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GUEST COLUMN

The pain of losing only makes the next win better

Crying over a sports team seems like something that only happens in a bad movie, which like most bad movies, would probably star Matthew McConaughey. That's why I felt particularly silly tearing up alone in my living room as the New England Patriots fell in defeat to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

Anything that brings us great joy can also bring us great sadness. As a Massachusetts native, I've learned that lesson the hard way as up until the last few years our sports teams teased us with joy, usually finding ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Bill Belichick/Tom Brady Patriots, however, changed all that. Not only did a Boston team win, it won when it shouldn't, finding ways to defy logic and managing to make last second miracles seem common.

As this Super Bowl ended, though, I stood there in the dark with just the light of the TV, crying quietly because yelling, swearing and breaking stuff might wake up my wife and son. This wasn't the kind of heartbreaking loss like the 1986 World Series that Boston fans have endured over the years, instead it was the dull pain of failed expectations.

I wasn't crying for what happened, but for what could have been. The New England Patriots, once a laughingstock of a franchise, could have been unquestionably the greatest team of all time. In achieving that feat, not only would they once again be world champions, but they would forever silence the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

All sports fans know that while winning always feels good, a win that hurts your rival feels even better. Without 1972 to cling to, all the Dolphins would have were memories of Dan Marino, a parade of failed head coaches and their silly, effeminate light blue uniforms.

For the entire Super Bowl, however, the Patriots played as if they had something better to do and someplace else they would rather be. With a chance to be the greatest team that ever existed, the Patriots showed themselves as mortal, taking dumb penalties, tackling poorly and even suffering from questionable coaching.

The team that never lets one get away lost in the Super Bowl to a mediocre, but motivated opponent. The better team didn't win, but being better on paper only matters if you prove it on the field, and last Sunday the New York Giants were the team with something to prove.

After the game had ended, my brother sent me a simple text message that said "what does this team do next?" At the time I couldn't answer and I'm pretty sure none of the players or coaches would have been able to either.

Now, a few days later, I think I know what the Patriots and their fans need to do. You can't mourn what you've lost because there's no way to get it back. Forget perfection and realize the goal is winning the last game of the season.

It's time for this team to remember that the scoreboard does not reflect how many supermodels you date, how many endorsement contracts you bring home or how many sportswriters call you a genius. All of those things come from winning, but when the spoils become more enjoyable than the victory, you become content and vulnerable no matter how much talent you have.

The Patriots got soft and they paid for it. They weren't the hungriest team on the field and they weren't the underdogs with a chip on their shoulders. It's a mistake Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Tedy Bruschi and everyone else in red, white and blue will likely never forget.

There will be no happiness for Patriots fans until Feb. 1, 2009 in Tampa. No regular season victories will bring us joy and no playoff victories will quell our pain. On that day, however, I predict the Patriots will be there and they will be hungry.

Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. His new book, a collection of columns, "Easy Answers to Every Problem," can be ordered at Amazon.com

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