THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

It's an opportunity - for the Patriots

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / September 14, 2008
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Schadenfreude is all the rage.

Schadenfreude is the German word to describe the phenomenon of taking pleasure in someone else's suffering. From the moment America saw Tom Brady limp off the field last Sunday, America has been awash in schadenfreude.

If naive Patriots fans doubted that their beloveds had become The Team America Loves To Hate, they now know that to be the case. It took a guy in Pittsburgh about two days to design and market a "Bernard Pollard Fan Club" T-shirt. From sea to shining sea, people are rejoicing, not because they dislike Tom Brady but because this brings Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots down, and perhaps out, of the playoffs. Or so they think.

Schadenfreude aside, the Patriots are being further disrespected by the bookies, who do not bother with an irrelevant factor such as emotion when setting their lines. Individual odds vary, of course, but at least one fellow out there shifted his line on today's Patriots-Jets game an almost unimaginable 11 points. As reported by the very reliable Mark Cannizzaro in the New York Post, Richard Gardner, the sports book manager for an offshore betting service known as Bodog, switched the Pats from 9-point favorites to 2-point dogs. Yeah, woof that, Pats.

And woof this: Pre-injury, oddsmaker Jimmy Shapiro had the Patriots at 7-2 to win the Super Bowl. Now? 20-1.

The twofold message to the New England Patriots is clear. Part A: We hate you, hate you, hate you. Part B: Without Tom Brady, you stink.

Bulletin board material? This week's contributions would fill a movie screen.

This is the moment America has been waiting for. This is the opportunity to remind Bill Belichick that he's minus-16 lifetime when someone other than Tom Brady is his starting quarterback. This is the opportunity to show him that he should have gotten himself a known-commodity backup QB, not some jamoke whose most recent Glory Days were almost a decade ago. This is the opportunity to expose that aging, overrated defense. This is the opportunity to put the New England Patriots in their - dare we say it - "Place."

Hey you, Randy Moss, this is America speaking: Those 23 TDs you caught last year? All Tom Brady. All those acrobatic, highlight-film catches you made? Play-acting. We know that was Tom Brady putting the ball right on the money.

Hey you, Wes Welker, this is America speaking: So you caught 112 passes last year? All Tom Brady. All those extra Yards After Catch? Tom Brady hitting you in stride. Vince Wilfork could have done the same thing.

Hey, you, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, and Dan Koppen, this is America speaking: Brady's sixth sense about pass rushers made you guys look better than you are, except in the Super Bowl, where you guys just played like crap.

Hey you, Rodney Harrison, this is America speaking: You're just another late-hitting, over-the-hill safety.

Hey you, Tedy Bruschi, this is America speaking: Get a walker.

Hey you, Mike Vrabel, this is America speaking: It's over. Get an Ohio State baseball hat and stand on the sidelines for next week's game against Troy.

Hey you, Matt Cassel, this is America speaking: You're joking, right?

And, most of all . . .

Hey you, Bill Belichick, you arrogant, cheating, fashion-challenged, running-up-the-score SOB: Hope you like 5-11 - no, make that 3-13 - without your Tommy Boy.

With all this going on, could there possibly be a more enticing opponent for the Patriots than the New York Jets, the ancient division enemy whose coach Bill Belichick regards as the Antichrist? The Jets! Come on, how great is this?

Spygate was born right here in this stadium 53 weeks ago following a convincing Patriots dispatch of the Jets. And now, with Brady gone, the Jets have been anointed locally as the winner of the AFC East, in large measure because the Jets now have Brett Favre as their quarterback. But the fans and media are so focused on Brady's absence, you get the idea they may have felt the same way about this game if Chad Pennington were still calling signals for the Jets.

The Jets are better. There is no question. But just exactly how much better are they? Last week in Miami, Favre had a very solid Favre-ish game, throwing two touchdown passes while imposing his trademark Improvisational Theater aura onto the game. The Jets spent heavily for help in the offensive line (Alan Faneca, Damien Woody), linebacker (Calvin Pace), and nose tackle (Kris Jenkins). They got a great game out of rookie cornerback Dwight Lowery. There was lots to like about the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets.

And they still needed an end zone interception at game's end to ensure victory over the woeful Dolphins.

So we'll see about the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets.

The No. 1 motivational factor in early 21st century American sport is the generally contrived idea that "no one respects us," which leads to "nobody thought we could do it." That gambit was not available to the Patriots last year as they came within 35 seconds of being a 19-0 Super Bowl champ. But it is sure available to them now.

So, hey, all you guys, this is America speaking: All those Pro Bowl appearances, all those Super Bowl rings, and that 18-0 don't impress us. It was all about Tom Brady. And that goes for you, especially, Mr. Belichick. All that scheming and all that preparation and all that team talk was so much mumbo-jumbo because you were nothin' before you got Tom Brady and you're nothin' now.

That's what America believes. At 4:15 today, all those people not named Brady will formulate a reply. It would be pretty funny if three hours later the Patriots are the ones indulging in some schadenfreude.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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