Déjà blue — or seeing red?

With the 2013 NFL Season now upon us (and today being the New England Patriots‘ first game) I felt compelled to look back at how the team did last year and discuss how they might fare this season. My big question: will their good or bad history repeat itself?

As you might recall — or, if you’re a Pats fan, as you might like to forget — last season the team lost their first home opener in 10 years to the Arizona Cardinals. This after having looked like the class of the NFL the week before when they handily beat the Tennessee Titans on the road.

It was an awkward reminder of their most recent Super Bowl loss, which in itself was a bizarre replay of the one they had lost four years earlier. Lately, being a Patriots fan has some striking similarities to the date made famous by Punxsutawney Phil: Groundhog Day.

As a Patriots fan, the proximity of the Groundhog Day holiday and the 1993 movie of the same name to the Super Bowl has a unique significance: Just like how in the movie the same day happens over and over again, on Sunday, February 5, 2012 the Patriots fell to the New York Giants in Super Bowl 46 — their second championship loss to the same team in four years.

Although disheartening, the Patriots’ Super Bowl 46 loss was nowhere near as gut wrenching as their Super Bowl 42 loss to the Giants. That failure also ended the Patriots’ quest for a perfect 19-0 season.

While emotionally I wanted the Patriots to win Super Bowl 46, rationally, I had my concerns throughout the season as the team somehow stayed alive with a patchwork defense and an inconsistent offense.

Despite being disappointed by the Patriots’ inability to bring home a fourth Lombardi Trophy, I realized failure presents pathways to personal progress and, in response, devised the seven introspective insights below — one for each of the New England Patriots Super Bowl appearances:

1. Expectations Undermine Attitude:  When you feel entitled to something, that expectation creates an assumption that you will get it because you “deserve” it. Generally, when this occurs, you become complacent and assume the outcome is inevitable. This is a recipe for disaster.

During their (almost) perfect season, despite claims of “humble pie,” there seemed to be an expectation that the Patriots would win Super Bowl XLII and make NFL history. Brady was even dismissive in response to then New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress’ prediction that the Patriots would lose 17-23.

Ironically, the Patriots would actually only score 14 points in their 14-17 loss to the Giants (though they did score 17 points in Super Bowl XLVI, but once again the Giants outscored them with 21 points — cue sad trombone).

2. Junkyards Don’t Always Make Juggernauts: No team has done more with less than the New England Patriots. Since the beginnings of their dynasty, the Patriots built from the draft and reformed players like Corey Dillon and Randy Moss who had lost their way with other teams.

Former Patriots Director of Player Personnel Scott Pioli is famously quoted as saying “we’re building a team, not collecting talent.” This is a philosophy similar to that portrayed in the recent Brad Pitt film Moneyball (affiliate link) which is ardently embraced by head coach Bill Belichick.

While this Moneyball inspired approach might’ve brought the Patriots success, two successive Super Bowl losses and a string of post-season upsets call that into question. Realistically, Moneyball never lead to any World Series wins for Billy Bean’s Oakland A’s.

The Patriots are notorious for collecting picks in each year’s NFL Draft, but then “trading down” with other teams to pick later and pay their players less. Notably, in an article titled The Clutch Enigma: Tom Brady the author argues “It’s not that Brady has lost his ‘clutchness,’ it’s simply that the Patriots’ teams (namely the defenses) have gotten worse, and Brady has become the focal point.”

Miraculously, the team traded up in the 2012 draft to select Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower. In Week 1 of the 2012 season Hightower and rookie Defensive End Chandler Jones demonstrated the potential immediate impact a top tier player can offer.

Certainly signing high profile players is no guarantee: see Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco — and also consider former Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick’s warning “…each free agent should come with a warning label stamped to his chest. What should that label say? Buyer beware.” At the same time, asking players to continually do more with less is more of a weakness than a strength.

