Setting aside their own pain after the Patriots' Super Bowl loss, parents, coaches, and teachers said yesterday they were trying to use the unexpected defeat to teach young fans important lessons about sportsmanship, underdogs, and perfection.
Many adults were loath to find any good in the devastating outcome, but some grudgingly acknowledged an opportunity to show children how to deal with disappointment, in a world that too often sends the message that winning is everything.
Young New England fans, growing up in an era of unprecedented sports success, have had few opportunities to practice losing graciously. Some of their elders predicted that their appreciation for future victories will be sharpened by the crushing disappointment of this year's loss.
"It does provide a little perspective that all of us adults grew up with," said Dave Czesniuk, director of operations at Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society.
"We heard so much in the last few weeks about perfect, perfect, perfect, and there isn't any perfect," he said. ". . . It's an idea that distracts kids from other things that are healthy and leads to goal obsession and big emotional letdown."
Principals at several Boston schools said the game was discussed in some classrooms.
Some teachers called attention to the good manners of quarterback Tom Brady, who congratulated the Giants after the game, while others proposed that the Patriots were champions anyway, because they worked hard all season and never gave up.
At the Richard J. Murphy K-8 School in Dorchester, principal Mary Russo said she was touched to see some students who care little for football consoling more passionate fans with hugs and reassuring words yesterday morning.
"I think they were hungry to make sense of it and to be helped to make sense of it," she said. "It was definitely the topic of conversation, in the lunch room and at recess."
Not every parent was thrilled with the example of the home team Sunday. Dave Perdios, the founder of the Mustang youth football program in Milton and a baseball coach at Curry College, said he was disappointed that Patriots coach Bill Belichick left the field with one second left on the clock.
"I'm not one to say that sports figures have to be role models, but in cases like this, with a captive audience, to see a coach arrogantly leave the field like that, it really hit me," he said.
"The kids noticed, and asked, 'Why is he leaving?' " Perdios said. "It's only a second, but it's sportsmanship." Perdios saw another lesson in the game, one that should resonate for any team or player facing low expectations.
"There's always that kid who's the underdog, who isn't the best," he said, "and the message is, you can do it, if you work hard, and never hang your head."
Robert Simard, 12, a Pop Warner football player in Salem, said that at first he was angry and disappointed at the final score.
"But then I kind of got over it," he said, "because we're going to have the same team next year and there's a chance we can do it again."
His father, Salem Pop Warner president Brian Simard, said he reminded his son that the game, hyped as it was, was only a game, that while "we would have liked them to win, we have to move on."
The younger Simard got the message and said nothing could diminish his pride in the Pats.
"There's always next year, and, like my dad said, it's not like anybody in my family got hurt or anything," he said.
Andronique Joseph, a South Boston mother, said the lesson for her daughter Abreya, 7, was clear: "You win some; you lose some."
Students walking home from school in South Boston yesterday struggled to put their feelings about the Super Bowl into words.
All said they were surprised or shocked when the Patriots lost.
"I thought they were going to win, because they won every game," said Jessica Karales, 13. "We never lost a game, but we lost that one."
Some said their frustration was deepened by knowing firsthand the excitement of the celebration they would miss this year.
"I was all pumped, thinking I was going to the parade," said Courtney Gana, 13.
Others said they hurt more for the players than for themselves.
"When I saw there was only 25 seconds left, I was sad for the Patriots," said Niko Qirici, 11. "I felt pretty bad, because they were all great all season." A day after the loss he did not feel better yet, Qirici admitted, "but maybe when football starts again."
Jenna Russell can be reached at email@example.com.