Monday, February 4, 2008

The Lost Pursuit of Perfection

After the Super Bowl, I went for a walk to think about what it all meant. Not that either scenario is terribly surprising, if you know me well. I go for a walk every night anyway, and I'm the same guy who picks up on metaphors for life through sports that no one else sees. I swore the Boise State-Oklahoma game was actually a metaphor for our U.S. military affairs (sometimes the biggest and the strongest don't always win, and presuming those attributes will lead you to victory can be costly).

After I left ESPN and had time to reflect on the 2004 Red Sox, and I swear my Grandpa Sheflott, a diehard Sox fan, was with me and used me like Moonlight Graham used Young Archie in Field of Dreams. I didn't think of it then, but I know now, my grandfather wanted to be there while I talked to Terry Francona and David Ortiz, a few of the guests that I booked when I was working in Bristol. I've already discussed the details of that time in The Origins of Sports Karma piece, so I won't go into heavy detail.

Maybe these metaphors are simply a figment of my own imagination, only to be seen by me. But just know this: I don't necessarily agree w/ my friend, DV. I'm not ripping his point of view, by any stretch. It's just that I don't agree w/ his sentiments. I don't hate Boston at all. In fact, if anything, I dislike New York City, a cold, cutthroat, expensive city w/ rude Yankees fans. Not that Boston's a helluva lot different, but for me, I know of two die-hard Patriots fans--my sister and my brother-in-law. My brother-in-law grew up 15 minutes from Foxboro. He suffered through Patsy the Patriot, the blood-red unis, grew up watching Victor Kiam the owner and Dick McPherson the coach embarrass themselves on a regular, practically routine, basis.

So, while I had no great rooting interest in Super Bowl XLII, I knew of two people that I love dearly who did. Not to mention, privately, I wanted to see the Patriots achieve perfection. 19-0 would have been perhaps the most impressive sports feat ever. Now instead of them being the '27 Yankees or the '96 Bulls, they are instead the '83 Houston Cougars or the '85 Georgetown Hoyas. They will never be remembered for setting an NFL record for victories in a season, or having the most prolific offense in history. Instead, they will be remembered for what they didn't do, mainly pull off perhaps the most difficult feat in modern team sports.

It is with all of this said that I wish to share w/ you the journey of last night's walk. It's not about where I went, but where my head went instead.

--A quarter-mile in I started to think about movie characters that could identify with the Patriots' fall from grace. Watching Bill Belichick coach this season was akin to Ed Harris (Christof) in The Truman Show. Besides the rather obvious penchant for cameras, Belichick had built a Perfect world where there could be no wrong, and it could only be what He created. He molded his players for his own liking, and everyone did just what the script said to do. Except when the script didn't follow. Eli was supposed to roll over and choke. Truman was supposed to be afraid of the water. And when neither one of these things happened, both lost their cool. Christof tried to drown Truman. Belichick tried to kill the Giants on 4th-and-13. Neither were successful, and both paid a steep price for their overconfidence. At the end of both the Super Bowl and the Truman Show, we are left to wonder what will happen not just w/ Eli and Truman, but also with Belichick and Christof. The worlds they created were ruined. Whether or not they can rebuild remains to be seen.

--About halfway through the walk I started thinking about Randy Moss. He, along with Tom Brady, were the catalysts for the greatest offense in NFL history. Brady threw for more touchdowns than anybody in one season. Moss caught more touchdowns than anybody in one season. Moss was also the catalyst for the second greatest offense in NFL history, the 1998 Minnesota Vikings. It has been well-documented that Moss was on his best behavior this season, a stark contrast to his demeanor both in Minnesota and Oakland, so it's really not worth belaboring. However, Moss reverted back to his old ways, allegedly, shortly before the AFC Championship game when he was accused of striking a woman. Maybe he did do this, maybe he didn't. I'm not passing judgment either way, but it's worth noting that Moss was the common denominator for both the most explosive offenses in history, AND those same teams were a part of historic collapses. Remember, the 1998 Vikings were 15-1, but lost in the NFC Championship game to an otherwise lackluster Falcons team that were summarily crushed by the Broncos. Am I blaming Moss for the demise of the Vikings and the Patriots? Probably not, but I find his involvement to be curious and not at all coincidental.

