Barry Chin/Globe Staff
“We’re going to win so much, you’re going to get tired of winning,” — Donald Trump, February 2016.
Let the pigs fly.
Let hell freeze over.
And, please, pass the whiskey and the Valium.
Because, yes, finally, it’s true: I agree with Donald Trump.
I got tired of winning.
That’s the only explanation for my serene, almost catatonic reaction to the Patriots losing what, for my money, was the most entertaining Super Bowl ever.
Some would argue that last year’s scintillating comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons was the greatest Super Bowl. And it is hard to argue that it wasn’t the most improbable Super Bowl win that the Patriots have compiled in an extraordinary streak since Tom Brady took over as quarterback 18 years ago.
But Sunday night’s slugfest between the Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles was like watching a back-and-forth, see-saw heavyweight fight, or at least your average SEC title game.
As the Pats and Birds went up and down the field during the second half, I was sitting on a couch in a gorgeous part of rural Virginia with the great Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal. Rosie has done some pretty extraordinary work at some of the best newspapers in America, among them The Boston Globe, where he made his bones, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he spent 22 years, rising to become the paper’s top editor.
“C’mon,” Rosie said, turning to me, prior to the game, “can’t you guys let Philly win one?”
Turns out we could, with aplomb.
The Eagles had never won a Super Bowl. During the game, NBC kept cutting to 99-year-old Phil Basser in one of the boxes at U.S. Bank Stadium In Minneapolis. He is a lifelong, diehard Eagles fan who wanted to see them win the big one before he died.
Phil Basser’s mom died when he was 4. His dad couldn’t cope, so he and his sister got sent to a foster home in the Germantown section of Philly. His sister Rose died when he was 8. Phil Basser started going to Eagles games after the team was founded in the 1930s. He couldn’t go to Eagles games during World War II and the Korean War because he was too busy serving his country. His daughter Faith died of cancer at 44 and another daughter, Mindy, and her husband donated $55 million to open a cancer center at the University of Pennsylvania.
Phil Basser’s wife, Pearl, a Philly girl, died last April at 89. They had been married for 65 years.
Are you telling me you’re going to begrudge a great American like Phil Basser seeing his beloved Eagles win a Super Bowl before he dies? Not me. Enjoy the ride, Mr. Basser. And thank you for your service and for your wonderful family.
Phil Basser made me think of all the elderly Red Sox fans who, after the Sox finally broke the 86-year curse and won the World Series in 2004, said they could die in peace. Some of them were my aunts and uncles, and I’m sure some of them were your aunts and uncles and parents and grandparents.
Hyperbolic? Sure, but it’s also true, it’s also real. They are just games, but they are also moments we measure our lives by, as sure as the pencil marks your parents put on the door frame as you grew as a kid.
Losing, it turns out, isn’t all that hard. It’s all about perspective.
Rosie and I watched the first half at the Boulder Crest Retreat for veterans, with a dozen female veterans we had spent the previous 48 hours with, talking about writing, about life, about the absurdity of watching people in Congress jumping to their feet last week to applaud themselves and their supposed love of our military and our veterans when 50,000 American veterans are homeless, when more than 20 veterans kill themselves every day.
These women, most of whom work to help other veterans in civilian life, were brought together by The War Horse, a nonprofit veterans news organization founded by a Marine from Randolph named Tom Brennan. And these women, given what they’ve done in military and civilian life, are far more impressive than any millionaire athlete. They are, like Ken Falke, the Navy veteran who founded Boulder Crest to help other vets and their families, the best of us.
That said, with the exception of Kristen Kavanaugh, none of them are Patriots fans.
Kavanaugh, a graduate of the Naval Academy and a Marine Corps officer, grew up in Ohio but never cottoned on to the Browns or Bengals. In 2003, she was going out with someone from Boston and grew to like the Patriots by osmosis.
Kristen donned a knit Pats hat and, like me, kept her blatant partisanship in check. Well, for the most part. We kept looking at each other nervously across the room as the Eagles marched down the field with abandon. Ruh-roh.
But when it was all over, Kristen Kavanaugh was able to accept it for what it was: a football game. She had friends who didn’t get a chance to watch the game because they are in the ground, having died in service to this country.
That will give you some perspective.
And that’s what this is all about: perspective. The Patriots have been to eight Super Bowls since the turn of the century. They’ve won five of them. The vast majority of people in the country will never experience what that ride feels like.
But like the good and bad that is this life, if you accept the winning, you have to accept the losing.
It was easier to accept the loss, too, because it was — after you strip away the hoopla and the million-dollar ads and the Justin Timberlake halftime show that one of the vets, Becca Keaty, so aptly described as an Old Navy commercial — only a game.
There will be other games, starting Monday night, when I walk into TD Garden to watch the first leg of one of the greatest underappreciated spectacles in sports, the Beanpot hockey tournament.
The Beanpot means nothing in the standings, but the kids from Boston College, Harvard, Northeastern, and Boston University play as hard as they would for a spot in the Frozen Four. They play not for money, but for the love of the game, for pride.
It’s a reminder of what’s really great about sports. And the best part is that, in between periods, out on the Garden concourse, I’ll get to catch up with guys I see every year at the Beanpot, like the inimitable John Butterworth and Steve “Guzzi” Gaziano, a couple of old Providence College linemates who do good things for good people, and Kevin Bannan, a Hingham guy who volunteers to drive cancer patients to their treatments.
Like those women who served this country in uniform and continue to serve veterans today, guys like John Butterworth, Guzzi Gaziano and Kevin Bannan know more about what’s important, and more about the real definition of winning, than most ever will.
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