Sideline Cut: Steelers prepare hot reception for Trump’s favourite team

Nation will be side with Pittsburgh when they take on Tom Brady’s New England Patriots

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady  and head coach Bill Belichick will pit their wits against the Pittsburgh Steelers  in their bid for the AFC championship title. Photograph: CJ Gunther/EPA

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick will pit their wits against the Pittsburgh Steelers in their bid for the AFC championship title. Photograph: CJ Gunther/EPA

 

As a dark cloud settles and the Disunited States of America readies itself for at least four years of stark division and God only knows what else, there is, as always, the old-fashioned consolation of the Sunday night football game. The superficial familiarity – the cheerleading, the pageantry, the inalienable right to go forth and long – remain intact.

On Sunday evening, two of the big, imperishable NFL franchises will go to war when the Pittsburgh Steelers meet the New England Patriots for the AFC championship title.

It couldn’t be meatier: the Steelers’ ball club, with its iconic Steelmark logo, represents the spiritual thrust of the very heartland where H.R. Clinton truly blew the election and where Trump flummoxed the pollsters and the intelligentsia alike.

And the Patriots, meanwhile, who have ascended to become the most hated ball club in America, are, inevitably, the choice team of the 45th president of the United States.

On his last night as a citizen– and the Donald will realise that the blackest joke of his winning the presidency is that he now has to do it – Trump made passing if pointed reference to the Patriots during a low-light dinner, praising his long-time friend and head coach Bill Belichick for setting the work-ethic which left other candidates in the shade.

“I outworked everybody. I learned that from Bill Belichick.”

With Patriots’ owner Bob Kraft in attendance, Trump took time to address him directly from the podium to reveal that he had received a congratulatory phone call from quarterback Tom Brady.

“Your friend Tom just called. He feels good. He called to congratulate us. He feels good.”

Just a few weeks ago, getting name-checked by the president would have been an honour that any of America’s leading athletes would have taken.

But Barack Obama is not in office and Tom Brady has tried to put some distance between himself and Trump since last October, when a tweet featuring a baseball cap bearing the Trump slogan Make America Great Again was sitting in the Brady locker.

Public backlash

This was during a period when celebrities were tripping over themselves to denounce everything the Trump candidacy represented.

The imprimatur – however indirectly – from the quarterback of quarterbacks packed a punch. Brady was just then recovering from the sustained public backlash from the 2015 ‘deflategate’, when the Patriots were deemed to have illegally softened footballs prior to their 45-7 AFC championship game wipe-out of Indianapolis. He received a four-game suspension after the enquiry, despite protesting his innocence.

And Brady had long become one of those gilded star-athletes that the public either loves to love or loves to hate. That was partly inevitable in an athlete who has been at the epicentre of American sporting life through four presidential administrations: 15 seasons, six Superbowl appearances and four Lombardi trophies. His consistency in what may be single most challenging role in ball sport, is phenomenal.

Throw in his general Tom Brady-ness, the Abercrombie catalogue handsomeness, the super-wealth he and his wife Giselle have generated and the dazzling lustre they evince and the Patriots quarterback becomes an easy target for fans in search of a hate figure.

It wouldn’t matter so much if he threw ball for the Jacksonville Jaguars, say. But he has become the face of the Patriots Nation, a team that for most of Americans reeked of entitlement and superiority even before it began snaffling up Superbowls, with its Brahmin-Boston tradition, its appropriation of the patriotic identity of the Revolution and even its geographical location: up there, in the cradle of academia, looking down on everything and everyone.

In a joy of an essay on Bleacher report last October, Jeff Pearlman set out to discover why it is that so many people hate Tom Brady.

“I don’t know what it is,” one lady told him. “He’s too successful, too smug ...too much of a winner. Honestly, I’m sort of ashamed to admit it. Because he’s probably a nice guy. But I hate Tom Brady.”

Tough coming from anyone but the lady in question was Jeannie Buss, the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers. Many team-mates and opponents within the NFL have vouched for Brady’s unfailing classiness. But the verdict has been cast. Beyond Patriot nation, TB sucks.

Unflattering reference

So it was no surprise when, in an uplifting breach of protocol, the post-game speech by Steelers coach was broadcast live on facebook by one of his players and included an unflattering reference to the Patriots.

President Trump would undoubtedly be dismayed at the general quality of the locker-room talk: Antonio Brown the rogue film maker repeatedly told his viewers that ‘God is good’. In his rallying cry, however, the head coach referred to ‘those assholes’. He didn’t even need to explain. Everyone knew who he meant.

So Brady could have done without Trump’s name-check at this moment in time.

So many people around the world watching Friday’s ceremony in Washington from afar most have had the same thought sooner or later.

Even after you set aside all the unforgivable moments of Mr Trump’s campaign – the wilful stirring up of prejudices, the misogyny, the brazen lying, the bullying and the general human dismalness – there was still time for the world to ask the question of America that evening.

How could you?

How could you elect such a glaringly inadequate pretender to the most powerful office on the planet? How could you elect that pompadour? How can you inflict upon the world at least four years of daily news casts of Trump and that unsettling O-thing he does with his mouth mid-sentence and of those obscene, flapping hand gestures?

Through no fault of his own, Tom Brady will take the field on Sunday night’s nationally – no- globally – televised ball game in the knowledge that he has been anointed as Trump’s number one sports guy. And even that fandom seems like further evidence that Trump just doesn’t get it.

Here is a quintessential New Yorker; roundly loathed in his native city, perhaps, but still born and raised in the boroughs. And he could have pledged allegiance, however superficial, to the Giants or the Jets. But no, instead, he hitched his wagon to the uppity Patriots.

The past 20 years have seen a stark reversal in sporting fortunes in that region of America, with the Patriots shaking off decades of underwhelming winters with those four titles and the Red Sox finally ridding themselves of their mythological curse.

Throw in the old-time snobbery and tradition of the Boston Celtics basketball club and you have three good reasons why most of the rest of America will be willing the Steelers on come Sunday evening.

Not that New England fans – Trump included – will care. Back in 2015, when the notion of president Trump was simply the punch-line to many a joke, they learned to glory in their popularity with a chant.

‘You hate us cos you ain’t us.’

It catches the strange atmosphere emanating from Capitol Hill as well as anything.

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