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Bob Lobel: A Week of Fallen Sports Heroes

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


If you were a big Lance Armstrong backer, a Notre Dame fan or rooted for the Patriots, you had a bad week.

Let's just say this about the biker: As a closet shrink, it sure looked to me as if Armstrong was in rehab but only completed about 15 days of his 30-day stay. A few things accomplished, a lot of work to do. I do predict that the future will be kind to him when the Tour de France is cleaned up—if the Tour is cleaned up. Armstrong will be the one that sacrificed titles, reputation, money and friends to make it so. His coming out party will be a tipping point for the future of that event.

On to the next thing: Notre Dame and its imaginary friends. I wish some of my friends had been imaginary. This story is only good for its curiosity. I mean, where does it go from here? What has been the big deal? No performance enhancing drugs, no sex, no cheating in a cheating world, just stupid college tricks.

On to the Patriots: It's not the fall, it’s the sudden stop when you hit the rocks. Give the Ravens credit. That’s all you need to say at the moment. It’s the underlying feeling that seems to be creeping into our collective heads. In “The World According to Garp,” the feeling was described as the “under toad.” It’s the “under toad” that gripped me after Sunday's game, the very real feeling that this could be the last time. Certainly, if nothing else, the last time seems so much closer. Last time for what? You know what. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the rest of the Pats lineup playing together.

When Boomer Esiason called Tom Brady the greatest quarterback to ever play the game in the CBS pregame show, it doomed it all. There was no need for that pronouncement. Why did he feel he had to say one was better than the other? Self serving. Brady, a great player, has benefited like no one else from the system that surrounded him. The symbiotic relationship with his coach was like a mushroom on a tree. They both grew together. (I admit, not the greatest analogy.)

So here we are. Left with the reality that we are down to fingers on one hand. That's enough to produce the “under toad.” This certainly points out how difficult winning can be. Dynasty and success are two concepts that can be defined in many ways. The argument can be made that the Patriots meet the definition of both. It can also be made that they don’t meet the definition of either. Were they out-coached? Why was Baltimore a better team? Why did Flacco outperform Brady? Was the absence of Gronkowski as big a deal as it seems? They couldn’t win the biggest game of this year and last year without him.

Actually, they should have lost to Baltimore last year and never have gone to the Superbowl. But it's been an amazing decade-plus for this franchise with plenty of good luck and bad sprinkled in. It has all just about evened out. But as we head in another off-season and look at next year, I can't help believing the Patriots' best days are behind them. A game like last Sunday can give you that “under toad” feeling.

Meanwhile, pitchers and catchers are stirring and the equipment truck is all gassed up and ready to pull out of Fenway. Auditions are being held this week to fill the public address announcer spot vacated when the beloved Carl Beane tragically died last year. Dan Shaughnessy's book with Terry Francona comes out this week as well. The Bruins are unbeaten, which should qualify them for the playoffs, and on and on.

There are plenty of things to distract us from the harsh realities of unfulfilled expectations after Sunday and the cloudy future that’s just around the corner. 


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