Originally created 11/19/2007
A Tale Rife with Inconsistent Analogies, Plot Holes and Poop Jokes
1999 was the all too brief Day of the Empire. It is hard, if not impossible, to place the recent history of the NFL without splitting the league into the New England Patriots, led by young Jedi warrior Tom Brady, and the Indianapolis Colts, led by the equivalent of Top Gun‘s Iceman, and everyone else who might as well be the Empire. The Empire began under the humblest of circumstances–with the 1999 St. Louis Rams who went from a 4-12 team with an offense ranked 24th in the league to the number 1 ranked offense, a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl victory. The Rams started an unknown aging quarterback named Kurt Warner who would become league MVP twice in three seasons. The team’s supposed QB savior had gotten violently injured in a preseason game after a cheapshot by San Diego Chargers safety Rodney Harrison. The team’s longtime receiver and probable future Hall of Famer Issac Bruce was almost killed in a car accident that year. Marshall Faulk, considered a locker room cancer in Indianapolis, was traded and all but etched his name on a plaque in Canton over the next few years. Faulk was the first Vader–brutally competitive, ruthless, and extremely talented. The Rams assumed the mantle of the premier offense from the Minnesota Vikings by stomping them 49-37 in the NFC semifinals. The storybook rags to riches tale continued for the Rams as the unheralded third receiver Ricky Proehl would catch the winning touchdown in the NFC Championship game. Then they beat the Tennessee Titans on the last play of the game; a team that had enjoyed its own Music City Miracle in an earlier playoff game against the Buffalo Bills. The empire would be headed by the Greatest Show on Earth Dynasty, replacing the aging and fallen dynasties of the Cowboys, 49ers, and Broncos. It was 2001 and the St. Louis Rams were in the second Super Bowl in three years. During those three years, they fielded arguably the most prolific offense in NFL history. They won one of the most spectacular Super Bowls ever (this clip requires RealPlayer) on the back of a quarterback that more or less came off the street. The defense had recovered from a dismal 2000 performance with the infusion of hardened veterans and vicious rookies. They were 14 point favorites against the New England Patriots. It looked like the Greatest Show on Turf would become a dynasty.
The following year saw disappoint on the front of the Rams. A transcendent offense continued market by the sheer opulence. Even the current Patriots, and for future generations who will almost certainly not bear witness to any of this tale, I am referring to the 2007 iteration of the New England zealots, could not muster, at least at mid-season to which this prose was put to pen, such a display as this: the image from the first game of the 2000 season of Torry Holt and Az-zahir Hakim sprinting down the sideline talking to each other after Holt had caught a pass—and with no Denver Bronco players around them. Marshall Faulk was spitting fire from the backfield, even volunteering to play safety as the defense floundered in 2000; he also brought back the bob-and-weave TD celebration during a pounding of the Minnesota Vikings in direct defiance of the league which had outlawed the practice in order to fire up the struggling Rams for a run at the playoffs. The defense had failed them, in a year where another transcendent unit, the defense of the Baltimore Ravens, would capture the Super Bowl for their own.
The 2001 season marked not only a turning point for the Rams but for my own life, the life of the US nation and so many other peoples of this world. 2001 saw the terrorist attacks of September 11th. I was in my freshman year of college, a disorienting and wholly disappointing experience of my own formation. The Rams could claim much the same offense with their loss of the Super Bowl.
Kurt Warner demands that Tom Brady be punished for his “godless Roman popery.” This happened well over one hundred times between the 1999 and 2001 seasons
Some might claim poor officiating by which the upstart New England Patriots were allowed to check the Ram receivers without penalty throughout the game. I recognize that may have been the case, but without a thorough review of game footage I can make no final determination. But the game was poorly played and coached by the Rams; perfectly played and coached by the Pats. The Rams may have had the better team, as they proved earlier in the season when they defeated the Pats outdoors in November on their home field. Nine out of ten times the Rams may have won that game. But this was the time of tenth. The Rams dynasty was dead in its nascent period, and never recovered. Many celebrated the Pats improbable rise, East coast bias aside, for we had a patriotic symbol defeating an empire. Just as in Star Wars, the seemingly overwhelmed side of good found the exhaust vent that would bring down the despots.
But the next year neither side had much of any sort of luck. The quarterback of the Rams was oft-injured, fumbling – a disaster. The quarterback of the Pats, Tom Brady, the handsome Jedi warrior who blew up the Death Star, suffered his own strike back as the Pats were unable to make the playoffs in a decided sophomore slump. Another interregnum reigned with defense again playing the part; the Buccaneers squared off against Oakland in the Pirate Bowl as the team who had drawn the most effective defensive blueprint to stopping the Ram juggernaut finally received its due without vanquishing its most hated opponent that had kept it a win away from the Super Bowl a few years before. A new coach, quarterback or not, the Bucs rose from doorstop to gatekeeper and so took their place as champion. But the empire lurked in the darkness while the Jedi gathered their strength…
But the next year saw a coming rematch of 2001. The Rams finished 12-4, top in the NFC with the Pats ending 14-2, lord of the AFC. All was set, all was promised, the Pats kept their end of the bargain, the Rams failed miserably in their own to the eventual NFC champion, Carolina Panthers. A grey ghost, Steve Smith, burned a past prime Jason Sehorn and it was all over in a blink. The empire’s resurgence was over. The Jedi more or less reproduced their victory of two years previous with more luck and less slight of hand, and had their second Super Bowl title.
