Ray Duckler: Patriots fans, cocksure to be sure, need to be vaccinated
Fans hold a giant Tom Brady head in the stands during the New England Patriots 41-28 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday, January 13, 2013. The Patriots advance to the AFC title game against the Baltimore Ravens next weekend back at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
You don’t need a microscope to identify the flu strain that’s affecting New Englanders as we speak.
It’s been around, actually, for the better part of a decade, and people around here love it, if, of course, they don’t crash like the stock market in 1929.
You don’t need a medical degree to recognize and diagnose this illness, which is growing to epidemic proportions and hits hard every winter, at this time.
This form of influenza carries a big white “12” on it, and if you look closely you can see a dimple on its chin and a super model nearby.
The sickness doesn’t have a name, but the central carrier is Tom Brady, and the symptoms include a cocksure attitude that causes your chest to puff out; a sudden urge to bet money; a tendency to poke fun at New York Giants fans; and, sometimes, a day off on the first Monday in February, if all goes as planned.
It’s a strange ailment. Patients hope it never goes away. It’s dangerously contagious right now, after the Patriots beat the Houston Texans, 41-28, Sunday in an AFC playoff game.
That leaves the Patriots one win from the Super Bowl and two from an NFL title. They’ve already won three Super Bowls since the 2001 season.
Now, about that crash. It hits hard, like it did last February, after the Super Bowl.
The Patriots lost that game to the Giants, 21-17. New England fans called the Giants win lucky, after New York completed an improbable pass down the sidelines and the Patriots’ best receiver dropped a pass later in the game.
Two other examples, better examples, should be part of the New England Journal of Medicine, because the effects were devastating and followed the same pattern: utter euphoria and a sense of invincibility, followed by a deep descent into darkness.
The first happened after the 2007 season, also against the Giants, who, for fans around here, have become the Yankees of the NFL. The Patriots had more records than the Rolling Stones that year. They set several passing marks, thanks mainly to the right arm of No. 12, the flu strain most responsible for this outbreak of overconfidence.
They entered that game with an 18-0 record; no team had ever finished 19-0.
The disease led to a physical, mental and emotional crisis after the game, a 17-14 Giants win that included another unlikely catch and more cries that the Giants were lucky.
The greatest season in NFL history never happened, and the sports landscape in this area had forever changed.
And then there was the playoff game against the New York Jets, played two years ago tomorrow. The Patriots had beaten the Jets, 45-3, five weeks earlier. The postseason game was here, in Foxborough. The flu hit hard that winter, too, as fans looked ahead, past the Jets game, to the next round of the playoffs.
I remember attending a playoff party that year, south of Boston, near the teeth of the outbreak. A friend of mine, infected far worse than she could have imagined, ate cheese and crackers, drank wine, had fun.
An entire family, a big family, had all caught the bug, meaning there were puffed up chests in every corner of the living room.
Before the game, my friend spoke about how that season’s version of the Patriots matched up, man for man, against . . .
. . . the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Not the Jets.
Worst case of this flu I’d ever seen.
The Patriots, of course, lost by a touchdown, sending the Jets into the next round against the Steelers. But no one around here seems to recall the flu season of 2011, or any other epidemic through the past decade.
The Texans were laughed off days ago, and now the Baltimore Ravens, New England’s opponent Sunday in the conference championship, are as respected by fans as Bobby Valentine was last summer.
The Ravens don’t stand a chance. Running back Ray Rice is too small, linebacker Ray Lewis is too old and quarterback Joe Flacco is, well, not Tom Brady.
Brady is the focus, the cause of these highs and lows associated with this illness.
Right now, after just one round of the playoffs, the virus is in its incubation stage, but it’s growing, day by day, talk radio show by talk radio show, ready to make you love football or long for baseball.
Best to get a handle on it now.
Best not to look too far ahead.
That, we’ve seen, could make you sick.