Commentary

It's only a game

Originally Published: February 8, 2012
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Patriots FansBarry Chin/Getty Images Sadness and disappointment are sometimes part of being a fan. But the New England Patriots' loss in the Super Bowl has prompted reactions of stunning vitriol and personal attacks.

If you wonder why that snarling NFL linebacker just blew past your precious little Alexis for an autograph, you can blame it on the kind of insanity we're seeing around the New England Patriots right now.

To too many of us -- sports writers, analysts or supposed Patriots fans -- the Super Bowl is a zero-sum game. Win and we would step in front of arrows for you. Lose and you're the biggest choker since the Hillside Strangler.

Tom Brady is hearing all that ugliness now. So is Wes Welker. So is Bill Belichick. They don't deserve it. They don't deserve anything near it.

"You blew this Super Bowl," Boston Globe sports writer Eric Wilbur wrote of Brady on Monday. "You denied your coach No. 4. You let down your teammates."

This is the same Brady who broke a Super Bowl record with 16 straight completions during the game. The same Brady who's taken the Pats to five of these big games. The one who was on the cusp of tying Joe Montana with four Super Bowl wins.

And you wonder why Brady lives in L.A.

"Epic fail," Kerry J. Byrne wrote of Belichick on ColdHardFootballFacts.com. "Epic failures from one end of the organization to the other."

This is the same Belichick Byrne had previously praised for directing a team that had given fans "a stunning string of colossal victories, big moments, all-time records and memorable games for the ages."

The Patriots should not renew Welker's contract, suggested Luke Hughes of Boston's NESN.com. "It's a hard sell to start with and an even harder one when you consider that [fourth-quarter] drop," he wrote.

Let me get this straight. You're going to get rid of the man who led the NFL in receiving this season, everybody's first-team All-Pro, because he couldn't haul in a ball that was high and over the wrong shoulder?

Apparently somebody agreed with Hughes. Eight thousand Butterfingers were dumped in Copley Square on Tuesday to mock Welker.

Tough crowd.

There is no fall as far as when you lose the Super Bowl. The second you lose, you drop all the way back to the bottom, down there with every other team that played that season. It's like you did nothing."

-- John Elway
A little decaf, folks: The Patriots lost the Super Bowl on the last play of the game when a tipped ball failed to stay in the air another quarter second longer so a one-legged Rob Gronkowski could possibly catch it. If it had, all three of these writers would be hailing Brady, Belichick and Welker as just slightly greater than Lincoln.

How fickle are you people?

"There is no fall as far as when you lose the Super Bowl," says John Elway, who lost three of them. "The second you lose, you drop all the way back to the bottom, down there with every other team that played that season. It's like you did nothing. The minute it's over, they literally start bumping you out of the way to set up the ropes and the award stand. It's like, 'Uh, can you move, please? We've got some people to celebrate here.'"

Elway is lucky he didn't play in Boston. People would've pelted him to death with Starburst and never seen him win his last two.

Why must the Super Bowl be all-or-nothing? Why must we detest the losers as much as we love the winners? It doesn't happen anywhere else. Nobody is going to heckle Meryl Streep if she loses the best actress Oscar this year.

You suck, Streep! Two-for-17? Go back to dinner theater!

Remember 20 years ago, when Duke stunned Kentucky in arguably the greatest game in college basketball history on Christian Laettner's 17-footer at the buzzer? According to "The Last Great Game" by Gene Wojciechowski, thousands of people cheered those Wildcats upon their arrival in Lexington.

Jack Nicklaus won 18 majors. But he finished second in them 19 times. Did anybody call him "the former Golden Bear" the way Byrne called Brady "the former Golden Boy" this week?

What happened to grace? To "it's just a game"? To "thanks for a great season"? Fans are lashing out at their team with the kind of vitriol reserved for Court TV villains.

"Tom Brady is a CLOWN," tweeted Andrew Lucid (@TheFriarMan). "Selfish, choke artist, arrogant."

"Can't catch that lollipop? go focus on [your] mustache," Sean Hayden (@Irishsph) tweeted of Welker.

"Fire Belichick, trade Brady, kill Welker. I'm out," sent @VinnyDamato.

Charming.

Were these three men not sorrowful enough? Didn't they hear about Brady sitting with a towel over his head for 18 minutes afterward, inconsolable? Didn't they hear Welker fighting back tears as he said, "It comes to the biggest moment of my life, and [I] don't come up with it"? Didn't they see Belichick standing on the podium looking as if somebody had just stabbed him in the big toe?

As the NFL gets more and more behemoth, the more of this kind of Super Overreaction I see. The more of this two-faced loyalty. The more of this I'll-never-get-over-this or I'll-never-forget-this reaction. When San Francisco punt returner Kyle Williams muffed two punts leading to the 49ers' loss to the Giants in the NFC title game this season, he got numerous death threats. Sick.

The players see all this and put up even bigger walls between themselves and the fans. Can you blame them? Who wants to pet a dog that might bite three seconds later?

"What happened to you?" Wilbur taunted Brady in his article.

What happened to us?


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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "Monday Night Countdown," "SportsCenter," and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.


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