Monday, February 6, 2012

Starting to Believe in the “Curse of Spygate?”

At the rate the New England Patriots’ fortunes are going, in about 60 years or so, Dan Shaughnessy’s great-grandson will be publishing a 200-page tome detailing and diagnosing decades of endless futility for the franchise. And it will all be traced back to the conventional epicenter of legendary Boston sports curses, namely the greater New York City market.

The Pats were once a budding dynasty, but are now seven years going on eight without a Super Bowl title. In the interim, they have seen three of their last four playoff runs derailed by a former tenant of Giants Stadium, the site of the infamous Spygate scandal.

The team’s last moment of glory took place in the same venue, when they edged the stadium’s namesake and their nonconference New York adversary en route to polishing off the first-ever 16-0 regular season in NFL history. But however retrospective it might be, that festive occasion between Christmas 2007 and New Year’s 2008 set an ominous tone for the near future.

Amidst ongoing outcries against the legitimacy of their seamless standings transcript, the Patriots and their fans thirsted to have it all, to put a Sharpie-strong stamp on their status as the NFL’s team of the 00s.

As it happened, after finishing a perfect regular season at their expense, they would cross paths with the New York Giants once more to conclude the subsequent postseason. And like it or not, in the eyes of most otherwise disinterested Americans, the Jets’ cohabitants assumed the persona of the Mighty Ducks, Big Green and Little Giants to the Patriots’ Hawks, Knights and Cowboys.

And the team that conceded one dose of distinction to Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Partners was not going to let them have the other. In uncanny Hollywood fashion, the Giants ensured that their spontaneous script would come true, and consequently put an indubitable taint on New England’s 2007-08 run, just in case anyone was still dismissing Mercury Morris.

Four years later, this past Sunday, local buffs may have been inclined to point to the Red Sox-Yankees saga of 2003-04 or the Bruins-Flyers pattern between 2010 and 2011. But unlike the local baseball and hockey teams who each rebounded from devastation en route to splashing a protracted title drought, vindication was not to be for the fallen football semi-dynasty.

So soon after rinsing out the vinegar from Super Bowl XLII, the playoff no-show partially induced by Brady’s lost season, the glacial meltdown in the 2009 wild-card round and the 2010-11 stunner against the Jets, the Patriots were force-fed a fresh dose. And it happened on the same stage against the same franchise in similar-enough fashion, with a defensive, seesaw battle decided on the final play.

Now for the inevitable: Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin are being credited with obliterating and succeeding the Belichick-Brady Empire. In addition, Pats fans are reminded that since the night they improved to 16-0, their fans are 0-3 against the Giants and that, dating back to their last playoff title, they are 0-3 against New York teams in do-or-die clashes.

Trace the unfavorable, fall-from-ahead, 21-17 upshot to whatever you please. The score-starting safety, Rob Gronkowski’s ankle, Wes Welker’s butterfingers, etc.

Could it all be because of what happened Sept. 9, 2007 in the former home of the two New York teams? Until these trends reverse, expect the gullible and the grating among Northeastern U.S. sports fans to claim just that.