Underdogs, or Underappreciated?

David Balkin
January 23, 2002 at 9:52 pm ET

Ten generations ago, the original patriot’s names were exclusively Anglo-Saxon; Sam, John, Patrick, Ben, Paul, George, etc., all names brought over from the same culture. Contrary to pretentious ancestors, they were ordinary folks that didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell against the mighty British Empire where the sun never set.

226 years later Anglo-Saxon names are only one small part of the American mix and that’s exactly what our forefathers fought so brilliantly and valiantly for. Antowain, Lawyer, Tedi, Troy, Tom, Drew and all the rest are today’s Patriots, and just as it was 226 years ago, patriotism is again America’s shining icon, and our Patriot’s are soon to be America’s team.

After Sunday’s victory in Pittsburgh, the word will spread instantly to every corner of this land and our moment to be embraced by the people of this great nation will be realized. America’s been reborn as patriots. You know that’s true when even some of our opponents proudly display Patriot colors, American flag breathing strips, taped on the bridge of their sorry, beat up noses.

Luck and destiny have one important thing in common, somewhere in either mix there’s mysterious help. Luck comes with reaching each plateau and it’s destiny when the goal is reached as if it were preordained. In both cases the mysterious help isn’t exactly magic and in our case it’s the unvarnished truth stripped from the aura of an illusion.

When David Patten was lying unconscious, half out of bounds separated from the ball, but still touching it, there was only one person on this planet that really needed to understand the ball was dead. Incredibly, that person just happened to be at the scene of the mayhem and even better, in charge of the investigation.

My guess is John Grudin wouldn’t know Sugar Bear Hamilton if he fell over him but 25 years later this controversial call, Woodson and Brady and the fumble that wasn’t is one he’ll never forget.

Funny thing is, every time that sort of play’s been ruled a fumble, which is most of the time, it’s been the wrong call. In reality we got exactly what we deserved and that’s all we need to win.

Football’s a game of hard and fast rules. It’s the way life should be. The referee is the Chief Justice of a spontaneous Supreme Court that decides quickly. No matter what, and just as in real life, we have to live with even the sketchiest of interpretations. Being right is often no virtue but being judged so in crunch time isn’t luck it’s destiny with a capital D.

We’re underdogs not because the Steelers are better but only because we’re under appreciated. They’re no better than us. Those bums lost to the Bengals late in the season giving up 544 yards. We had no clue but they should have known better. Now they’re looking past us and making Super Bowl plans.

Underdogs my ass. When 22 fast, agile, extremely motivated giants wearing two different colors go at each other, what separates victory from defeat is always the intangible and that’s been with us all season long. That won’t change.

Sunday’s game is going to be great. Pittsburgh’s immaculate reception, snatching victory from certain defeat, was so long ago they can barely remember. Our memory’s so fresh and so vibrant we can still feel and taste it. Who says there’s no truth in advertising? Budweiser isn’t lying; fresh is better.

For many people that may not sound like something real to pin expectations on but for the players it’s the intangible extra that means everything and for true believers it’s more than enough.

Pittsburgh’s just another team. We’re on our way to winning it all in this spirit of 76 season. Remember the famous painting of those guys? What a rag tag bunch. Who’d ever have thunk they could do what they did? The original patriots pulled off the upset of all time and this new version will just have to settle for another hard fought win.

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