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Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Agony and the Agony

Regular season is back. Now my life can return back to normal. I don't need to supplement the wonder and love of professional football with lame things like the Tour De France or the NBA Finals. Baseball is more engaging - with many competitive teams this year. But football is its own animal, a game of inches more than heartbreak. You don't lose because you were unlucky this time around. You lose because you weren't good enough.

And now having said that, football leaves me with that familiar sinking feeling. My team loses 38-14 to an obviously superior New England Patriots club. Randy Moss was great, Tom Brady was amazing, they scored the longest TD in NFL history, Chad Pennington was brave but hobbling, Kellen Clemens was beguiled, Thomas Jones was neutralized. I hate myself, I hate my life. I want to die.

How much do I hate the New England Patriots? I don't talk to my in-laws anymore. During the last game of the 1997 season, while the Jets' loss to the Lions put the Pats in the playoffs, I sat with my in-laws from Boston; they screeched with glee, watching Barry Sanders finish off the Jets' season. They were just a little too happy - a little too happy to watch me suffer. OK, I'd be lying if I told you that the Lions' game was the only reason why we don't talk to them. I don't miss them, though. They were our guests, and they didn't respect that I loved the Jets. They taunted me, and I had bought those drunks a lot of scotch.

There was the opener against New England in 1999, when another Jet QB's foot planted into the hot Meadowlands turf and didn't let go. That was even more traumatic. I was at a reunion with former college friends, all of whom were Patriots fans. I should have known. When Vinny Testaverde went down with a season-ending Achilles' tendon fissure, they got up on their feet and laughed and sang like undernourished jackals who had decided that one of their own would make as nice a meal as anything they could have caught on their own hungry paws that night.

In that moment, I could see a primordial gleam in their eyes. Despite the fact that we must have spoken every day like family back in college, I could see that they really hated me for what I was, a Jets fan. They witnessed my pain and horror and laughed. So I walked out, leaving those bastards behind, and I have not spoken to them since. There's family, and then there's the Jets. At least the latter are more consistent, albeit not always to my pleasure. Still...there was no other way.

Today, the Patriots were the Jets' guests at Giants Stadium, and they manhandled us; we are the lesser team, they the prodigies. Their offense was literally unstoppable; ours was occasionally clever. When Coles made his nifty catch for the first quarter touchdown and made it 7-7, Belichik looked briefly worried at how methodical the Jets offense had been. But it was a passing moment. Pennington hobbled off. Yet even able and well, he never seemed up to the task of beating a team that seems to be surprising even itself with how good it is.

Here's why they won, though. Yes, yes, I know: we couldn't control their running game; they controlled the clock; Mangenius was out-geniused; Moss was amazing. Blah, blah, blah. But all week I was saying, "If Brady blows out his knee or snaps his Achilles', we win the game, we win the division." Back in 1999, the Patriots had no Super Bowl rings; we had one. My ex-friends sneered at Vinny's vanquished dream like disadvantaged children with nothing to lose, knowing that they weren't going anywhere either. In wishing ill will on Brady, I have sunk beneath those disadvantaged voices speaking out of crude despair.

Somewhere the jackals are still laughing, and I walk away, grumbling, irrational to the point of institutionalization. So, yes, life has returned to normal after all.

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