Fortunately, the 2013 Patriots rookie class is off to an impressive start, adding youth and optimism to the team — so maybe this year’s draft will bear championship fruit.

3. Win or Lose, Players Get Paid: As a fan of a sports team, there is a good chance you are more emotionally invested in the success or failure of your teams than the payers. As Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plashke pointedly explains in his February 9, 2012 article For the pro athlete, it’s just a job, “The players don’t care as much as you do.”

Even Chad Ochocinco — with his abysmal record with the Patriots of 15 receptions for 276 yards and one touchdown — was still paid (I am reluctant to say earned) a base salary of $6,000,000 for tweeting and updating his Facebook status all season instead of contributing to the team!

And, if you’re curious how much your favorite player gets paid, have a look at this interactive infographic that lets you see the 2013-2014 season salaries of each NFL player, by team and position. I’ve set it to Pats on both sides, because if I don’t it defaults to Ravens and Broncos (shudder). Make it rain!

So, since playing is a job for the athletes, does it really make sense to so heavily invest ourselves emotionally in their performance?

4. Failure is a Launchpad for Learning: When failure occurs, it is human nature to look for a reason — a scapegoat — to explain why that which was never considered possible has now become reality.

Arguing over whose fault it was is relatively meaningless: in my opinion you can win a game on one dramatic play, but losing a game is the result of an accumulation of errors.

This occurred after the Patriots’ loss in Super Bowl 46, where pundits pondered whether Wes Welker dropped what could have been a game winning catch or if Tom Brady threw an inaccurate ball. The argument can be made that consistency kills competition, and the Giants were the more consistent team that day.

This is not easy to do, but the upside is excellent if you can turn adversity into opportunity. Regardless of the reasons for failure, if you treat it as a learning experience, you never really lose — at least philosophically; I realize they keep score in sporting events!

5. Family — not Football — Comes First: I was most concerned about my younger son, Maxwhen the Patriots lost Super Bowl 46. When he went to sleep just before half-time, the Patriots were rolling.  The next morning he awoke to reality, but he just brushed it off  and was on to his next adventure.

He took their loss to the Ravens in last season’s AFC Championship Game harder (likely because he watched it unfold in real time), but again by morning the sunrise had dried away the tears.

It’s amazing what adults can learn from kids if we pay attention. It’s also amazing what a good night’s sleep can do!

Poignantly, following the Patriots, Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox — the teams my Dad grew up with — was a way for me to maintain a connection with him even during a long period when we were estranged.

Having that unique shared interest with Max (my older son, Jacob, has little interest in sports), creates a similarly compelling connection.

Talking about Boston sports teams with him and having been able to attend a Red Sox/Dodgers game last month is priceless Father/Son time.  A trip to Foxboro is in our future.

Notably, in a touching Los Angeles Times article published four days after Super Bowl 46, Chris Paul shares lessons on the importance of family in his life — in a very similar way as I wrote about my maternal grandfather, Papa.

6. Being with Friends Lessens a Loss: The next best thing to family are friends, and through a mutual love — or is it obsession? — of the Patriots I’ve found my way to a great group whom I would have otherwise never known.

Me watching the Patriots at TGI Fridays with AnnetteBoth virtually (via Facebook or a fan message board) and personally (at TGI Fridays or an equivalent place to watch a game), I’ve connected with a network of fans who are also friends.

Many of them have been there for me during challenging times and moments of celebration as well.

I’ve spent Thanksgiving with some of them and shared my first time watching a Patriots game with my younger son, Max, with the same “football friends.”

While I hope to never watch the Patriots lose another Super Bowl, watching it happen at the home of my friends Tom and Coni made the loss less significant because my friendship with them and their family is so significant.

7. There’s Always Next Year: Many Patriots fans didn’t expect the 2012 team to get as far as they did; so any of the wins after the regular season felt a bit like bonus content on a Blu-ray DVD. Despite that, it was hard not to get caught up in the moment and start believing (but see “Expectations Undermine Attitude” above).

