I was raised to believe that a real champion does more than just win; you gotta know how to lose. If you can take it like a grownup–not offering any excuses–that is the sign of class. As a high school wrestler, I had plenty of opportunities to practice on that, as I also developed my mathematical prowess by spending lots of time on my back, counting the lights on the gym ceiling.
Enter the 2007-2008 New England Patriots. They were The Team. A QB–Tom Brady–who already had three Super Bowl rings, the best receiving corps–Moss, Stallworth, and Welker–that money could buy, and the best mind in the NFL in Bill Belichick, whose analytical abilities–including an economics degree–were impeccable.
They steamrolled through the regular season and playoffs, beating the best teams in the league. The Cowboys, Steelers, Redskins, Giants, Chargers (twice), Colts, and Jaguars–formidable opponents all–came up short. Until Super Bowl Sunday.
Then the New York Giants proceeded to execute the perfect game plan: ball-control offense, smashmouth defense, and a smothering pass rush. It worked, and Eli Manning even came through with the best John Elway imitation since, well, John Elway, and bolstered the Giants’ reputation as the master underdog. (Their last Super Bowl victory–in 1991–came against the heavily-favored Buffalo Bills, and sent the Bills to their first of four consecutive Super Bowl defeats.)
Now, there is turmoil in Boston, as the Patriots are not so good at handling defeat. Belichick is under more fire for previous Spygate issues, and now Randy Moss is running his mouth about the game plan.
Whatever happened to saying, “Ya know what? They just came out and beat us. Our coaching was fine. Our game plan was fine. Our quarterback actually had a pretty good game. But we got beat. We had trouble doing what we normally do, but the other team had a lot to do with that. They earned it.”
One of the most important lessons one can learn is that life is not fair. You’re not always going to get the job–or raise, or promotion–that you thought you deserve. You’re not always going to get the business deal you thought was a shoo-in. You aren’t going to win every tennis match, or golf tournament. (Just ask Tiger Woods and Roger Federer.) A very good baseball player–who hits about .300–fails to get a base hit about 70% of the time.
But if you want to know what class is, look at the premier golfers: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer, and the late Ben Hogan. Look at the great basketball players like Julius Erving. (As a former 76ers fan, I can tell you a thing or two about Erving’s failures before finally getting his NBA Championship in 1983.) Look at tennis players like Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, and Chris Evert.
The ones with class credit their opponent in defeat, and keep their gloating to a minimum when they win.
An example of the latter: the old Pittsburgh Steelers. They eschewed ostensible celebrations when they scored touchdowns; Chuck Noll coached them to “act like you’ve been there before.”
That’s the sign of a professional.
As for the Patriots, I can understand their frustration, but Bill Belicheat and Randy Moss needs to start acting like grownups, and accept that they just got outplayed. Both teams had great players, great coaching, and great plans.
But this time, the underdog won. Fair and square.