RALEIGH – It just doesn’t get any better that this.
A team called the Patriots has won the Super Bowl.
It was the most patriotic sports event I’ve ever seen — more than even the past two Olympics held in the U.S., the Los Angeles and Atlanta games, neither of which had the kind of backstory that the Rams vs. Patriots game in New Orleans enjoyed. Flags were everywhere, as were images of policemen, fireman, soldiers, and sailors. The interminable pre-game show featured a bevy of patriotic music. Barry Manilow, believe it or not, was moving. Wynona failed to sicken. Mary J. Blige kicked some you-know-what. St. Paul of McCartney roused the audience, and probably hundreds of millions of people around the world, with his pre-game anthem. “We will fight for the right to live in freedom,” he sang, no hint of the naive peacenik of yore. Talk about a patriotic moment.
And then a team called the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
The momentum had built all week. Joe Namath, he of the legendary ’69 Jets, said he thought history would repeat itself as an underdog AFC team took on and defeated a much-hyped NFC Goliath. The Patriots dismayed many by going with near-rookie Tom Brady at quarterback rather than the veteran Drew Bledsoe. Every self-styled expert said it would be difficult if not impossible for New England to challenge the powerful Rams. They didn’t have the weapons. They didn’t have the time to prepare. They weren’t as experienced on the field of battle as theother team. But the Patriots fashioned the right game plan, played to their strengths, stuck to their guns, drove down the field with only a minute to go and a tie game — John Madden sputtering his disapproval at the risk — and stunned the pundit-ocracy into embarrassed silence.
Like so many victorious armies throughout history, the New England Patriots made up for a lack of size and power by coordinating a combined-arms approach. Their defense scored. Their offense struggled but capitalized on opportunities. Their kicking team did their job well, forcing the Rams to start deep in their own territory on several occasions and, of course, scoring the winning points.
Now that the exciting game is over — won, impossibly and dramatically, by a single field goal in the last play of the game — you’ll hear lots of folks chime in that they knew all along the Patriots had a good shot. Oh, sure. Reminds me of what Mark Twain wrote about a different sort of patriot a century ago: “In the beginning of a change, the Patriot is a scarce man, Brave, and, and Scorned. When his cause succeeds however, the timid join him, For then it cost nothing to be a Patriot.” (emphasis added)
Recall last week’s State of the Union Address by President George W. Bush, another supposedly inexperienced leader who rose to the challenge. He said that, damn the diplomats and the experts, he would not wait for the “Axis of Evil” to get weapons of mass destruction and make the first move. He would make it. And what word did he use to describe those countries who would refuse to join the cause?
Other than the painful warbling of Mariah Carey, maniacally tapped by some depraved individual to “sing” the national anthem, the Super Bowl was a topnotch and uplifting production. From start to finish, it celebrated America, American heroes, American principles, America’s fallen (thanks to U2’s halftime performance), and American freedom (thanks to the cheeky McCartney, who even sang “Hard Day’s Night” with Terry Bradshaw).
And a team called the Patriots won the Super Bowl.