SPORTS

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February 12, 2002

World Series and Super Bowl conspiracy theory is ridiculous

OK, weird. So they're having this big party, this enormous bar mitzvah for the New England Patriots over there in Boston, and anybody who's anybody (some guys I know who are from there) has been talking incessantly about the whole show. The latest rumors seem to indicate that there has been a rash of quasi-legal rioting that resulted in the overturn of somebody's Celica and a bunch of topless girls running around. I include the clearly inappropriate phrase "quasi-legal" here to annotate the fact that the owner of the Celica may not have been upset about its overturn and was (presumably) absolutely thrilled about the topless girls, regardless of the pedantic, on-the-books, "technical" legality of these acts. Newspaper clippings, notes from friends, and espn.com collaborate to suggest that everybody is really, really excited about this win.

The main purpose of this discourse is to reveal the undercurrents of this excitement and jubilation. It is not the intention of the Maroon's ex-pat-nee-resident-but-soon-to-be-resident-again sports purist to pontificate about grand countrywide game-fixes, but these facts nonetheless bear examination.

Sports Illustrated arrived at my apartment on Thursday, September 20, 2001 bearing an American flag on its cover: "This Week That Sports Stood Still." They surely did, baseball and football being the most obviously affected institutions, since basketball and hockey were not as yet underway. Both of the then-ongoing seasons were delayed, and the results included the first-ever November World Series, as well as the omission of the typical off-week before the Super Bowl, which nonetheless took place in February.

Topical magazines and fanatics made much of the Yankees' need to rejuvenate their forlorn city by taking home another championship, and though no such redemption transpired it is noteworthy that a) the pinstripers overachieved, b) they were still playing in November, and c) the front office secured the off-season's most important acquisition in first baseman Jason Giambi. New York fed, rightly, off the publicity and the networks lovingly eyed Rudy Giuliani's FDNY cap. The nation agrees that what happened this fall was good for New York. Moreover, Arizona's stunning victory consummated America's root-for-the-underdog mentality and created enthusiasm where it had been (the American Southwest).

A scant two months after, the always-popular NFL began its own drama, this year tied inextricably with unlikely heroes. The Chicago Bears and New England Patriots, to name two, represented an underclass ready to ascend the throne. That the Bears did not find their way past the Eagles in the playoffs makes no matter here. The irritatingly slick and emotionless Rams, a legion of winners who had been there before, had every reason to be bound for Louisiana. Their path through the playoffs not only made sense, but set up the astonishing and inspiring Patriot win.

To which we now turn. The same topical magazines, along with a whole new cast of fanatics, have lately been in a position to note the historical value of the Patriots' conquest. Some have pointed to offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi, he of the three New York firefighting brothers, in order to establish the historical point. Others choose as their evidence the moniker of "Patriots" on the group's unique and proud team-first mentality, or the team's grit through hard times, including the fall of their successful giant, Drew Bledsoe. Four or five weeks ago, journalists more qualified than I have labeled these men a "Team of Destiny."

Both the Series and the Super Bowl have been good for this country amid the political turmoil. There is no disputing that. However, at least two objectionable responses to these pleasant - not to say energizing - twists of fate have arisen. First, as I have previously insinuated, some folks choose this honestly absurd juncture to start pointing fingers at the relevant institutions for having called in fixes on the year's biggest games. Such arguments will warrant a stunning departure from this column's characteristic equanimity. I have composed a short letter to any game-fix conspiracy theorist who may be lurking:

Dear Conspiracy Theorist,

Please stop being dumb.

Sincerely,

Ben

Obviously that kind of tripe has no place in legitimate publications, or, for that matter, in the Maroon. These theories are cheaply constructed, nonfalsifiable, and capable of adapting to any sequence of real events. Had the New York Giants, the New York Jets, or the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl, similar cries would have gone up. The arguments are irresponsible, lame, and annoying. Please stop.

The second objectionable response, and perhaps the more subtly evil of the two, is a kind of neo-jingoistic pride, and nobody likes a neo-jingoist. That kind of energy generated by such heroic events as the Patriots' victory or the Yankees' dramatic post-season play brings with it certain treachery. Sexy red-white-and-blue commercials have united the country and threaten to legitimize excessive patriotic fervor, the consequences of which are ineffable but ominous. Whatever the merits of the individual political courses available to the President in the wake of this considerable turbulence, anyone who is, explicitly or implicitly, allowing the fact that the Patriots won the Super Bowl to influence his foreign policy agenda is clearly confused. This country is great, and the Patriots had a really good year this year, coincidentally. Let's put an end to the notions of conspiracy, and of fate, as borne out in two important but very narrow sporting events. By the time a few weeks have passed the Super Bowl afterglow will die down, just as it did a few weeks after the World Series. I hope the absurdities will die down even sooner.