As a Patriots fan who spent yesterday evening in Gillette Stadium, watching his beloved team blunder their way to a second straight loss, you might think that I would be upset today. Depressed. Annoyed. Outraged. Discouraged. Disheartened. Even angry. Enraged.
You might think that the flood of messages that I received from joyous Giants, Jets, and Philly fans just after the game would have set me on edge. Primed me for sadness or rage.
These would all be reasonable expectations, But you would be wrong.
Perhaps it's because of the way the Patriots lost the game yesterday. They were not dominated on offense or defense. They were not pushed around and overmatched. They may not even have been the worst team on the field yesterday.
Three plays caused The Patriots to lose yesterday.
- A blocked punt returned for a touchdown.
- A punt return for a touchdown.
- A 100 yard interception return for a touchdown.
Take away one of these plays - unusual plays which you almost never see and truly never see in one game - and the Patriots win easily. Two of the plays resulted in 10 and 14 point swings respectively, and the third play put seven points on the board for the Eagles.
When your team makes dumb mistakes and loses, it's perhaps easier to feel okay about the loss. It's not a sign that my favorite team is physically inferior or less talented. It's not a signal of things to come. It's simple stupidity. The inability to execute.
In short, dumb mistakes.
And perhaps it's easier to accept the loss when your team's record is still 10-2. Had the loss ruined my team's chances to make the playoffs (like the Giant's loss did yesterday), perhaps I would not be feeling as good as I do today.
And perhaps the fact that the Patriots' best receiver, the other best receiver (and one of the best players in all of football), the best running back, the best offensive lineman, and the best linebacker are injured (with three of the five expected back by the playoffs) helps to dampen the pain of the loss. While it's universally acknowledged that all football teams suffer injuries by December, it's also been universally acknowledged that the Patriots rash of injuries this year has been extreme.
We've lost without some of our best players on the field. Of course we struggled. Just wait until they are back.
All of these reasons may help me to feel better this morning, but here is what I think is the real reason:
I enjoyed the game yesterday. I did not enjoy the final play or the final score, but the game was exciting. The final score was not 35-7 or even 35-14. It was 35-28, and with a minute to go, my team had roared back and was threatening to tie and maybe win.
It was a thrilling fourth quarter.
The Patriots scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes.
They recovered an onside kick.
They forced a fumble with under a minute to play to get the ball back.
They also ran a double reverse which led to stone-footed Tom Brady catching a 36 yard pass.
This was not a team that laid down and died. They fought. They fought like hell.
When the Patriots scored on a Tom Brady one yard run with 3:00 minutes to go, the faithful who had not already fled the stadium erupted in cheers. The concrete and steel beneath my feet began to shake. I was jumping in the air, pumping my fist, offering high-fives to anyone I could find. Still down by a touchdown with three minutes to play and only two timeouts, the chances of tying or winning were still slim. The Patriots needed the ball back.
A recovered onside kick.
A defensive stop.
They got the turnover, but they could not manage to drive the field.
But those final five minutes... the joy, the hope, the possibility. It was amazing. It was a feeling that can only be experienced if you have been in the depths of despair. It was like watching a phoenix rising from the ashes. It was hope where there was once none.
These are not everyday feelings. These are momentous emotions.
When the Patriots scored with three minutes to go, I turned to my friend - a man who once told me that I live in the moment more than anyone he has ever known - and said, "Listen. We probably aren't going to win this game. But please, don't forget this moment. This moment of joy and possibility. Don't let the depression of a loss steal this moment of happiness from you."
I was actually screaming these words to him over the roar of the crowd and the music, and I was holding onto him. Squeezing his shoulders and chest. Trying to force my words into his body.
My friend - who was also attending his first professional football game ever - did not heed my advice. He was not able to hold that moment of joy and hope in his heart. He grumbled on the way home. Told me that it's the end result that matters. That moments of possibility are meaningless when they don't result in a win.
I suspect that many Patriots fans will be feeling similarly today. They will be angry or annoyed or depressed today and perhaps tomorrow and maybe all week.
I understand that, too. Had the Patriots lost 35-7 in a game that offered nothing by way of excitement and joy, I would be feeling the same way.
But that's not what I watched yesterday. I felt joy in that stadium yesterday. Hope filled my heart. I witnessed an almost remarkable comeback by a team of determined football players.
For a short time, I was as happy as a person can be.
And I got to see a crazy double reserve pass to the quarterback, too.
Too often we forget the small moments of happiness and hope when the end result is less than we expected or desired.
Perhaps my friend is right. Maybe I am able to live in the moment more than most, but even more important than living in the moment is remembering those moments long after they have passed. It's honoring them. Recognizing them as important and blessed events in our lives. Acknowledging the great fortune to be able to exist in that moment, experiencing the kind of hope and joy that can be so elusive for so many.
I'm okay today. I didn't like the final score, and I wish that the Patriots comeback would have been complete, but the moments along the way were magical. Unforgettable. I'll keep them close to my heart and leave the final score for someone else to wallow over.