It was nearly five years ago today that Jeff Johnson, in his old NFL Picks column at McSweeney’s, gave the following exhortation to Bill Cowher before his Steelers faced off with the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. This was the beginning of the Tom Brady era. The sleeves of Bill Belichick’s sweatshirt were not yet cropped in some grotesque appropriation of South Williamsburg, Brooklyn ladies’ fashion ca. 2004. In short, what he writes here was coming not from a place of bitterness over the Pats’ success, but rather over their very nature:
That leaves me with either picking you or the Patriots. Not difficult. Their fans are all middle managers who love money, Phish, Sam Adams beer, watching Thirtysomething on DVD and being white. They are uptight losers who are insanely jealous of their girlfriends and insist on wearing slippers and eating chicken soup even in July. When they want to get edgy, they rent a Robin Williams movie or listen to Staind. Do you understand me, Cowher? These fuckers invented brunch. Get it? They’re entitled to a supreme ass-kicking, and while it doesn’t make me jump for joy, your team must administer one to them.
Of course that didn’t happen. The Patriots won and they kept winning and while this means that Bill Simmons can now die in peace — whenever, man, the general public is ready — it has not changed the fact that there’s still very little to like about the Patriots. Now, as Pats fatigue reaches epidemic levels leading up to tomorrow’s AFC Championship, Simmons has noticed that people don’t much like his team. And he is shocked. The following few paragraphs were pulled from an article that I guesstimate at about 7,500 words, and which mentions Fredo Corleone not once but twice.
I get the part where the outside world is ready for another team, because that’s the way our society works now: We embrace something new, digest it, beat it into the ground and move on to something else. One minute, “Borat” is the greatest comedy of all-time; the next minute, it’s overrated. One minute, everyone loves “Lost”; the next minute, we’re wondering if it jumped the shark. One minute, everyone loves The Killers; the next minute, they’re self-important sellouts. It’s the Everything Sucks Era. We spend an inordinate amount of time bitching about everyone else. Nobody’s good, nobody’s worthwhile and everybody needs to go away. That’s the prevailing theme. And after their third Super Bowl victory, the Patriots entered the “all right, you guys can go away now, you’ve ceased to be interesting” stage of their run, where we’ve been stuck for the past two seasons. I’m sure the players and coaches don’t care, but for the fans, it’s been bittersweet and even a little discouraging. If you can’t appreciate THIS team, even as an impartial observer, what does that say about the future of sports?
Now here’s where a slight dose of hypocrisy comes in. We spend so much time complaining about underachieving superstars, overpaid and overhyped players, incompetent GMs, rookie flops, dreadful officiating, troublemakers, thugs, players and coaches doing/saying dumb things, bad trades and signings, annoying announcers and writers, and overrated teams getting too much credit — by the way, I do as much complaining and mocking as anyone, I’m not absolving myself here — that I’m starting to wonder if we’ll ever fully embrace a special team anymore. Are we too cynical? Are we too desperate to poke fun at everything? Has being a “fan” morphed into something else? Has the fan-sports dynamic started to become a little unhealthy?
My standard disclaimer: can’t hate Simmons totally, obviously his faults are well-known at this point, so on and so forth. But this seems again symptomatic of the Sports Guy’s broader problem: he has written about himself, and received so many supplicants (and so little editing) in return, that he now can only write about himself. Sports enter the picture only when necessary, or as if by coincedence. There’s something touching — and obviously not wrong — with the way in which he decries the culture of manufactured anger in sports media; it’s to his credit, I suppose, that he’s not a part of that, except where Doc Rivers is involved. What’s wrong is why he’s doing it: his ox — a word I’ll use to stand in for an unlikeable bunch (Rodney Harrison! Corey Dillon!) led by a hatchet-faced head coach who is doing his best to unify the Least Personally Pleasant and Most Disturbing Personal Appearance belts among NFL head coaches — is being gored. The Patriots have been the league’s most successful team for years, and it’s understandable why they’d matter to the artist formerly known as The Boston Sports Guy. It is also understood that asking that columnist to see beyond himself is now like asking…K-Fed to…and the Manning Face…anyway, he’s stuck on himself is what I’m saying. And as for Jeff Johnson, now with his NFL picks up at Vice Some things have not changed:
Patriots fans? They don’t deserve a win. They’re me-too turds, who’ve played their whole lives “close-to-the-vest,” championing risk-averse entertainment like Buffalo Tom or Letters to Cleo. But now that their squad has won three of the last five Super Bowls, they walk around like they had a role in it all. It’s not hard spotting them. Look for the guy at the bar in the soft cotton Patagonia hiking jacket wearing a distressed baseball cap, nursing a Sam Adams, talking about his law school payments, his mortgage, and his med-student wife’s excellent cooking. Then look again four hours later as he’s drunkenly weeping into his cellphone, “Beth!!!!!!!” Their highest aspiration is either to litigate a case where someone poorer than them loses the rest of their money, or turn on the TV one night and see a little of themselves in a character in a David E. Kelley drama. Wait, that was only the white-collar fans I was talking about. The rest of them just want to fuck Johnny Damon’s ex-wife, then get her to maybe buy them a convertible.