Time would consist of Ben-Hur, Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, because they each won 11 Academy Awards, the record, or it would just straight up be Avatar.
Why Avatar? Because, if you want to rely solely on statistics when judging subjective matters, thereby making them objective, then movies are, above all, a function of a capitalist enterprise. They are created as art, but profitable art. It’s the reason that Godfather did better box-office numbers than Pluto Nash. But movies are art with profitable criticism in that a good movie will theoretically out-earn a bad movie, because more people will want to see it. Even if it isn’t the “best” movie, something makes more people, the consumer, the literal target audience, more likely to see and enjoy a movie. That something matters, right? Calling something like Citizen Kane or The Graduate the GOAT is neglecting billions of consumer dollars, so it can’t be true, can it? That’s why, in objective terms, Avatar is the greatest movie ever. It made $2.7 billion worldwide.
That’s a stupid argument, though, right? It disregards any sort of nuance, subtlety or individual moment within a film, correct?
Moments matter. Emotions while watching matter. Nuance matters. The Flu Game matters. Goosebumps matter. And that’s why I’m only slightly skeptical that Tom Brady is the unequivocal GOAT. He’s had great performances, made some insane plays and has gone on a pretty great run, but he hasn’t given me chills, hasn’t had The Catch, The Shot, The Drive… He just has been really, really good for a really, really long time. And in that sense, I think he’s far more like Tim Duncan — an inarguable pantheon great, a Rushmore member, not someone you can remember by distinct moments of greatness, more of a body-of-work guy, unless you cheered for his team, he’ll be player three you mention to your grandkids behind the truly electric, fun guys of his generation.
When I watch Michael Jordan play on NBA TV when they rerun classic games, my chin needs constant support. I drool. I stammer. I basically exist in a continual spit-take.
Sometimes, Aaron Rodgers gets me there. LeBron will on occasion. Even Kevin Durant gives me the feeling that I’m watching an alien.
And that’s what a GOAT is, a total alien. They’re not of this planet. They do things on a field of play that are so unfathomable, so incalculable and so inhuman that you are almost always left speechless immediately following the exploits.
Tom Brady doesn’t render me speechless. He didn’t give me goosebumps. He rarely made me focus super hard on a replay. But what he did do was step on throats for the better part of a decade-and-a-half, and he was clinical and precise and accurate and stable.
He’s not an alien, however. He’s just the best one of us. And that should be better than OK for all of us.