GLENDALE, Ariz. – No thrown helmets. No flipped-over tables. No Gatorade cups whacked to the ground.
You want to measure perfection? Here is how you measure perfection. No depressing Sunday nights. No whispering wives or silenced children. No keeping the TV on mute while Daddy stews in his chair.
“Can you even remember your last loss with this team?” I ask Adalius Thomas, a New England Patriots linebacker.
“I’ve never lost since I’ve been here,” he says. “My last loss was when I was playing with Baltimore.”
Never lost? How rare is this conversation? Not since January 1973 could you go to a Super Bowl and speak to players who had to scratch their heads to remember defeat.
“Do you remember your last loss?” I ask Teddy Bruschi, another linebacker.
“Uhhh yeah,” he says.
“It took a second,” I say.
“It did,” he admits.
The Patriots’ last loss – in a game that counted – was one year, one week and six days ago. It was Jan. 21, 2007, the AFC championship against the Colts. They fell by four points.
Since then, it has been a straight flush of victory. September. All victories. October. All victories. November. All victories. December and January. All victories.
Where else does this happen? Nowhere in the pros. Oh, maybe you find some amazing high school or college team. But professional sports? With salary caps? With free agency? With “Any Given Sunday” as your mantra?
One year, one week and six days?
An amazing seven-year run
“Can you remember your last loss?” Stephen Spach, a reserve tight end, is asked.
“I was with Philadelphia,” he says. “And it was the 2005 season. So ’05 to now without a loss, that’s pretty good, huh?”
Pretty good? Who else can say that? OK, it helped that Spach missed the 2006 season. But it really helped that he plays for New England. Every week, it is the same old winning routine. No dreaded drives into work Monday morning. No watching film that replays your defeat. No questions from the media about what went wrong. No cliched answers about going “back to the drawing board.”
Just wins, baby.
“Do you remember your last loss?” I ask Asante Samuel, a Pats defensive back.
“Of course,” he says. “The Colts.”
“Does it seem like a long time ago?”
“It does. But then, I mean ” He grins. “It’s not like we’re not used to success around here.”
Well put. The Pats have won three of the last six Super Bowls and 86 of their last 112 regular-season games. They are on an 18-game winning streak. How impressive is that? No NBA, NHL or Major League Baseball team has done that recently. In fact, in history – that is to say, ever, all-time – only three NBA teams and a handful of MLB teams have won more in a row than the Patriots. No NHL team has done it.
And no franchise in any of those sports has enjoyed a perfect record from season opener to championship. Which is why, in my opinion, should the Patriots beat the Giants in Super Bowl XLII tonight, their season will be the single greatest accomplishment by a pro sports team in the history of, well, pro sports teams.
But that’s just me.
Never settling for perfection
“Actually,” Bruschi says, “we do a tremendous job around here of suppressing success. After a game, Coach (Bill) Belichick will go over what we did well. That lasts two minutes. Then he’ll go over what we did wrong, and that’ll last 30 or 40 minutes. You’d be surprised, even those games that we won by 28 points or more, Coach will focus on the negatives.
“He emphasizes if you keep doing these things wrong then you will lose.”
Sorry. That’s not the same thing. When you get to use words like “if” you do this and “then” you will lose, you’re still in rare air. Come visit Detroit, Atlanta or Miami, where it’s not “if” it’s “when” and it’s not “then” but “now.”
Meanwhile, the Patriots have a chance to paint an entire canvas white. No blotches. No bad memories. No faded taste of defeat. They are on the verge of a masterpiece, a portrait as impressive for what is missing as what it contains. No flipped tables. No silenced families. No entries in the loss column of the NFL standings.
No bad memories. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” A win tonight and that’s no longer a movie, it’s the Patriots’ season.