Magazine | February 11, 2019, Issue

Team Nosferatu

“This is one transplant who’s hoping that Brady and Belichick do get the ring. I could write that the key to the game will be New England’s offensive line’s protection for No. 12, but who really cares what a D.C. lawyer who never played the game beyond Sunday afternoon pickup games has to say about game planning?” — Shannen W. Coffin, Steptoe & Johnson LLP

In December, on the NR cruise, I spent a little too much time enjoying myself with disreputables such as James Lileks and Rob Long. Lileks is always pointing his little cigarillos at you as he tells you about the short subjects on medicine-ball calisthenics from 1935 he’s been watching on TCM. The man is odd. Keep an eye on him, constables. If there’s ever an audacious raid on the RKO Radio Pictures vault and the newsreels on Eleanor Roose­velt’s hat collection go missing, I have a tip for you.

Anyway, I’m not saying Rob and James overindulged in good cheer, but I certainly did. So I resolved to take a dry January, an alcoholiday. This was going fairly well until Satan’s children the New England Patriots won the AFC championship and I found myself getting reacquainted with a bottle of Whistlepig Straight Rye that Santa had brought me. I wouldn’t let the Patriots ruin my weekend. A weekend capped off with a couple of glasses of rye is pretty good, no? My torrential weeping merely lent the drink a salty tang.

So the Patriots are in the Super Bowl for the 112th consecutive year and will win it for the 77th time. (Vegas oddsmakers initially gave the edge to the opposing Los Angeles Rams — hilarious! They look like sacrificial Rams to me.) This is fine, really. It’s useful! It reminds us that evil is ineradicable. As the kids say, LOL nothing matters. Why do any of us bother watching the NFL when it always ends with the Patriots hoisting trophies? A poll before the match against the Kansas City Chiefs showed that every state in the U.S. outside of New England was rooting for the Chiefs, except Michigan, where Tom Brady played college ball. We all knew what was going to happen, didn’t we? The Patriots would either win a blowout or they would win an agonizingly close one that depended on a combination of dumb luck, questionable refereeing, and having Nosferatu for a head coach.

My Patriots hatred is the offspring of my Indianapolis Colts fandom, and by now the son has outgrown his father. I started rooting for the Colts in 1976. First place that year. First place the next year. Then: a bit of a funk. Like 20th-century-Russia funk. They would be invited to exactly one playoff game (and lose it) in the next 17 years. As the great redeemer Peyton Manning rose, then left, then retired, his great rival Tom Brady continued irritatingly to succeed. (By the way, Manning won three of the five postseason contests he played against Brady. You’re welcome, America.) Post-Manning, given the insult of watching Brady (who is only a year younger) refusing to quit or even decline, my main interest in football is not so much rooting for the Colts as it is un-rooting or dis-rooting for the Patriots.

This means reporting for considerable punishment each winter. At some point during the latter stages of this month’s nerve-wracking AFC championship I noticed I was suddenly alone in the room. My wife and children had retreated to an upstairs bedroom. I later learned that my daughters were doing a comedy routine called “Normal Dad vs. Football Dad.” The former is apparently solicitous and loving whereas the latter is loud and rageful. Beastly, even. Nobody wants to watch TV with Godzilla. I can’t blame them. The next day I bought the girls root beer by way of apology.

Watching the Patriots is a useful lesson in the ingenuity of evil. The Bradymen won the game because of a phantom roughing-the-passer penalty against the Kansas City Chiefs, because a Chiefs player lined up a few inches too close to the scrimmage line in a play that (would have) resulted in a K.C. interception, and because New England won the coin toss in overtime. After one of these extremely typical instances of Lady Luck wolf-whistling in the direction of the Patriots, the retired Colts star defensive end Robert Mathis tweeted, “100% NOT Surprising…. those that know…#KNOW.” Former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard recently pointed out the following amusing coincidence: When the Patriots are at home (where they went undefeated this season, though they were 3–5 on the road before winning in Kansas City), opponents tend to suffer mysterious un­explained equipment failures. “Every time we played in New England, whether it was the playoffs or regular season or preseason, the headphones always went off — always,” Garrard said. “It’s automatic.” Oh, and referees seem inordinately fond of the Pats. An analysis published last year on The Ringer surveyed games from 2011 to 2017 and found that, “in 55 non-close games in the sample, the Patriots amassed slightly more penalties than their opponents. In 74 close games, though, they benefited from a massive disparity.” Meanwhile, other than New England, teams across the league fared about as well in close games as in non-close games. Another funny thing that has happened is that the Patriots have been caught perpetrating both of the major NFL cheating scandals this century.

I could go on for a while but I realize I’m starting to sound a bit like Lileks discussing his favorite New Deal grain-threshing documentaries. And it must be admitted that Brady and his favorite receivers, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, executed some spectacular plays on the game-winning overtime drive. Your average Blake Bortles or Ryan Tannehill does not make those throws. But as Mathis hints, things do seem to fall the Patriots’ way. How Bill Beelzebub manages to cheat on the coin toss or warp the minds of opposing players to make them commit minuscule formation infractions, I don’t know. I just #KNOW.

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