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The New York Jets: Playoffs

21/01/2011

I’ll confess that my own faith was running low. Sure, the victory in Indianapolis was tremendous. Generally, Peyton Manning scowls and points and blames and tirades and the ball moves forward. This is a force rather difficult to stop. It is even harder to stop when the force gets hungry and it always gets hungry when the playoffs start. No one questioned the strength, the sheer power of the Jets defense last season. And still, the scowling Peyton tore through it with the quick attack of non-stop relentless up-to-the-line-and-snap-it passing. The man stood behind the line of scrimmage receiving that blasted shotgun snap and ejecting it right out again before anything could be done. It was a machine of ball absorption and immediate regurgitation. That was how the Jets season ended last year. We had every reason to suspect it would happen again.

So, yes, the victory over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis was tremendous. A person should have been thankful. A person should have accepted that blessing and been glad. I was glad. But then again, I wasn’t. That’s because I couldn’t stay in the moment. I knew that the victory over the Scowling One was but the prelude to a greater trial. I knew that the coldness awaited. I knew that a second trip to Foxboro stadium, to the bitter land was in the offing. I knew that Tom Brady was waiting and, even more depressingly, I knew that Bill Belichick was waiting.

Belichick is a waiter. He sits and waits in the cold and the silence. There is a Buddhist in him, maybe, a capacity for meditation that would slow the universe down to a crawl in order to watch every step that an insect makes as it crosses an empty field. Belichik would wait in silence for days, letting the insect scurry over each impediment on its way across the field. He would watch, and he would wait. Finally, when the insect reached him, he would reach out his foot in one fluid, soft movement, and crush that insect. Dead.

I feared that that is what Belichick was doing with Rex Ryan. The fat man could wheeze and gesticulate and pontificate and bounce around the press room all week. Belichick just waited in silence. Ryan could call Belichick out, as he did, proclaiming that the game was a tête-à-tête between two men, a battle of who is the better coach, as he did. Ryan, blustering and overexcited was, as usual, like a five-year-old child, eager, dumb and lovable. But Belichick never moved from his mountain of solitude. He was waiting to stomp.

The waiters and the watchers, the quiet men of doom like Bill Belichick do, though, have one weakness. They forget, in their meditations, that the world is messy and absurd and that to participate in that world one must, on occasion, enter into the silliness and become sullied just like everyone else. Sometimes, a man like Belichick forgets to love the world. Up there with the wind and the cold, in the stricken lands where the Puritan finds comfort in affliction, Belichick sits in silent judgment upon mortal things. He thinks to himself, “As the wicked are hurt by the best things, so the godly are bettered by the worst.” He wants his Patriots to mortify themselves in penance and self-abnegation. He wants to suffer the wounds of the world in the name of a greater glory.

And so, it did come to pass that one of his players, the dangerous possession receiver Wes Welker, sinned against the catechism of Belichick. Welker broke the silence. He entered into the silly games of the world. He did so in a remarkably brilliant way, made all the more brilliant by his being a player in a game not normally known for producing paragons of subtlety and wit. During an interview, Welker simply peppered his answers with an almost absurd amount of references to feet and toes. It is well known, of course, that Rex Ryan had recently been suspected of putting foot fetish videos of his wife on the internet. And so, the game was afoot. Welker’s little trick was noticed by the press and his interview became front page sport’s news. Belichick said nothing, but at the beginning of the game between The Jets and The Patriots, Wes Welker, their most reliable catching threat, was not on the field. He was being punished. Welker was quickly put back into the game and played throughout. But the point had been made.

It is my considered opinion that this is why the New England Patriots did, in fact, lose to the New York Jets. The Jets played well all game. The defense was stifling and the coverage in the secondary was extraordinary. Sanchez had a heroically solid performance all the way through. But the game was also defined by a more unusual lack of focus and intensity on the part of the Patriots. It was, I suspect, an inability to enter into the game as human beings with thoughts and feelings and emotions. Belichick in his dour sagacity had pushed the joy too far away, he had forgotten that all of God’s creation is to be loved, even the feet, even the stumpy little toes. There is a prayer by Saint Bonaventure, one of the great Franciscans, that entreats us all, in part to, “seek Thee, find Thee, run to Thee, come up to Thee, meditate on Thee, speak of Thee, and do all for the praise and glory of Thy name, with humility and discretion, with love and delight, with ease and affection, with perseverance to the end.” Run to Thee! Run to Thee indeed, and with ease and affection, with love and delight. This too, is the task, even for those who understand the bitter side of life, the necessity of mortal suffering on earth. The quiet man of doom, Bill Belichick, the harsh Puritan, forgot about the joy, he forgot to run to Thee, he forgot to come up to Thee in love and delight. He punished Wes Welker, the one man who had tried to remind the men of the North that there are delights too, on this earth. And so the Patriots fell, quietly, stoically, with neither great suffering nor great joy. They simply went away. And the little foot soldiers march on to Pittsburgh, silly in their glee, but still very much alive in their quest for the Super Bowl.

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Morgan Meis has been posting notes on The New York Jets throughout the Season. Read more >>

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