A couple of weeks ago, I was given an ultimatum: hang out with my son and watch the Steelers play the Patriots, or don’t hang out with my son. There was negotiating. He was going to watch this game.
I made the only sensible choice. I watched the game.
And immediately felt guilt.
First, I had broken my boycott. Yes, I could have taken the time to explain all of the politics behind what I’m doing, but I don’t think he was going to hear me. He’s in love with football. He’s in love with the Steelers.
Second, they lost. Look, it’s the Patriots. I’ve seen the Steelers lose to the Pats more than I care to admit. It always sucks though. Always.
Third, Antonio Brown got hurt!
All of a sudden, a single phrase echoed across the Steel City:
There goes the season!
I was fully convinced after the game that I had jinxed my team.
Because, you know, I have that kind of power. Because the world revolves around me, dontchaknow.
Those things aside, I’m glad I did it. My son and I had a blast! We yelled at the TV together. He introduced me to the new players I’ve missed from not watching this year. We consoled each other after what was a tough loss after a very good game.
I doubt that after this year I will ever be as fanatical as I once was, but I don’t think I’ll be able to give up football for good. If I could find something else that bound me to my son as strongly I would go for it. I’m sure that reads like an excuse and maybe it is, but I wouldn’t trade that three hours on the couch for anything.
I will say, however, that watching this game brought up a very familiar frustration. It’s not just about watching the Steelers lose. It’s watching them lose to the Patriots.
In my adult life, no team has been a bigger thorn in my side. They’ve beaten us in so many AFC championship games and other big games throughout the seasons that I’ve developed a bit of a complex around it. It’s no coincidence that the three most recent Super Bowl appearances that the Steelers have made have happened in years when they didn’t have to play the Pats in the playoffs. They are the monkey on our back.
But it’s not just that…
It’s their pretty boy quarterback.
Tom Brady is the guy who doesn’t have to steal your lunch money because he’s got guys to do that for him. Tom Brady stole your girlfriend. Tom Brady got your promotion. Tom Brady got that parking spot.
My hatred for Tom Brady is only amplified by the fact that he is so damn good. There is a legitimate argument to be made that he is the greatest quarterback any of us have ever seen. And I hate his stupid, pretty face.
And then there is Bill Belichick, AKA Darth Hoodie.
Belichick famously gives the most dry, least compelling press conferences in the world. He’s not the stereotypical, yelling his head off on the sideline guy. Belichick looks like a Bond villain on the sidelines.
Bill Belichick is your dad disapproving of your poor financial decisions. He is your supervisor questioning the whereabouts of your TPS reports. He is the auto mechanic who emasculates you for not being able to handle your own car problems.
He’s arguably the best coach of all time. His teams are consistently in the championship conversation. He is incredible at getting the best out of “washed up” or “no name” players. He’s known for being meticulous about every detail.
And it looks like it takes herculean effort for him to smile.
I know that there are a lot of people who have similar feelings about the Steelers. It’s just that most of those people live in Ohio, so who cares? (I kid!) It would be different if the Steelers were a lesser team, but it’s the frustration of always coming SO close and then being knocked down by the same team over and over again.
Perpetual second place.
Lifetime silver medal winners.
Always Solange, never Beyonce.
Of course, then there’s this:
With all of the “these guys should stick to football” talk that has come up this year, there was never any commentary about Tommy having a MAGA hat in his locker or paling around with Trump at events. That’s just what successful (“white”) men do. The MAGA crowd loved The Patriots Super Bowl win last year as the team with whitest receiver corp in the league made a comeback against Atlanta, a notoriously black city. The tweets after the game were… charming.
There’s also the aura of dishonesty that hovers around the team: calls that tend to go their way, spygate where they stole opposing team’s signals during practices, and of course deflategate. Deflategate at least lead to the sports announcer’s gold mine of sixth grade humor as they got to discuss in detail how Tom Brady likes his balls.
This is probably overstating, but to me the Patriots feel like the team of empire. They even have the appeal to nationalism built right into their name. It almost felt scripted that they were the team to win the Super Bowl right after 9/11. There’s a “win at any cost” ethos that I’m sure other teams have as well, but no team seems to flaunt so flagrantly.
Maybe I’m just being a typical bitter Steelers fan. It’s hard not to when you see your teams all time sack leader in a Patriots uniform.
But this is what the Patriots do, take the discarded players from other teams, plug them into their system, and magically, those players have a new life.
Yes, I am a bitter Steelers fan.
The odds are good that this year’s AFC championship game will be a repeat of last year’s. The Steelers vs. The Patriots in Gillette Stadium. And while the team that I saw a couple of weeks ago looks that the kind of team that can actually hang with the Patriots, I don’t know that it will end much differently than last year.
And my son will cry.
And that’s the worst thing about the Patriots: they make my son cry.
I don’t discourage the tears or tell him “it’s just a game”. I like that he feels things deeply. He gets that from his old man. The Cowboys made me cry during Super Bowl XXX. That Pats have made me cry many times.
He cried a little after the last game, then he rebounded. He processed, then went right back to loving his sister and mother. And it came back to being about time that we got to spend together, sharing emotions both joy and sorrow. We hugged me as I left and he thanked me for watching the game with him. Even with the a loss to the Patriots, there was no where else I would have rather been.