And now that the run is over, what we’re experiencing feels something like grief. Or maybe, less nobly, like withdrawal: We’d become addicted to winning, and as happens with addiction, no amount of winning would ever satisfy. Six Super Bowls should have been enough—fans in many cities would be happy with just one—but we craved more, needed more.
The pain of losing causes me to reflect on the oddness of feeling any emotion at all in vicarious reaction to a bunch of people I’ve never met putting an oblong object across a chalked-out line on a field more times than a bunch of other people I’ve never met wearing a different color uniform. Why do we even care? Sports fandom is spilt nationalism, arbitrarily channeled tribalism, productively sublimated war impulse—which is why these games evoke such strong feelings, and why the culture lavishes so much money on them, and why they may be, ultimately, a social good. But what the wonderworking of Brady and Belichick engendered in Patriots fans was a kind of civic religion in which faith was rewarded far more than the odds, or the nature of the NFL, should have allowed—a faith both stronger and more benign than many other kinds these days. Now that faith is shaken. The grace of Brady is not everlasting: The Patriots will be lucky to go 9–7 next year. It feels sad.