Set to watch Bill Belichick and Tom Brady stand in the Super Bowl spotlight for the ninth time, the football-watching world is dealing with a nasty bout of Patriots fatigue.
Beyond the cheap jokes and the desire for fresh faces, there's a sense that nothing is left to accomplish for the twin pillars underpinning the modern game's great dynasty. What is truly at stake for a quarterback already acknowledged as the greatest of all time? What class of gridiron genius still eludes Belichick, the 100-yard Yoda with a higher understanding?
Reasonable as that mindset might seem, it sells short the entertainment value provided by New England's demonstrated ability to come through on the biggest stage. If you're going to stand up and volunteer to tell the campfire story, if you're going to paint your cave wall for the entire tribe to behold, you better have something interesting to share.
Fanatics flock 60,000 strong to each of the NFL's 32 Meccas. Millions around the globe tune in to see transcendent moments. Like a destination wedding, expectations are loftier for appointment viewing. Like Anthony Bourdain sitting down to dinner and exotic shots in the Cambodian jungle, with villagers coming far and wide to participate in the once-in-a-lifetime experience, we're here for the moment.
Why do we cheer? At their highest level, sports are performance art in the same vein as ballet or jazz. And what is the purpose of performance art? To create a pure moment.
In a world determined to sell us mediocrities such as fake plants and microwave breakfast, an overtime thriller is an invaluable experience. An instant classic is an elevation of the human condition: Look what we humans can accomplish with diehard training, peak precision and thousands of hours devoted to the mastery of a single skill.
We can't travel to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, so we send the Mars Rover as our envoy. We can't run a 4.3 40 or throw a prolate spheroid 60 yards through the air, so we send the biggest and fastest as our representatives in the arena.
With each passing year, this team trumps its previous postseason magic, providing the most operatic of Super Bowl outcomes. The Patriots deliver. In a socialistic sport designed -- and even manipulated -- to ensure parity, they continually come through with entertaining exploits when the most eyeballs are watching.
At its essence, participation even in amateur athletics teaches the lesson that each player is only as good as the feeling he instills in his teammates, coaches and faithful fans as he's up to bat, taking the last-second shot or running the two-minute drill. Perhaps not since Johnny Unitas popularized the two-minute drill 60 years ago has any field general gained the widespread trust of Tom vs. Time. Not since Vince Lombardi saved the Packers franchise for Green Bay has any coach risen to the occasion as reliably as Belichick.
The Patriots are the defining performance artists of their era. In football, as in life, he who creates the most pure moments wins.