I've never been the "Whoo-hoo! It's truck day!" guy. But for some reason, I'm as whoo-hoo about it as I've ever been. When I saw that on the Globe site today, it actually made me really happy. As I sit here in Butler, PA on February 9, it's about 35 degrees, there's a bunch of wet, soupy snow on the ground, I've been sick with pneumonia and bronchitis for nearly two weeks and I have to go back to work at the restaurant tonight for the first time since January. I'm not really psyched about any of those things, to be completely honest.
Also, over the last few days, I've upgraded The Loss; it's now in my top 5. So, now the list looks like this (fortunately for Isabella Rosselini, I haven't had it laminated yet):
The New Top 5 Worst Sports Losses of My Life
5. Maryland loses to Duke in the 2001 NCAA Final Four after being up 22 in the first half.
4. Red Sox lose Game 6, 1986 World Series, to Mets after, well, you know...
3. Patriots lose 2007 AFC Championship game to Colts after leading 21-3 in the first half.
2. Patriots lose Super Bowl XLII to Giants after playing worst big game ever by anyone.
1. Red Sox lose Game 7, 2003 ALCS , to Yankees after being up 5-2 in the 8th inning.
So, the explanations, in no particular order, about the new and improved (?!) list.
I bumped Duke's "Miracle Minute" because even though it's the worst thing I've ever personally witnessed at a sporting event, it was just a regular season game (albeit, one whose karma was felt mightily during no. 5 on my list.) So that's out. Number five stays on the list, because, honestly, who wants a Top 4 list, and that game did suck a lot.
Obviously, nothing I've seen to this point trumps the Boone game. That whole season is something I'll never forget; I don't think I've ever been as jacked about the Sox for an entire season the way I was that year. I lived and died with every pitch that summer, and to this day, I'm still not sure why that season stands out so much to me, but it does. It was the last pre-pregnancy/pre-kids season, it was the last year I was just a waiter and could take the evening off if I wanted to to watch a game. It was, really, the last summer before I became an adult.
After Nomar finally got on track in game 6, I was so so so very certain that this was finally it. I had to go to the dentist the morning of game 7 and I needed novocaine, so I spent the whole afternoon lying in bed, drooling on my Sox jersey, watching looped ESPN NEWS broadcasts just to see the highlights from the night before. When my wife got home from work, I went to the store, bought three packs of smokes, came home, tried on the cheap cowboy hat my wife bought me at the craft store, but chose to go with the cap I'd worn all through the playoffs. (I'd toyed with the idea of going "Cowboy Up!" with the hat and a custom t-shirt I made that week with all my and my wife's nicknames for the players on it- thanks a pantload, Millar...) So what did I do? I laid out the shirt on the couch, in my spot, with the cowboy hat atop its "head" and I cracked a can of Bud ("Crack open an ice-cold Budweiser- it's game time!" - also note that Bud was the Official Beer of Matty's 2003 Playoff Run) and left it on the coffee table for The Cowboy.
So like Spaz, off we set with our master plan. And where'd we go? To Macky's at 18th and L, where it should be noted, both bartenders were big Yankee fans (but the place was definitely a Sox bar that fall) and, where it should not be forgotten (or forgiven), that I watched the debacles of games 1 and 2 of the Oakland series earlier that month. So why, with such overwelming reasons against this bar, did I convince Kimmy and Jimmy and Gat and Jersey Caitlin to watch the game there? Because I wanted to rub it in the faces of those two Yankee fan bartenders when we won. (I know- I'm a real moron, but that's the last time I've ever selected a Big Game venue for that express reason.)
Yes, Macky's had been my local for a couple years at that point, and they were still pouring the best pint of Guiness in DC then (immaterial that fateful night, as I drank nary a pint but instead slugged about 15 bottles of the aforementioned Official Beer of Matty's 2003 Playoff Run). So it's not like we picked the place out of the phonebook. I was known there, and dammit, after that long season, I wanted to stand there in victory and tell those two bartenders to go get their shineboxes.