On the bright side, the team “almost” won the Super Bowl with marginal talent in key positions. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick remain a powerful pair and, if they can finally add a deep threat receiver (or two) and actually field some quality defensive backs, who knows — they could make an eighth trip to the Super Bowl this season.

Rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins already seems to have the makings of the next Randy Moss — let’s hope without the drama. Perhaps there is hope for #85 to rise from the ashes of Ochocinco? [Update after the game: put that hope on hold — with a dash of optimism]

Imagine if I liked the Chicago Cubs or any team in Cleveland?!  I’d really feel a sense of déjà vu like  former Major League Baseball first baseman Keith Hernandez in the short video below:

In Conclusion

To summarize the seven points above:

  1. Expectations Undermine Attitude
  2. Junkyards Don’t Always Make Juggernauts
  3. Win or Lose, Players Get Paid
  4. Failure is a Launchpad for Learning
  5. Family — Not Football — Comes First
  6. Being with Friends Lessens a Loss
  7. There’s Always Next Year

Given all the insights above, the one remaining question: should the Patriots replace Tom Brady with Punxatawney Phil? More importantly, will the Patriots return to — and, if they do, win — the Super Bowl this year?

  • January 19, 2014 Update: One game away from returning to the Super Bowl; a good run for a team with so many injuries and off-field issues. I am proud of what the Pats were able to do with the limited resources they had. And, of course, there’s always next year!

What’s your (un)lucky number?

roulette-13

Yesterday, while volunteering during my younger son Max’s visit to his school’s library, we found and read through a Boston Celtics book together. On the cover of the book was a picture of  the Celtics playing the Chicago Bulls. When Max, who loves basketball and is playing in a youth league, saw the picture, he exclaimed “that’s my team!”

He then added that he wears jersey number 13 (presently worn by Joakim Noah), to which I joked “unlucky 13?!” Being a week shy of 6, Max looked at me and said “what does that mean?”

I realized our cultural dislike (in some cases fear) of the number 13 — which, in Greek, is called triskaidekaphobia — is learned. But why does our culture dislike the number 13? Since today is “Friday the 13th,” another common fear (called paraskevidekatriaphobia in Greek), I wanted to briefly explore some of the origins for these irrational ideas. Below are some snippets of insights I collected:

According to the USA Today article, Three Friday the 13ths, 13 weeks apart, a rarity, “for many pagans, 13 is a lucky number, because it corresponds with the number of full moons each year.” Interesting, the same USA Today article adds, the following:

“The number 13 and Friday are recurring presences in mythological, spiritual and religious tradition. In Christianity, 13 people attended the Last Supper before Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ death on a Friday. A Norse myth warns of dire consequences for dining in groups of 13. Friday the 13th was the date the medieval Knights Templar were imprisoned.”

 An About.com article, “Why Friday the 13th Is Unlucky,” offers these unique insights:

“…the number 13 may have been purposely vilified by the founders of patriarchal religions in the early days of western civilization because it represented femininity. Thirteen had been revered in prehistoric goddess-worshiping cultures, we are told, because it corresponded to the number of lunar (menstrual) cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days).”

“Twelve gods were invited to a banquet at Valhalla. Loki, the Evil One, god of mischief, had been left off the guest list but crashed the party, bringing the total number of attendees to 13. True to character, Loki raised hell by inciting Hod, the blind god of winter, to attack Balder the Good, who was a favorite of the gods. Hod took a spear of mistletoe offered by Loki and obediently hurled it at Balder, killing him instantly. All Valhalla grieved.”

“As if to prove the point, the Bible tells us there were exactly 13 present at the Last Supper. One of the dinner guests — er, disciples — betrayed Jesus Christ, setting the stage for the Crucifixion.”

