Super Bowl/Ali Analogy

It’s noontime Tuesday, gray and wet, home snow-removal chores in the rearview, televised Patriots parade underway in Boston.

I’m walking the dogs in steady rain that’s softening the shallow coating of fresh, white, sticky snow. The precipitation had changed from snow to sleet to rain as I whisked clean the snow-blower blades and carriage after yard cleanup.

I’m watching Lily and Chubby romp through the Christmas trees on a floodplain meadow, rain audibly dripping from naked hardwoods, the dogs’ joie de vivre palpable as my mind drifts off as it usually does while walking. I’m thinking back to something I heard Bill Belichick say from ESPN’s on-field, postgame broadcast podium after his Pats’ dramatic, 34-28 overtime win over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Talking about his team’s record comeback from a 25-point  deficit, he told retiring sportscaster Chris “Boomer” Berman that Bill Parcells — a former coach under whom he worked and from whom he’d learned much about winning — was fond of usung a boxing metaphor when describing what it takes to be a great champion. He believed that the mark of a true champion is the ability to get up off the canvas and win.

“I think we did that tonight,” beamed Belichick. And who could argue?

Mulling that Belichick quote as I walked the southern perimeter of my daily ramble, dogs chasing scent in and out of the wooded wetland border, my thoughts brought me to Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxing champion of my lifetime. I was trying to compare the Pats’ remarkable Super Bowl rally to one of Ali’s epic wins, and for some reason started with the “Thrilla in Manila” against Joe Frazier. But, no, thinking it over, I knew that fight for the ages hadn’t mirrored what occurred Sunday night at NFG Stadium in Houston. The reason was that at the start of that memorable 1975 fight, it appeared that Ali would make quick work of Smokin’ Joe, peppering his face like he was working an Everlast speed bag in the gym. But a determined Frazier somehow absorbed the punishment and responded by bearing in on Ali and hurting him on the inside until, after Round 11 of a scheduled 15, it looked like Frazier may just beat “The Greatest.”

Not so fast. In Round 12, Ali dug deep, found his second wind and started battering Frazier. By Round 14, Smokin’ Joe could no longer see through badly swollen eyes. Concerned trainer Eddie Futch threw in the towel. Proud, fierce Joe Frazier could not answer the Round 15 bell. Ali had won by TKO. Afterwards, Frazier said, “Lordy, Lordy,” he had hit Ali with shots that could have shaken  the walls of a city yet could not beat him.

The Pats’ historic Super Bowl victory Sunday night really didn’t have that ebb and flow, those changes of momentum. Down 21-3 at the half due to two costly turnovers, New England was getting dominated by Atlanta on the scoreboard. Then, after the Falcons tacked on another score to make it 28-3 with 8:31 remaining in the third quarter, die-hard Pats fans knew a comeback was unlikely indeed, even for an all-time-great QB/coach tandem like Tom Brady and  Belichick.

Which brought me to another Ali fight occurring a year before the “Thrilla.” We’re talking about 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle” versus a seemingly unbeatable and heavily favored heavyweight champion named George Foreman, a younger, stronger man who packed a mighty wallop. So, what was Ali’s strategy in this fight that few thought he could win, and many feared could end his career, if not his life? He came out by decisively winning the first round with dazzling combinations to Foreman’s face, then shocked the world by leaning back against the ropes, protecting his chin and allowing the powerful champion to whale away at his midsection in a ring tactic dubbed “rope-a-dope,” designed to “punch out” the opponent. Trainer Angelo Dundee pleaded with Ali to get off the ropes while loyal fans wondered what was wrong with “The Greatest.” Was he losing his freakin’ mind? He was going to get killed laying on the ropes in front of such a powerful brute.

After six rounds of his best impression of a heavy bag, Ali sprang off the ropes in the eighth round and dropped Foreman to the canvas with a well-placed combination of punches to the face. Foreman went down, could not get to his feet before the count of 10 and Ali, hands raised above his head,  had a stunning knockout to regain the world heavyweight crown.

That Ali fight was the one that most resembled Sunday’s stunning Patriots comeback in Houston. No, the Falcons did not come into the contest as prohibitive favorites, and they were not recognized as the big bully on the block, either. But with a 25-point lead and 20 minutes remaining, the underdog  sure had taken on a superior demeanor.

Then, like Ali in Zaire, the Pats came off the ropes to score the final 31 points and win their fifth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era. Some called it a miracle. Others blamed it on Falcons coaching ineptitude.

Longtime WFAN-New York, AM-660 sports-talk host Joe Benigno had it right Monday morning when he proclaimed that only one team could have pulled off that historic comeback, then labeled Super Bowl LI as the win that will forever define these New England Patriots’ greatness. Though not a popular view on that station or in that city, where callers and hosts alike prefer to insult the Patriots as cheaters, suffering Jets-fan Benigno had taken a fair view, giving justifiable credit and admiration where due.

It takes a man to tell it like it is in that hostile Big Apple market, and, on the other hand, an arrogant loudmouth like Mike Francesa to claim that the Falcons coaching staff handed the win to the Pats on a silver platter.

It’ll be interesting to see what Francesa’s excuse is next year.
******

The preliminary all-season 2016 deer harvest released last week by MassWildlife is 12,233. This includes record archery (4,661) and primitive-firearm (2,484) harvests and an average shotgun harvest of 4,907, including 58 kills during the special, controlled, four-day Blue Hills Reservation hunt. An additional 53 deer were taken by special permit during the annual Quabbin hunt, and 128 additional deer were taken during the annual pre-archery youth hunt.

Backboned by the archery and blackpowder records, the total harvest was in near-record territory, following a sub-par 2015 harvest. Last year’s low harvest was likely due to unseasonably warm weather, lack of snow and an abundance of wild food, which meant that deer could be virtually anywhere and did not have to move much when hunters were in the woods. The increased 2016 harvest was likely related to the previous year’s low harvest and low winter mortality, plus this year’s excellent hunting conditions.

The all-season preliminary totals in Zones 10 (2,313), 11 (2,715) and 9 (1,115) comprised a bit more than half the statewide harvest. Meanwhile, local Zones 4 North (531), 4 South (299), 2 (479), 5 (542) and 6 (126) combined produced a mere 16 percent of the statewide harvest. My, how times have changed since I was a kid.

The final harvest figures and analysis will be released in May or June.

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