Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Proclaiming Neutrality When a Super Bowl Rematch Is On the Line

For me, Conference Championship Sunday is stressful when the Patriots are in it.

Their opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, are a good team. They've punched the Patriots in the mouth in the playoffs before. Sunday, the Patriots and Ravens played a title fight worthy of a conference championship game, even though both teams played sloppy football at times. (If this were a boxing match, I might've even given it to Baltimore on points.) QB Tom Brady sucked, by his own admission. Despite the Pats' o-line neutralizing the Raven pass rush throughout the game, Brady threw two interceptions and missed some makeable throws. The Pats trailed entering the fourth quarter. They were a last-moment deflected pass away from giving up the go-ahead touchdown with 22 seconds left. Then they were a shanked 32-yard field goal away from having to go to overtime to decide the winner. But they pulled it off, 23-20.

This is only half the battle, though.

When you win the early game, then you sit and wait. The New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers met in the NFC Championship Game to determine the Patriots' opponent.

This left me with very conflicted emotions. Ordinarily in a 49ers-Giants matchup I would root for the 49ers. I've always hated the Giants. Before the Patriots were founded in 1960, Boston didn't have an NFL team and so many in New England adopted the Giants, at the time the closest NFL team geographically, as their team. As such there are still some 80-year-old geezers around these parts who claim allegiance to Big Blue. (And, when I was growing up the Giants were perennial Super Bowl contenders while the Patriots generally sucked so these old geezers were obnoxious about their loyalties.) And of course, my Giant hatred only intensified four years ago when the Giants upset the Patriots and ruined their perfect season in Super Bowl XLII .

That said, there's that part of me that wanted the Giants to win. Pretty much every Patriots fan was rooting for the Giants on Sunday night, for that shot at revenge. I mean, it was that much sweeter that the Red Sox had to vanquish the Yankees in the ALCS before they could win the 2004 World Series, and that the Celtics had to go through the Los Angeles Lakers to win the 2008 NBA Finals. Revenge is a powerful motivator.

That said, there's that part of me that feels like it's bad karma to root for a team as your Super Bowl opponent. Be careful what you wish for, you know? You may get it, and then the team you rooted for may turn around and beat the Patriots. So I rooted for neither the 49ers nor the Giants, and simply watched the game. It's very difficult for me to watch a game, especially one of this magnitude, and not openly root for someone. Even when I hate both teams, there's usually one team I hate less. Twitter was great for this. I would tweet after every score, every big play, or every time referee Ed Hochuli gave a rambling, 12-minute explanation of why he threw a flag (seriously, what was up with that?), and it allowed me not to get emotionally involved.

Of course, the NFC title game game had to go into overtime. But the Giants outlasted San Francisco 20-17, and so here we are. Patriots-Giants. I let the chips fall where they may, and now it will happen.

There's the possibility of the healing of old wounds, or of a deepening of the hurt. But this is the Super Bowl, and that's what should be at stake. Now the buildup can begin.

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