Earlier this week I decided to write an anecdotal piece on a gambling experience that taught me something about life. Well, I struggled for a while to ascertain what the two starkest sporting memories in my life had taught me, and whether, once I had strained away the tears and mopped up all the pain, there was anything of note left to discuss.
It was only after I forced myself to relive the earlier of the two sporting tragedies to which I have alluded, that the shuddering realisation of what I’d learned hit home.
Roll back the clock twelve years: August 1997, Norfolk. My granddad – the one sentient grandparent I had ever known – died. I cried – quite a bit. In the ten years that followed I refused to cry, no matter how bad I felt, no matter what was said about me or the trials I, like any other teenager, was forced to endure, because nothing – nothing – was worse than losing my granddad.
And then it happened – the first week of February 2008. and his previously undefeated New England Patriots moved me to tears. On the floor of the bar in which I had just watched the upstart New York Giants led by the cool hand of Eli Malling and the freakish athleticism of the now incarcerated , defeat the team of dreams. Okay. So you may hate the Pats. You may hate Tom Brady’s perfect jaw line or the fact that he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame, looks good in a Stetson and even better in Gisele Bündchen. But I – a long-standing Arizona Cardinals supporter – was behind New England that year because of what they were doing: they were writing history. And, on the final page of their magnum opus, Eli and the blessed bunch of blue-clad bastards from the big apple, burst into their study and knocked over the pot of ink. All that work; all those amazing victories: wasted; ruined; doomed to be forgotten.
Of course it was the greatest and the most terrible moment of sport I had ever witnessed. Manning and co had brutally raped perfection before my eyes, with no little thanks going to who performed an acrobatic, spine-defying play now known simply as ‘the catch’. Brady was disconsolate and, with the clinical stoicism they had displayed throughout a truly remarkable, however dispassionate season, the Patriots trudged off the field as the Giants collected the Lombardi trophy and streamers of Giants red, Giants white and Giants blue, rained around.
By this time I was lying on my back – my Tom Brady jersey an inch deep in beer – in the middle of the bar, bawling my eyes out. Something had broken inside me. Something beautiful had been destroyed and in its place a monument to possibility had been erected.
Wonderful for sport? I would say so. Horrible for history? I don’t know…either way you look at it, history was made that night. But it is sad to acknowledge that the Giants’ achievements will not seem so unrivalled down the stretch. Underdog victories are ten a penny, especially in American Football.
But seven in a row! Now that is magnificent.
I am referring to an accumulator bet I placed on Euro 2008. I predicted wins in seven games and, having won the first six – one or two in fantastically dramatic fashion – the final game, Italy versus France, was set to be a corker. I had backed the French to the disbelief of my friends, but when the pundit’s marked them as pre-match favourites my hopes were cruelly raised. Ten minutes in it was all over. France were reduced to ten men via a harsh red card and their most electrifying payer, Franck Ribery, had been carted off the field with a tournament-ending injury. Italy’s defence held fast and the world champions ran out comfortable winners. I didn’t cry this time. I was sick to the stomach. I had stood to win £1000 from a £2 stake, but it wasn’t even the money that got to me (well, maybe a little). It was the bastardisation of history: a spoiled fairytale. I had already rehearsed the version I would tell to my grandkids. Now they’ll never get to hear how close I came, because, like Tom Brady’s ’07 Patriots, nobody remembers second best.