--About three-quarters of the way back to my apartment, I started thinking about Brady's ankle. Most in the sports media played off his injury as if it were nothing to be concerned about, like it wasn't even really a story. Tom Brady said it wouldn't be a factor, and the majority took him at his word. My question is this: If TMZ didn't feel the need to stoop high and low for a story, how many people would have even known that Brady had an injury? Remember, no one knew that Brady had an injury until those infamous photos were published with him in the walking boot. I'm not taking anything away from the Giants at all. They knew a high ankle sprain takes about a month, not two weeks, to fully recover from. In turn, they sent multiple blitz packages at Brady knowing he wasn't even close to his full mobility. They played it perfectly. However, I think it's rather grotesque that TMZ scooped everyone on the extent of Brady's injury, or the fact that he was even injured at all. TMZ, last time I checked, wasn't interested in anything other than the exploitation of the famous, and the continued seediness of just how far people and the paparazzi will go for dirt. Honestly, I think this year's NFL playoffs will be the tipping point for sports fans, and how much we're willing to tolerate. Between Tony Romo's Mexican getaway and Tom Brady's walking boot, sports media was transformed from a beacon of information and analysis into Entertainment Tonight with more testosterone. From a societal standpoint, I'd hate to think that sports is heading into the same exact gutter with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. From a sports fans' standpoint, I don't want to turn on Mike Ditka or Sean Salisbury breakdown gratitious video shot from some scumbag paparazzi. Sadly, though, the decline looks to be inevitable.

--At the end of the walk, I started think about Joe Motter. Joe was a kid I went to church with when I was 17. I'd like to think I was pretty moderate and laid back about my newfound faith, but Joe was Born Again. He was gung-ho, and every conversation I had with him seemed to center around Jesus. I knew that he had quite a prior reputation that he shared with the rest of us in our youth group. A few years prior, he was heavily into cocaine, and started stealing cars. But he swore that he gave it all up in Jesus' name. He was a good guy, but some people saw him at a glance and thought he was a phony. I never saw him as a phony, but something always disturbed me about Joe. He wasn't just that he was a Born Again. It's that he wanted to be perfect. While the rest of us loved God, we were still 17, and still enjoyed sneaking a nip of alcohol every now and again. A few of us, myself included, also found a cordial fondness for cigars. Not Joe, though. He was afraid of sin, afraid of doing the wrong thing, afraid of doing anything other than the exact thing that the Lord wanted him to do. Suffice to say, he put an enormous amount of pressure on himself, and everyone else around him.

A few years passed, and I reconnected with Joe during a college-age Praise and Worship group. During a group prayer, he tearfully confessed that he had relapsed into cocaine. That was the last time I ever saw Joe again. He died a few years later from a cocaine overdose. I don't know how old he was, but he was my age, so I'd say roughly 25 years old at the time.

Why was I thinking about Joe? Although the Patriots loss is nowhere near as devastating as the death of a struggling young man with so much promise, I think many of the lessons are the same. Both Joe and the Patriots had to be perfect. They could never allow themselves a mistake. They put so much pressure upon themselves that there was absolutely no room for error. Period. The weight became too much to bear, and they ultimately cracked. The Giants, like my friends, made mistakes throughout the season. They were far from perfect. So were we. But the Giants, and my friends, allowed themselves some room for error. We grew, we matured, and when daunting challenges faced us, we were ready for them. The Patriots, like Joe, were so focused on being perfect, that they never allowed themselves any room to grow. I hope for Brady and Belichick's sake that they enter the 2008 season willing to make a mistake, knowing that they can benefit from it later.

I returned back to my apartment complex, and stopped by my mailbox just to see if I had missed anything. There was nothing in there. I closed the door shut, and began to walk away. Above the mailbox was a handwritten note with a small white dog on it. It said, "MISSING! This dog is my 1 1/2 year old daughter's best friend! Please help! $$$ 512 XXX-XXXX" I didn't think much of it, and walked back to my apartment. As I climbed the steps, a small, white dog came up to greet me. He wanted his belly rubbed. I could only oblige. After awhile, I picked the dog up and carried him back over to the mailbox to retrieve the phone number in question. A very sleepy woman answered the phone.

"Good evening, ma'am. Are you missing a dog?"
"Yes, I am. He got out during our Super Bowl party. I don't know where he is!" She started to cry.
"Well, I've got him right here. He's quite friendly."
"Oh my God, thank you so much! I cried myself to sleep tonight! I'll send my husband over right away!"

I told her where she could find me, right out at the mailboxes at the Churchil Crossing Apartments at the corner of Wells Branch and Thermal. Turns out the family in question was living right across the street from me in the neighboring apartments. I met the woman's husband. He strapped on the leash to the perky white dog, and offered me $10. I refused the money, and wished him a good night.

It was a night full of questions, and for some close to me, great sorrow as well. It was a night where my head was filled with metaphors perhaps only seen and understood by me. But I went to bed last night thinking about one more metaphor as well. I hope I'm not the only one who understands this.

I hope Patriots fans are able to find their dog again as well.

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