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December 31, 2007
Patriots Did It, But
Can They Do It?
Saturday night, the New England Patriots set four significant records –
points by a franchise in a regular season, touchdown passes in a regular
season (Tom Brady), touchdown receptions in a regular season (Randy
Moss) and wins in a regular season.
But there was a feeling of disenchantment, I noticed, during the game.
Tom Brady’s record setting 50th TD pass, which also happened
to be Randy Moss’s record-setting 23rd TD reception, felt a
lot like Barry Bonds’s 71st home run, which set a new regular
season record for home runs in 2001. In a way, Mark McGwire’s 70 home
runs only three years prior had already emptied this particular record
of its awe factor. Setting it again not only seemed less spectacular,
but it even seemed to take something away from the previous feat.
It’s like everyone was thinking, “Don’t I feel stupid for making such a
big deal out of this a few years ago. Apparently, this record isn’t all
that sacred.” So it went this year with Tom Brady breaking the record
set only three years ago by Peyton Manning.
And of course, when Peyton did it, he had broken a mark set by a legend
– Dan Marino. When McGwire did it, he had broken a record set by Roger
Maris – another legend. But no one ought to be ready to call Peyton
Manning or Mark McGwire legends. Manning is still playing. Oddly enough,
Brady’s new record didn’t feel as incredible as the numbers looked. But
let’s not forget that Brady broke Marino’s record too, not just
Manning’s. It still counts, and there probably weren’t steroids
involved, which, I think, is a nice variation on the standard repertoire
of “ways to break incredible individual records”.
And then there’s Moss’s new record for TD receptions, which beat the
mark set by Jerry Rice, who most revere as the greatest receiver ever.
The thing is, even if Moss somehow manages to put up numbers as the
greatest ever, which he most likely won’t, he still wouldn’t replace
Jerry Rice in the hearts and minds of most sports fans. For one, Rice
was just more likable. And on top of that, sports fans don’t trust
anything new. They’re thrilled, intrigued and mesmerized by it, but they
never trust it.
lot of sports commentators insist on reminding us that Jerry Rice set
the mark of 22 TDs in a shortened 12-game season, which is incredible.
But that doesn’t make Moss’s 23 any less spectacular, or any less the
record. It’s not as though Rice didn’t have plenty of other 16-game
seasons with which to improve upon his record.
wonder if Tom Brady, Randy Moss and the Patriots are getting the
credit/respect they’ve earned this season. They blitzed the offensive
record books, individually and as a team, and who are we to think that
these records won’t stand for decades to come? (That is, unless they are
broken by the same individuals who set them.) I think it’s time to give
Brady, Moss and the Patriots their due.
That being the case, the Patriots’ 2007 season, as of right now, means
nothing more than a team that set a lot of records and won a lot of
games but didn’t win the big one. The truth of the matter is that, when
compared with any other, the only statistic that really matters in
sports is a win in the last game of the season. Marino never won a Super
Bowl. Neither did Barry Sanders. And while both of them are widely
respected and certainly thrown into the discussion as the best ever, it
will always be difficult to make an ironclad case for either because
that one all-important statistic is missing from their resumes.
The fact that the Patriots have already won three Super Bowls in the
last six seasons will definitely ensure that the 2007 regular season is
not overlooked in the pages of history. But unless they manage to win
three more games, it will still go down for all time as a spectacular
fluke of a season.
Earlier this year, the Philadelphia Eagles became the second team to
really challenge the Patriots (the first was the Colts). It was the most
exhilarating, disappointing moment of the season for me, and most other
Eagles fans who had already mailed 2007 in as a mediocre, and thus,
lousy season. They were a few late, stupid penalties away from defeating
the mighty Patriots. It also would have helped if A.J. Feeley hadn’t
thrown an interception with four minutes left in the game. But they
lost, so who really cares?
There has been, and will continue to be, a lot of talk about how
beatable the Patriots looked this season, as they had three close calls
to the Colts, Eagles and Giants, and one incredibly close call to the
Ravens. They achieved an undefeated season, and that matters.
They are only three victories from achieving the most amazing
statistical season ever: 19-0.
But they’re not there yet. There are three games left, and they ought to
be the three hardest. The 16-0 regular season has been incredible to
watch, but it also pales in comparison to 9-7 with four straight playoff
victories. 16-0, as far as sports go, is not a successful season. 16-0
is only one loss away from joining the Eagles and 30 other teams who
failed to win the last game of the 2007 NFL season.
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