When we got home, I threw the shirt and cowboy hat down the garbage chute, drank the warm, flat Bud, wished I had one cigarette left and I cried. For about a week, I told anybody that would listen that I would never watch another baseball game as long as I lived. I lost it, turned in my wings. Even after the Schilling and Foulke trades, even after the A-Rod fiasco, even after Manny on waivers, after all of that, I don't think I knew, really knew, that I'd care about baseball again until March of 2004 when The Wife and I did the Fenway tour on a cold, windy, grey Saturday afternoon when we were up in Boston for the Dropkick Murphys St. Pat's shows. I bought a green Sox cap over at Twins, we did the tour, I touched the Monster and I was ready to engage again. So obviously, that game stays at number one.
Some of you may wonder how the Pats' AFC championship loss to the Colts could trump the '86 series. That's pretty easy. I was ten and a half in October of '86. I was certainly a big Sox fan, but at that point, I enjoyed playing sports more than I enjoyed watching them or following them religiously. I was a baseball card guy, but not an Android's Dungeon kind of card guy. It wasn't until much later that my thirst for Red Sox history really picked up.
Honestly, I didn't see most of game six. I still had a bedtime then, even on a Saturday night. I did have, like millions of other kids probably, a promise from my Dad to wake me up when (there was no "if" for me then...) the Sox were about to win. Which he did. And I remember being very, very sad. But my strongest memory is of my mother's father cursing Buckner, which was incredible because my grandfather never cursed. Over the years, that is what I remember from that series more than anything. That and the fact that my father didn't even watch game 7 on Monday night; he said he already knew who won the game. Consequently, I got to stay up for that one (on a school night!) because there'd be nobody else paying attention to get me out of bed when (still when! still not if!) the Sox were about to win. To this day, I don't know at the time if I was really devastated by that game, or if I was devastated just by hearing everyone else say, "This game was devastating!" I do remember thinking, well, we should still be pretty good next year, not knowing then that the Sox were about to embark on their mini "every two year" plan. So, I'm comfortable leaving this game at number four.
(At this point, it should be said that the distance between number four and number three, in terms of pain, anguish, hurt, confusion, etc. is about fifty million light years, while the distance between number three and number one on our list is about four and a half inches. That is one of the basic failings of a simple Top 5 list; it gives the impression, through it's simple, symetrical form, that each item on the list is equidistant from it's companions, when in reality, those items are, well, often fifty million light years apart. The top 5 list is a dead science, I'd always say, but a useful convention none the less. So we accepted him, and he came to our parties. Anyway.)
The Pats-Colts game. I'll freely admit that after the Sox won the series in '04, and especially after the quick, boring, lethargic playoff exit in '05, my attention to and passion for the Patriots swung wildly out of balance with the same for the Sox. For the rest of '05 and definitely, clearly and without doubt for the entirety of '06, the Patriots were, for the first time in my life, My Number One Team. When the '06 NFL season started, we were still smarting from the horrible Denver game from the previous January. Nine months later, that was still one of the worst reffed games I've ever seen, and really, the only game of consequence whose outcome I've ever pinned on officials. I was PSYCHED for football again. We had so much unfinished business.
And then, the Pats were...ok. 12-4, ok, sure. But that was better than 10-6 the year before. As the season went along, I worried about the receivers, the linebackers, the secondary and the coaching staff. Then we went out and beat San Diego, in San Diego. Then we were up 21-3 in the first half in Indy, and I knew, I mean I KNEW, we were going back to the Super Bowl where'd we play the beatable Bears.
(For those who don't know, one of my best friends, Niki, is from Indy and obviously, this ratchets up the importance of every Pats-Colts game to a ridiculous degree; after all, there is usually a king-size Milky Way riding on those games...)
And then, the defense crumbled. I should have seen it coming. Old, slow linebackers. Second and third string DBs in the game. And yet, all that stood between the Pats and XLI was one damn third and four. And we couldn't get it, and Peyton got the ball back, and I got drunk and left some very nasty messages on Niki's cell phone, for which I apologized later, and profusely at that. At least the Big Ry got the show he'd come over for. I was literally sick to my stomach for three days after that game.
