I spoke to my dad last night, and we discussed last weekend’s exciting New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens game. We both agreed that the Patriots were lucky to win, but we also found plenty of things to disagree about.
“Didn’t you feel kind of sorry for the Ravens?” my father asked.
“No,” I said.
Then my dad suggested the Patriots should create more plays for little-used wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. “He could be a good secret weapon,” my dad said.
I immediately scoffed at this whole idea.
“Perhaps there’s a reason they’re not using Chad Ochocinco much,” I said. “Like, maybe he isn’t very good.”
“Nonsense,” my dad said. “I think that if they use Chad Ochocinco in the Super Bowl, it will take the Giants by surprise. In order to win, the Patriots are going to need a secret weapon.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’d rather see the Patriots use their best players. Like the tight ends.”
“The Patriots always use the tight ends,” my dad said. “The tight ends are not going to take anyone by surprise, and that’s what the Patriots need — a surprise. A secret weapon.”
I continued to express my basic opinion, which is that it’s hard to have secret weapons in sports, because teams that win do so by playing their best players. If the secret weapon strategy was actually viable, the championship Celtics team of 2008 would have been better off tossing their scrubs into a playoff game and making everyone wonder what the heck was going on. Instead of sending Josh Beckett to the mound in game one of the 2007 World Series, the Red Sox would have sent a little-used reliever out there, and hoped that the resulting confusion would be enough to tip the scales in their favor. In my mind, the term “secret weapon” is really code for “player who stinks.”
But you never know.
Sports reporters often talk about “X-Factors” — non-stars who make key contributions in playoffs wins. The 2008 Celtics, good as they were, probably couldn’t have won a championship without James Posey and Eddie House. And the 2007 Red Sox got some help from little-used outfielder Bobby Kielty, who pinch hit a solo home run. The Giants won the Super Bowl in 2008 in part because David Tyree made an unexpected and spectacular catch. And Patriots coach Bill Belichik is known for drawing up sneaky plays and using his players in unconventional ways.
During the New England-Baltimore game, when the Patriots’ defense was having its way with the Raven’s offense, the New England Sports Fan Friend and I wondered whether Belichik’s master plan entailed getting the defense to play horribly during the regular season, and then surprise everyone by playing well in the playoffs. If we were to subscribe to my dad’s theory, this would make the Patriots’ defense a secret weapon. But still: Wouldn’t it be better to play good defense all the time?
Anyway, the Super Bowl is in nine days, which means we’ll soon find out whether the Patriots have any secret weapons hidden in the wings.
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