You're probably aware that another season of Concussion-ball is upon us. If you're anything like me, you've already participated in a couple of fantasy drafts, read more than a few preview columns and mapped out your sports bar strategy. I think I sprained an elbow from fist-pumping vigorously after finding out I don't have to work this Sunday.
Unfortunately, the worst part of football, besides all the debilitating injuries of course, is having to endure the annual comparisons between the Spurs and the New England Patriots from lazy columnists, podcasters, bloggers and sports talk hot-takers. The Spurs are not the Patriots. All of you stop that.
Stop that right now.
The only things the two teams have in common is that, a) they employ grumpy head coaches in Gregg Popovich and Bill Belichick who regularly get snippy with the media, and b) they consistently win a bunch of regular-season games. That is it. End of list.
(Okay, maybe Spurs fans also get a tad too arrogant and smug at times. Not me of course. But some of them. ahem)
First off, the Spurs still win championships. I know that sounds snide, but seriously they've won three Larry O'Brien trophies since New England's last Lombardi. The last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl, Manu Ginobili was growing his hair out and was just a couple weeks removed from a career-high 48 points at Phoenix. Or, to put another way, Kawhi Leonard was 13 years old.
New England has had a couple of close calls of course, losing a pair of Super Bowls to the New York Giants in 2008 and 2012, including once when they were a couple of plays away from going 19-0. That would be like the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls finishing 72-10 and then losing the Finals to the Seattle SuperSonics.
Oh, that's another thing: The last time the Patriots won it all, there was an NBA team in the state of Washington.
Secondly, the Patriots play near Boston, one of the country's biggest media markets. They get non-stop attention and coverage seven months a year, with ESPN's headquarters basically next door to them. They've usurped the "America's Team" title from Dallas because the Cowboys have become a national punchline. The Patriots are the team everyone either loves or loves to hate. People root for them to lose with a passion, and the rare times that they actually do, the rest of the league basks in the sweet, sweet schadenfreude.
The Spurs do not inspire such coverage or vitriol. They play in one the smallest media markets in the NBA. They prefer to slide in under the national "embrace debate" radar for months at a time and then show up in April with 55-plus wins while everyone is praising the Thunder, Clippers and whichever Eastern Conference team LeBron James happens to be playing on that season. Yes, they really do prefer less coverage.
There's simply no story or controversy with the team. The players just show up, play well and go home. There are no histrionics, no rants against officials, no sordid pictures with porn stars, no videotaping scandals. Neutrals don't root for them to lose as much as they ignore them altogether. Entire regular seasons come and go where people just assume things go without a hitch for the Spurs, even though they go through the same slumps, rotation shuffles and injury crises that all teams experience. Somehow, they keep cranking out the wins, even though no one on their roster puts up eye-popping counting stats.
Which brings up my next point: The Spurs do not have a clear-cut superstar/pitchman/matinee idol on their team. The Patriots have been carried forever by quarterback Tom Brady. Year after year he puts up massive numbers and drags his team to somewhere between 11 and 13 wins a season, often with mediocre talent around him. Almost as popular for his looks as for his play, Brady is one of the most recognizable athletes in the country. He has numerous national and international endorsements (like UGG boots) and is married to Gisele Bundchen, a supermodel who is even more famous and well-compensated than he is.
Tim Duncan is arguably more accomplished in his sport than Brady is at his, but he hasn't been in his prime for some time now and has shared the Spurs marquee with Ginobili and Tony Parker for a solid decade. More recently, Leonard entered the picture and was the Finals MVP. It'd be unfathomable for anyone but Brady to be the MVP of any title-winning Patriots team. Duncan has many local endorsements but doesn't move the needle much nationally or internationally -- although they do call him "The Stone Buddha" in China, so he's got Brady beat there. Parker was briefly married to Eva Longoria, but I think we can all agree that Ms. Longoria is no Gisele Bundchen.
Of course one of the reasons that Brady is all alone on the billboards in New England is because Belichick ruthlessly gets rid of all of his sidekicks sooner rather than later. Whether it's Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, or, most recently, Logan Mankins, they all move on once their production dips or their cap figure gets too exorbitant. The Patriots are Brady, Belichick and a revolving door of thousands.
On the other hand, the Spurs are loyal to their guys. The Big Three have been teammates for a dozen years and have set numerous records for how many games they've won both in the regular season and in the playoffs. Just about everyone on their roster has been together since 2011 except for Marco Belinelli, and Pop has always maintained that "corporate knowledge," is one of the biggest keys to their success. In fact, one of the main reasons the Spurs inspire so much shruggery (not a real word) by casual fans is because it seems like they have the same team year after year.
But perhaps the single way the Spurs are most unlike the Patriots is that none of their players have murdered anybody. I appreciate that about them. Let's keep that streak going, fellas.
In conclusion, the Patriots are not the Spurs. It's just a myth started by jealous Patriots fans who wish they were.