The Boone game is number one, partially due to the shocking suddenness of its ending, like a friend who walks out your front door and is creamed by an oncoming bus. Watching the second half of that Pats-Colts game was like watching Michael Keaton in "My Life." By the end of it, I was just hoping someone would be compassionate enough to shave the stubble of the Pats' defense before they finally died. I'm leaving it at number three. Not without some hesitation, but that's the decision. I think I'll see I'm right on this.
On to number two. I originally said it wasn't in the top five. Which was probably my way of processing it shortly after it ended. Honestly, Sunday night it didn't hit me that hard. I don't think it me hard until about Wednesday, but there are some good reasons for that. They are as follows:
1. As of Super Bowl Sunday, I'd barely been out of bed for a week. I was SICK.
2. I had no energy to prepare my usual big Super Bowl spread of food.
3. I couldn't drink (though I'll cop to the two Harpoons I drank after the game was over, when my wife asked if I needed more medicine; I wryly responded, in my, yeah, I'll say it, sexy sick guy voice, "Yeah...I'll take that Harpoon now...").
4. I couldn't go anywhere, or be with another Pats fan.
5. I had a big fight with my wife that afternoon.
6. I had a big fight with my father-in-law that evening.
So, as you can see, I was in no position even to be watching a game of that magnitude. It is one of the great unfairnesses of my life that THAT GAME was played on THAT DAY. I wasn't ready for it. Turns out, neither were the Pats. We both played that whole day not to lose.
By the time it was over, I couldn't stop coughing, I was exhausted physically and emotionally from all the arguing that day and honestly, part of me was just glad the game was over. I'd hardly paid it any attention until the fourth quarter anyway. Like the Pats, I got exactly what I put into that game, which is to say, nothing, really. Like I said, none of us played to win that day.
By Wednesday or Thursday, when I was feeling a little better, it started to sink in. All of it. The historical import of the game, of the whole season; the knowledge that a mediocre, second-string running back from 1972 still wouldn't shut up, and will probably never come that close again to having to; the fact that I am now a fan of a team that will forever be unfairly (or so I originally thought) labeled one of the biggest chokers of all time (and let's face it, they choked that game away in every possible way); the fact that by losing this one game, unfairly or not, everything this team has accomplished in the last seven years will now be seen by 95% of America as fraudulent; but mostly, it hit me that it was a really, really bad, unexplainable and unforgiveable loss. Not to take anything away from the Giants, really; they made plays. But that was Belichick and Co.'s worst coached game in seven years; we let four interceptions go through our hands; we refused to run our offense for 55 minutes; and, most tragically, we let the Sucky Manning make, possibly, the greatest play in Super Bowl history, thereby handing him an MVP award he had no business holding.
So after I thought about all those things, I moved it up to number two. This game was like a really well made, really spicy chili. It didn't sting at first, but it's gonna burn for a long, long time. I have a feeling this game will eat a lot of people alive for a long, long time. It was the biggest lost opportunity in NFL history, and that counts for something. No matter what the Patriots ever do again for the rest of my life, anytime anybody, anywhere, ever sees a Pats logo ever again, their first thought will be Super Bowl XLII. Like Rene Russo said, years from now, no one will remember who won the U.S. Open, but they'll always remember your 12, Roy...
So, look at that truck again. Maybe now I understand why, today, I'm a "Whoo-Hoo! It's truck day!" kinda guy. For long-suffering Sox fans, the truck has always been the most generic metaphor for the changing of seasons, on both our calenders and in our hearts and minds. It's overt symbolism of "It's finally next year!" was unmistakable and unmistakably cliched and trite for however many years this same picture ran in the papers before 2004. Now, it's symbolism is unnecessary, but the comfort is provides on this cold, snowy Pittsburgh afternoon is very much welcome. It means I won't have to take a cold, windy tour of Gillette Stadium this year.