Michael Shermer  — Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, and columnist for Scientific American — examines the reasons “why people believe strange things” in his February 2006 TED Talk (presented below). You can also watch it on the TED website and follow along with an interactive transcript).

In his speech he addresses questions such as “Why do people see the Virgin Mary on cheese sandwiches” or “Why do people hear demonic lyrics in ‘Stairway to Heaven’?” It is for many of the reasons above that people look for logic — or at least deeper meaning — in places where there might really be none.

Consider the many other fears explained in the ABC News article, “Fear of Friday, the 13th (Paraskevidekatriaphobia) and Other Unpronounceable Phobias.” Often people invent explanations for things they don’t understand (or don’t want to confront). Just think about how the world functioned before the emergence of science!

For example, the current irrational obsession with all of the instances of “316” that presumably occurred when Tim Tebow lead the Denver Broncos to a playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend.

When it comes to Tim Tebow, many well-meaning and honestly inspired individuals nevertheless connect dots that don’t necessarily make sense connecting and draw conclusions that are entirely based on assumptions and anecdotal evidence. “Tebowmania” seemed to hit a crescendo following the hysteria when what appeared to be a “halo” formed over Mile High Stadium in Denver last Sunday after the team’s playoff win.

Interesting, whereas many jumped to conclusions that it was some kind of heavenly sign, one rationally minded reader of the article (who uses the name “Rotten Rodriguez”) explained it as follows:

“It wasn’t a halo. I was at the game. After Denver scores pyrotechni­cs are shot out of a cylinder in the south end zone. A smoke ring came off the cylinder then floated over the stadium for as long as it take a smoke ring to dissipate.”

Superstitions and strange rituals have been a part of sports since people began hitting balls with sticks.  For a good laugh read the ESPN article “Curses, superstitions and sports,” the Business Insider feature “The 30 Strangest Superstitions In Sports History,” and About.com’s piece “Why Do So Many Athletes, Have Superstitions and Rituals.”

friday-the-13th-dennis-skley
Photo Credit: “Friday the 13th” by Dennis Skley.

If you’re feeling academically minded, read the scholarly paper titled “An Exploratory Investigation of Superstition, Personal Control, Optimism and Pessimism in NCAA Division I Intercollegiate Student Athletes.

If only Tim Tebow wore the number 13 instead of 15, perhaps he could have provided additional inspiration for those who suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia. That would be especially helpful this year since, as the USA Today article also points out, “for the first time since 1984, those three Friday the 13ths — Jan. 13, April 13 and July 13 — are exactly 13 weeks apart.”

So, if you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia, maybe you should start Tebowing — or consider the luck-related insights of Guy Kawasaki to whom I attributed the phrase “go luck yourself!”

Update: Despite the above exploration into the absurdity of superstition, I wore my “lucky” Wes Welker jersey when my favorite NFL team, the New England Patriots, hosted the Denver Broncos for the AFC Divisional Game on Saturday, January 14, 2012 and they won! The following week, on Sunday, January 22, they beat the Baltimore Ravens in dramatic fashion at the AFC Championship Game, sending the Patriots to Super Bowl XLVI — while, again, I wore my “lucky” Welker jersey. Unfortunately, the Patriots faced and — in an almost exact replay to Super Bowl XLII — lost, yet again, to the New York Giants on Sunday, February 5, 2012. And, in true ironic form, one of the many reasons the Patriots lost was because Welker dropped a badly thrown pass from Tom Brady — negating the Patriots attempt at a very possible come back win. How’s that for luck and superstition? I admire Welker, but clearly I will need to wear a new jersey next year!

Even the most venerable entities are not immune to economic adversity.

From American Express to Wynn Resorts, drastic action has been taken to ensure survival. The financial firestorm has scorched America’s oldest educational institution: Harvard Universityharvard-logoIn a bold move designed to ensure its fiscal survival, Harvard University today announced that it is selling it’s campus and going entirely online.

