By now, my vast legions of readers (both of you) are familiar with my theory that Bill Belichick is not a mere mortal, but rather a powerful sorcerer – possibly a Sith Lord – who has decided to use his powers to be the greatest coach in any sport the world has ever seen. And to make it more interesting for himself, and throw off the suspicions of anyone who might figure out what he really is, puts obstacles in front of himself. Like, for example, starting college lacrosse players at wide receiver.
The AFC Championship game offered further proof of my theory. Confronted with a ridiculously easy path to the Super Bowl (does anybody even remember who the other AFC playoff teams were?), The Mighty Belichick did the following: had one of his minions slice Tom Brady’s hand in practice, got Gronk bonked on the head mid-game, spotted the Jaguars a big lead, and most amazingly – he really is something else – turned Blake Bortles into an actual NFL quarterback. Despite these self-imposed obstacles, the Patriots once again cruised into the Super Bowl.
How then, to explain the loss to Eagles on Sunday? If Bill Belichick’s powers are so otherworldly, how could the Patriots possibly lose to a backup quarterback on a team from a city whose most famous title is fictional?
Well, my theory is still spot-on accurate, obviously. But I made a shocking omission. If Bill Belichick is Sauron, Emperor Palpatine, and Voldemort all rolled into one ridiculous hoodie – who is the hero that vanquishes him? Who is Frodo, who is Harry Potter, who is Luke Friggin’ Skywalker?
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the Heroic Journey, but in case you’re not, a quick primer. In 1949, Joseph Campbell published The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he showed that many different cultures across many years have told hero stories with very similar, even identical elements.
This archetype has been followed closely by the creators of some of the most popular stories of our time. That is why the following description matches Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, and Luke Skywalker – and parts of the description fit everyone from Batman to Jesus:
- A young person (usually male), is being raised in a fairly boring place by people who aren’t his natural parents (Tatooine, 11 Privet Drive, the Shire; assorted uncles and aunts)
- The parent(s) have a relevant backstory
- He learns there is a vastly more interesting world out there; Campbell calls this ‘crossing the threshold” (Princess Leia’s hologram, letter from Hogwarts, putting on the ring)
- And, that he himself is possessed of great powers, though he needs instruction to master them
- But, a great evil is in the land, and it is his destiny to vanquish it (Sauron, Voldemort, Darth Vader/Palpatine)
- Luckily, he doesn’t have to do this alone – he has friends who are brave, loyal, and often provide some comic relief (Han & Leia, Hermione & Ron, Sam & Merry & Pippin)
- Also, he’ll have a mentor – a gray-bearded wizard who instructs our young hero, and always seem to know more than he lets on (Obi-Wan, Dumbledore, Gandalf)
- The graybeard “dies” (Obi-Wan struck down by Vader; Dumbledore killed by Snape; Gandalf’s fall with the Balrog)
- But he’s not dead! He returns, sort of, at the climactic moment!
- And of course, our hero defeats the villain, ushering in a new age
For us English majors, nursed on the mother’s milk of English literature, the archetype for all these stories is King Arthur and the original gray-bearded Wizard, Merlin.
Where was I? Right, Bill Belichick is an evil sorcerer etc. etc.
Anyway, until this year it wasn’t quite clear who the hero was. Peyton Manning seemed the obvious choice, since he went 3-2 against the New England Necromancer in the playoffs. But he’s now making commercials and Bill rolls on. Rex Ryan has had some success against the great sorcerer*, but he too has been relegated to the television dimension far from the gridiron and his successes were mere speed bumps on the Belichick Highway.
* by the way, if I was an AFC GM/Owner I’d give Rex Ryan a blank check to coach my defense. In 17 years he’s the only coach who’s really given Belichick trouble, despite never having a good starting quarterback
But now it’s obvious: our hero is Elisha Nelson Manning.
We should have known all along of course. The two great Super Bowl wins. His kinship with Peyton. The fact that all disciples of Belichick and his apprentice Brady go crazy at the mere mention of his name – to all of New England, the words "Eli Manning" is an incantation with great power.
But his fade to playoff obscurity since the last Super Bowl had me discounting his destiny. Then, this happened:
Yes, just as it seemed a certainty that the Patriots would take the hopes and dreams of all Eagles fans, and stomp on them like Godzilla on Tokyo, Eli appeared. He performed a highly ritualized dance sequence…and everything turned to shit for the great sorcerer.
And thus I realized, Eli Manning is the NFL incarnation of the Heroic Journey:
- He was raised by his natural parents, but he was famously a Momma’s Boy, spending time with her while his quarterback Dad roamed the mythical land he would one day roam, fighting foes
- He crosses the threshold to New York City in the NFL, a far more interesting land than Ole Miss
- He is possessed of great powers, but he faces trial and tribulation before he can master them, ridiculed by social media and even his own fans
- But he has friends to help – Tyree and Manningham and Plaxico.
- And an elderly wizard – Coughlin the Redface
- The elderly wizard “dies” (or at least, is fired)
- But he’s not dead! He goes to Foxboro with his Jaguars and softens them up a bit
- And finally – Eli does his Magic Dance, and the Patriots are dead!
Hopefully there won’t be any Ewok Party now to ruin things.
NB: for Campbell fans out there, yes I am aware that I somewhat simplified the hero's journey. This was already a goofy, ridiculous post that would be read by only 7 people and appreciated by 2 - tops. So I figured including "Refusing the Call" and "Application of the Boon" would just make things worse...