Perhaps you’ve already heard: The G-Men beat the Pats, 21–17.
Here are my game notes — buffed to high luster, no doubt, by the benefactions of a well-stocked bar situated thoughtfully, let’s see, nine steps from my well-appointed seat.
Americans, especially those of the wagering class, love underdogs, and the Giants go off as lovable three-point underdogs. But with a passion exceeding even their affection for underdogs, Americans hate losers. Good luck on that long trip home, Patriots.
The NFL, both officially and otherwise, emphatically opposes gambling, and for all of the reasons you inscribed in your childhood book of maxims — namely, that gambling is “the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, the father of mischief, the sister of anxiety, and the uncle of stupidity.” Okay, I made those last two up. But the first three were coined by no less an authority than the father not of mischief but of our very own country (or, quite possibly, by Alexander Hamilton, who for a modest fee would doubtless have been willing to take the other side of the question). There is no gambling up here in the suites, of course. It would be lily-gilding. Some of these guys have already bet a half-billion or so just to buy a team.
The game features two high-profile quarterbacks, one great and the other knocking on the door, as we grizzled sports scribes like to say. Tom Brady is brilliant, no question, but he dresses a bit too carefully, fusses continually with his hair, struts camera-ready poses with off-putting regularity. What’s up with that? This is football, not polo. When he steps out with his wife, a Brazilian supermodel, they look as if they’ve been booked in a fashion shoot. I’m an Eli Manning guy. He’s still slogging along in the shadow of his big brother. Eli grinds it out, year after year: When he’s flushed from the pocket and has to run for his life, you can almost hear him say, Oy! In the open field, his gait is decidedly more geezer than gazelle. Eli is also self-effacing, courteous to all, loyal to Ole Miss, loving to his Mom, faithful to his college sweetheart. I know a GOP voter when I see one.
The coaches offer no such contrast. The difference between the Pats’ Bill Belichick and the Giants’ Tom Coughlin is the difference between old school and older school. They both apprenticed under the legendary coach Bill Parcells whose path-breaking insight was that you can break an opponent’s will by hitting him harder than he hits you. There’s an undeniable logic there, even if it affronts Eastern sensibilities. Coughlin, at 65, still sets the clocks five minutes early at the Giants’ practice facility: To be on time, in other words, you have to arrive early. I’m told that it makes perfect sense once you’ve taken the one-way trip into the heart of Coughlin World.
The rule of thumb when attending Super Bowls, Oscar ceremonies, royal weddings, and other large entertainments is that you must consign yourself, body and soul, to the proper Sherpa. There is no lonelier or more un-American place in the world than the holding pen just outside a velvet rope. Avoid it whenever possible. Or lose the one chance in your life to be up close and personal with Michael Douglas, Steven Tyler, Kenneth the Page, and Amani Toomer. (If you don’t know Amani Toomer, shame on you.)
Hmmm. I may have used that “rule of thumb” inappropriately. A medievalist friend of mine insists that the phrase originated in 15th-century England, where men were enjoined from beating their wives with sticks thicker than their thumbs. A good custom, that. We observe it to this very day in the Freeman household. (Joke alert! Joke alert!)