Billionaire businessman and 1965 Harvard Business School alumnus Robert K. Kraft purchased the 308 acre campus for an undisclosed sum. Kraft will develop the land into a massive commercial and residential complex in the heart of Cambridge, MA named “Harvard ‘s 100 Yards.”

“This was the most economically viable option;  we will save millions of dollars in toilet paper alone!” said Harvard President Dr. Drew G. Faust.

The school has experience with online learning through its Extension School and development of edX, but will develop a proprietary instructional platform for this new venture: Fully Online Optimized Learning System (FOOLS). In addition to robust learning tools, FOOLS will integrate several interactive features, including a virtual classroom environment similar to Second Life.

“We will miss our beautiful campus, but I am sure it will be equally as invigorating sending instant messages to each other,” Faust added. “L-O-L as they say!”

The change comes at a time of unusual fiscal concern at the historic campus. The university’s $36.9 billion endowment recently suffered losses of at least 22% (estimated at $8 billion) and projections anticipate a further decline. Insiders fear the loss could be even higher once real estate and private equity declines are considered.

AOL founder Steve Case has volunteered to produce thousands of CD-ROMs containing the systems operating system. Nobody expects to use them for anything but improvised coasters, yet Case insists.

Internet raconteur Philip J. “Pud” Kaplan will ease the transition by creating a “deadpool” game in which students can bet which classmate will fail next. Likewise, Facebook founder and former Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg will personally design an application to virtually recreate the social scene at the university.

Loic Le Meur and Gary Vaynerchuk will provide a continuous supply of French wine and cheese to the developers, faculty, staff and students during the transition. Social media expert Chris Brogan has also been hired to provide strategic vision while Loren Feldman will produce daily video updates of the technical development using puppets. Shel Israel and Robert Scoble will document the historic transition on Twitter.

“These people are all dopes,” Feldman groaned when informed of the news. “They should have asked me for my opinion since it is always the right one!”

To address any potential psychological concerns Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura will be on call to offer counseling services to those in need.

“The school is getting real,” said Dr. Phil. “Far too often people wait until it is too late to do what’s right.”  Not to be outdone, Dr. Laura is quoted as saying “without dormitories those stupid co-eds won’t be shacking up like unpaid whores!”

With regard to the development of the campus, Robert Kraft — who developed Patriot Place adjacent to Gillette Stadium where his New England Patriots play —  is no stranger to tackling big tasks and succeeding. The 67 year-old Kraft, with an estimated net worth of $6.6 billion, was named the 244th richest American by Forbes magazine.

“As an alumnus I am proud to be a part of this project. Today we are all Crimsons!” Kraft exclaimed.

Preliminary plans call for a residential area divided into four football-themed sections: First Down, Second Down, Third Down, Fourth Down, with an exclusive area for custom homes named Tom Brady Estates.

Also included will be a robust retail area with an array of retail stores. The initial list of national tenants includes HootersVictoria’s Secret, TGI Fridays, Subway, and Jiffy Lube. Patrons with small children can leave their children at “The Antonio Cromartie Daycare Center for Children with Forgettable Names” for a flat fee of $31.

In recognition of the land’s educational roots, a New England Tractor Trailer School (NETTTS) campus, “The Ted Kennedy Memorial School for Underwater Driving,” and a Greer Childers Body Flex Academy — along with several other instructional outletes — will open on the former site of the ivy league school.

With a nod to sustainability the entire development will recycle and reuse its waste at  the Eric Mangini Waste Processing Center. The facility will be heated by the hot air from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT (delivered directly via an underground pipeline).

With safety as a top concern, all 308 acres will be secured by a state of the art security and video monitoring system. Patriots head coach  Bill Belichick was personally involved with the design of the video camera network.

“It’s beyond anything I could have imagined,” commented Belichick. “The video system alone is worth the investment!”

Look for the first phase of  “Harvard ‘s 100 Yards” to open next summer!

PS: April Fools!