Though he was the least charismatic protagonist in Sunday’s Actual Super Bowl, Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid was the guy whose face you wanted to see most.
You wanted to see him as his team was staggering through the first half like a bunch of hobos loosed from a rail car. One presumes Kansas City had a plan in place. For long stretches it looked like the Godzilla Approach: “EVERYONE RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!”
Each time the Chiefs did something dumb, you found yourself praying for that sideline shot. Maybe Reid would strangle someone with his headphone cord. Maybe he’d beat an assistant with an iPad. Mainly, you wanted to see Reid – the only man on Earth who can out-taciturn Bill Belichick – blow his top. Finally.
He is famously a man accustomed to disappointment. Reid has made a very good living as the NFL’s Young Werther – an introspective man perpetually bemused at his own failures.
Here was his chance to turn the story very late in the book by outthinking the best coach in the history of the game. The Chiefs – who scored an average of 35 points a game this year – didn’t score a mumbling one in that first half.
Reid’s reported instruction to his charges during the half: “Be tougher.”
If you can grow a great moustache, you too may some day be the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
And, of course, it went awry.
Despite a raucous second-half comeback, a fourth quarter for the ages and overtime, the Chiefs lost the AFC Championship contest to the New England Patriots by a score of 37-31.
This was more than a defeat. It was the re-establishment of the NFL’s expected order.
Many had hoped the Chiefs would become the NFL’s new hero franchise. The anti-heroes in New England still stand on top.
Reid is not going to become the game’s new, favourite intellectual. Bill Belichick still occupies his dual role as Deepest Thinker and Lord of the Flies.
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes is denied his metaphoric Wheaties box. Tom Brady, who can apply for social security any time now, remains ascendant.
Nothing has changed in the NFL. This league is frozen in time for as long as Brady/Belichick will it so. We’ll hear nothing but in the two weeks until the Patriots meet the L.A. Rams in the Technical Super Bowl.
For a game played by men in stretchy pants, there was an awful of karma roiling around the scene.
Despite their obvious quality, it has always been hard to like the Patriots. After last weekend’s win, Brady couldn’t help himself.
“I know … everyone thinks we suck.”
No one thinks that, but an important part of the Patriots Way is always feeling a little sorry for yourself. As Brady has gotten older, he’s grown more curmudgeonly and less likely to seem like he plays this game for enjoyment. Long past the point when he’s put the doubters at ease, Brady’s entered the score-settling stage of his career.
Brady’s “woe is us” was followed up by New England receiver Julian Edelman sending out a Chiefs promo video appended with the message, “Bet Against Us.”
I mean, come on. Does a team this good really need to seem so hard done by, so consistently?
The karma began coming hard and fast midway through the second half. We’re not talking about something going ironically wrong. This is more like the Great Wheel spinning as Pat Sajak stood over it barking one-liners.
Edelman appeared to mishandle a kick, leading to a Chiefs touchdown. Upon review, it seemed he’d avoided touching the ball by a millimetre or two. Even after multiple slo-mo viewings in super-high-def, it was just about impossible to say for sure.
The play was reversed. New England’s possession. It was a stroke of uncommon good luck.
On the next play, Edelman tipped the ball into the hands of a Kansas City defender. That’s when the lead flipped over the first time.
At that point, everything went squirrelly. Non-calls became calls. Calls became non-calls. The early game – Rams against the New Orleans Saints – turned on an obvious pass interference that was ignored. That was at least simple to understand.
The Saints were enraged. Ask St. Louis – until three years ago, the home of the Rams – how they feel about it.
This game was that idea strung out endlessly. It had viewers parsing rule hermeneutics like we were all lying around in togas – What is pass interference? Define “catch”. Can a man be said to have hit someone in the face when he meant to do so, but couldn’t manage it?
Football either needs to find a way to answer these questions definitively, or else stop showing us replays. Because it gets a little frustrating being told that what you have quite plainly seen is not what you’ve seen at all.
This is one of the side effects of elevating football from pure brutality into something more ordered. It becomes so heavily technical that even people who do it for a living stop understanding what’s what.
But the big thinkers on the field still understand what matters beyond the minutiae. It’s a game of stars. Either yours does the business, or you lose.
Brady did his, running the two-minute drill twice at the very end – once in regulation; and again in OT.
Over on the other sideline, Reid had gotten a very faraway look. He didn’t touch the ball, but he’ll wear the loss.
There isn’t much shame in it. At this point, no one in the NFL is telling their own story. They continue to spend all their time helping Brady, Belichick and the New England Patriots tell theirs.