Two Super Bowls later and what are the Patriots at this point in time? A juggernaut no less for the 2007 season, having squandered their improbable luck against a juggernaut, steroid-infused Chargers team in 2006. But it makes one wonder, if the Patriots and Tom Brady in particular, as the most visible symbol, the Skywalker of the bunch, are the Jedi, it presents the interesting study of what happened after the Return of the Jedi.
One does wonder, for all the attempts of Brady to try to be one of the guys (and he did not deny that he even surfs the Internet for pornography), one cannot relate, in any way shape or form to him. Here’ s a person who not only looks like a model put plays the most difficult position of one of the most violent games on Earth to perfection. How could a Skywalker come on down and sit with us guys?
That does present us with a question many neglected: okay, so Han Solo was cooler, but what exactly did Luke do after the Death Star blew up (again) and Vader was dead and the Emperor was dead and all was right with the world? The answer lies with the 2007 Patriots.
He became a massive dick.
Tom Brady and the rest of the 2007 Patriots have become what they defeated: an Empire. They are worse than the Rams ever were; running up the score, smugly brushing aside coaches. Did Mike Martz ever cheat? I think not. From cheapshot artist extraordinaire Rodney Harrison to the grimly spectacular Randy Moss, the whole team smells of a genuinely smug disposition. Which face of Bill Belichick is more accurate:
Bill Belichick might be the emperor, going from friend of the Jedi to soulless despot…
Or a pragmatic puppet master who would rather not discuss his various indiscretions…
I think we all can agree that he is a surly dick. Reasons why he is a legend:
“1) He’s a surly dick. I think I said that already.
2) He’s turned New England into the Death Star. I said that too.
3) He wears a Flashdance sweatshirt.
4) He cheated and acted like a dick about it.
5) He blew off Tony Dungy.
6) He blew off Eric Mangini for doing the same thing to him that he did to Parcells, only he did it worse.”
For clarification on the New York Jets story, we turn to wikipedia:
“Soon after Super Bowl XXXI, Belichick (and most of the Patriots assistant coaches) migrated with Parcells to the New York Jets. Belichick served as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Jets from 1997 to 1999. When Parcells stepped down as head coach in 1999, Belichick became the new Jets head coach. However, Belichick’s introduction to the media the following day turned out to be a surprise resignation announcement. Before taking the podium, he scrawled a resignation note on a sheet of loose leaf paper that read, in its entirety, “I resign as HC of the NYJ.” He then delivered a half-hour speech explaining his resignation to the assembled press corps. 
“Shortly afterward, he accepted an offer from the Patriots to become their new head coach, who had previously tried to hire him away from the Jets. Parcells and the Jets claimed that Belichick was still under contract, and demanded compensation from the Patriots. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue agreed, and the Patriots gave the Jets a first-round draft pick in 2000 in exchange for the right to hire Belichick.“
Though Belichick may be Satan, or at least made some sort of Faustian bargain with him, whether or not the new Empire of the Patriots is good or bad is not a cosmic question. They are, after all, just a football team and although sports can be a metaphor for some aspects of life, they are never anything more.
Even if their resident court historian, Bill Simmons, wants to wallow in one of the greatest displays of hypocrisy in sports writing, it does not make the Patriots players themselves good or evil. The Empire is a good metaphor – but is Belichick more like the Emperor from Star Wars or Warden Samuel Norton from Shawshank Redemption; holding the NFL hostage and casting disdain upon any of his challengers whether they were on the field, in the media or the league itself? Has anyone ever had more sway over the NFL game? His team is near invincible, he can cheat and barely suffer consequence even without any notable remorse, and his most diehard supporter in Simmons seems to claim that the real villain is Eric Mangini, the coach of the Jets who exposed the plot, who will receive his just comeuppance on December the 13th. But be wary, court jester, Mangini might be the one with the shit-eating grin at the end of that game after Johnathan Vilma tears off Tom Brady’s kneecap before Belichick can make good on his unspoken goal of “casting him down with the sodomites”.
A note on the aforementioned hypocrisy: it is not so much Simmons is a clear homer for Boston teams – I think it’s clear that anyone in a similar situation would be caught up in the same exuberance given Boston teams’ recent success. Nor is it necessarily a fact that Simmons complained about refereeing, which is not anything new for sports fans. No, it is that Simmons had the gall to complain about the very thing he had chided so many opposing teams in the Patriots run described in this article had complained about – that the referees were not calling a fair game and swaying the game to the Pats’ advantage most notably on pass interference calls. Not only did Simmons have the temerity to weep and moan about these supposed injustices after calling so many other complainers out over the past few years, but he did so after the Patriots won the game. At least those other teams (the Colts and the Rams being the two most obvious examples) had lost the game.
This Week’s Stephen Colbert’s Guitarmageddon Toss of the Gauntlet:
For the classic side of the equation, we’re going to go with Rondo alla Turca, the second with extra Eric Johnson-ish rock out:
Obligatory Jimi Hendrix riff – All Along the Watchtower, live and in jive:
Double Black Diamond: at a time when guitar solos went to overly baroque affairs, Eric Johnson was one of the leaders with his masterpiece “Cliffs of Dover”.
For acoustic guitar fun: an Eric Bana-looking Chris Cornell performs “I am a Highway” live: