I wrote the original Super Bag in Dallas in 2011, heroically reporting from an overwhelmed city that had been annihilated by five whole inches of snow. The next year, I wrote Super Bag II: Half in the Bag in Indianapolis after nearly overdosing on bronchitis medication. I can’t remember why Super Bag III didn’t happen in 2013, but the reason was probably, “I’m in New Orleans and there’s a casino two blocks from my hotel — Super Bag III can go to hell.” Super Bag III: Legacy Edition belatedly posted in 2014, followed by Super Bag IV: A Little Deflated in 2015. I didn’t have a website in 2016, but Super Bag V: The All-Patriots Edition posted on The Ringer in 2017.
And now … it’s time for Super Bag VI. Last night, I met a friend in Beverly Hills for a drink. I was wearing a hoodie with a red Patriots shirt. Our waitress noticed me and immediately said, “I hate your shirt. You guys are cheaters.” I hadn’t even ordered yet. Welcome to Super Bag VI: Everybody Hates Us. As always, these are actual emails from actual readers.
Q: Outside of the Giants, my second favorite thing about football is the Patriots continuing to succeed. The greater the GOAT evolves into THE GOAT (all caps = all sports), the more improbable the story: Best team ever vs. Backfoot + helmet. The biggest reason those Super Bowls were special? They played the Patriots! The more they win, the sweeter it gets!! How does this vicious cycle make you feel??!
— Will, Brooklyn
BS: Nice try. Will was just trying to rattle me because his team hasn’t won a playoff game in six years. Very funny.
Q: Just curious — how do you feel knowing that Giants fans will be rooting for the Pats in the Super Bowl?
— Ned, Clark, N.J.
BS: You mean, because you hate the Eagles so much? That’s the reason, right?
Q: I’m 21 years old and I’ve been a Giants fan all my life. Should I just be rooting for Brady and Belichick to win as many Super Bowls as possible? Every ring they get boosts Eli’s legacy even further no matter how many more deep balls he underthrows?
— Jamie Magone, Rochester, N.Y.
BS: Wait a second …
Q: As a Giants fan, I’ve taken great joy in watching the Patriots machine continue to stack wins and rings. As you know, Eli Manning and the boys are the only team to have defeated Brady and Belichick in a Super Bowl. Every trophy they hoist and ring they add makes those two victories that much sweeter. Go Pats!
— Victor, Hoboken, N.J.
BS: What the hell? Giants fans are ROOTING for the Patriots? I asked a few Giants fan friends and they confirmed that — thanks to Eli’s legacy, their last two Super Bowl wins, some residual affection for Belichick shutting down Montana’s Niners and Kelly’s Bills in back-to-back weeks in 1990, and, of course, their unabashed hatred for the Eagles — nearly all of them are rooting against Philly.
Well, unless I can talk them out of it. This is pathetic! Eli’s Hall of Fame résumé is THAT flimsy? You have to support America’s biggest 21st-century sports villain to feel more secure about your two pulled-it-out-of-your-sphincter Super Bowl wins? You have to support a BOSTON TEAM to feel better about your franchise QB having a worse career passer rating than Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, David Garrard, and Marc Bulger?
In 2001, I remember Boston fans (myself included) hitting rock bottom after 15 years of bad sports luck that started with Mookie’s grounder and turned into something of a sports-depression free fall. What was rock bottom? When the entire area rooted for Ray Bourque to win a Stanley Cup in Colorado. I watched the deciding game in a crowded bar of cheering fans in Cambridge; you would have thought no. 77 were still playing for a Boston team. It’s the closest we could come to winning. It was bringing an escort to a wedding because we couldn’t find a date. And trust me — we KNEW it was pathetic. But that’s what rock bottom feels like.
The New York Football Giants won two of the past 10 Super Bowls; they have the second overall pick, a new coach and Odell coming back next season. And they’re rooting for a Boston dynasty to keep going? It’s almost like they know Eli isn’t even remotely a Hall of Famer or something. Even the beaten-down, self-loathing Jets fans would never sink this low — and they’re the proverbial 110-pound inmates in the NFL’s maximum security prison right now. If you’re rooting for the Pats and you’re not a Pats fan, the only acceptable reasons are “I bet on the Pats,” “I’m married to a Pats fan,” or “I want 1960 to hang over Eagles fans like a dangling noose.”
Q: Also — did you know the Pats are 28–9 against the spread since the start of 2016? 28–9!!!
— Victor, Hoboken, N.J.
BS: Don’t suck up to me, Victor. We’re pulling the bandwagon over. Get off.
Q: Where is your review of Tom vs. Time? Should I watch it?
— Kelly, Allston, Mass.
BS: I’m not watching until after the Super Bowl because I don’t want to see something that I can’t unsee until then. You don’t understand how many “Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but is Brady starting to get a little weird like Tom Cruise did?” email chains and text chains I’ve been on this season. It’s fine. Everything’s fine. Nothing to see here.
Q: Where would you rank Alex Guerrero’s pliability massages of a shirtless Tom Brady against other famous pliability massages?
When I post that video on YouPorn I am going to use the tags #tomvstime #massage, #pliabilitymassage, #itmoved and #GOATboner. GO EAGLES!
— Andy, Delaware
BS: And now you know why I’ve been holding off on Tom vs. Time.
Q: What did you think of the kissing scandal with Brady and his son? Your son is 10 — do you still kiss him on the lips? Do you have any dad buddies who kiss their sons on the lips?
— Angelina, Chicago
BS: Again, just an incredible decision by me to hold off on Tom vs. Time. Why did the notoriously private Brady pick the two weeks before the Super Bowl to release his own infomercial/pseudo-reality show? Because he’s won five Super Bowls and thinks he’s invincible, that’s why. Do these red flags scare me? As someone who worried in the stands before Super Bowl 42 only because I saw Brady take time to shake Pat O’Brien’s hand, um … OF COURSE! OF COURSE I AM WORRIED! WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON??????? Can we have Private Tom Brady back?
By the way, here’s the Mount Rushmore of ridiculous Patriots-related headlines heading into Super Bowl 52 that appeared in real newspapers and real sports blogs. I made up only one of them.
Q: In this lucrative era of the NFL, with mega-stadiums, giant video scoreboards, and team-owned private jets, why is it that when a superstar player suffers a traumatic injury, they get hauled off the field bouncing around in the back of a landscaper’s utility truck?
— Patrick Keeley, Portland, Maine
BS: Because the NFL doesn’t care about its players!!!! I keep telling you! Did you see this video?
Here's every concussion in the NFL this year pic.twitter.com/zyzwciboSj— Josh Begley (@joshbegley) February 1, 2018
Q: What do you think about the Browns picking a QB with both the no. 1 and no. 4 spots?
— Jeff Spiegel
BS: You mean for the plot of Draft Day II, or in real life? If there were ever a draft in which the same team could whiff on two QBs in the top four, it’s this one — and that’s before you factor in the Browns’ DNA and the Sam Darnold “I’m Taking A Dump In The Cotton Bowl” Face, which looked alarmingly like the Markelle Fultz “I Hope That Dude Over There Isn’t Videotaping My Shooting Session” Face.
My advice: take Saquon Barkley first, let the Giants talk themselves into Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen at no. 2, hope the Colts trade no. 3 to Denver, Arizona, the Jets or whoever else has a hard-on for Darnold/Rosen (whoever is left), take stud pass rusher Bradley Chubb to team up with Myles Garrett at no. 4, then spend some free-agent money on Case Keenum and you’re good to go. I’d bet on the track record of a successful late-bloomer QB (and Keenum) over talking myself into Darnold or Rosen. Also, I look forward to seeing this take get thrown back in my face on @OldTakesExposed in four years. Whatever.
Q: Time for your (at this point) annual answer to the “What Super Bowl halftime show song will best represent how the game is going for the Patriots?” I know we peaked with “Beautiful Day” (XXXVI) and “Free Fallin’” (XLII), but last year, Lady Gaga had an unbelievable entry with “A Million Reasons.” The Patriots were giving their fans a million reasons to “quit the show,” to leave the game and give up on their team. (Mark Wahlberg actually took her up on it and left early!) But we had one good reason to stay: the GOAT leading a 25-point comeback. This year we have Justin Timberlake playing his second halftime show with the Pats involved. The first one was legendary. Which JT song will foreshadow the second half against the Eagles?
— Dave B, San Francisco
BS: I put a frightening amount of thought into this. He’s definitely playing “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” and “SexyBack.” He’s definitely playing a Prince song to suck up to depressed Minnesota fans — probably “Let’s Go Crazy” to kick off a three-song quickie medley. And if Janet Jackson shows up, they’re definitely singing “Rock Your Body” again. (That will bring the house down, obviously — and it’s the least J.T. could do after poor Janet got 100 percent of the heat for Nipplegate for reasons that remain unclear.)
That’s the best-case scenario for Philly fans because (a) it will become the signature song of the halftime, and (b) if they win, it’s going to be because their front seven rocked the shit out of Tom Brady’s body. For Pats fans, our best-case scenario is “Cry Me a River” — one of the most destructively vengeful songs ever written, one of the most successful fuck-you songs of all time, and a song I once deemed “The White Man’s ’Hit ’Em Up.’” The bridges were burned — now it’s your turn to cry. What better anthem for the 2017 Patriots?
You’re tired of us? You hate us? You want us to go away? Cry me a river.
(By the way, there’s sports for you — in 16 years, Patriots fans went from “Beautiful Day” to “Cry Me a River.” We’re like the Walter White of football fans. I might shave my head before Sunday.)
Q: I don’t dislike Alex Smith, but I don’t particularly like him, either. He could be the subject of a mediocre 30 for 30. What if I told you that a former no. 1 pick would never be the player to lose a game for you, and also would never be the player to win a game for you? What if I told you that a former no. 1 overall pick would wind up underachieving while simultaneously meeting expectations in the playoffs? 30 for 30 presents The Quest for Mediocrity: The Alex Smith Story. Produced by Sill Bimmons.
— Jeff, Texas
BS: What if I told you a man could win 70 percent of his games, only nobody could remember any of them? What if I told you none of his leads were safe, but you could never lay a bunch of points against him, either? What if I told you someone could make the Pro Bowl as an alternate who was invited two weeks after the rosters were announced for nine straight years? I would absolutely watch The Quest for Mediocrity.
Q: Alex Smith just got traded! Wait, you’re not gonna do an emergency trade podcast? And that, right there, is the story of Alex Smith’s career.
— Joe DeWolf
BS: Once again, congrats to Washington fans on the big Alex Smith trade! I actually liked it, and here’s why: Since 1992, the Skins have three 10-win seasons, 12 10-loss seasons and a league-record 26 straight WTF seasons. They’ve made the playoffs six of 26 times and, along with the Lions, Browns, Texans and Bengals, are one of only five teams that haven’t made a conference title game since 1992. They just dumped a QB who has won 46 percent of his career starts for a guy who’s won 68 percent of his starts since 2011. Here, look:
Alex Smith, 2011–17: 69–31–1 in the regular season, two playoff wins
Kirk Cousins, 2012–17: 26–30–1 in the regular season, no playoff wins
You know what Alex Smith does? Throw the stats out, throw the advanced metrics out, throw the eye test out, throw common sense out … ALEX SMITH WINS FOOTBALL GAMES. Also, Alex Smith is 2–5 in the playoffs, but those five losses came by a total of 14 points. ALEX SMITH PLAYS CLOSE PLAYOFF GAMES! This is a guy who has proved he can win 10–12 games, take you to Round 1 or 2, then lose in heartbreakingly devastating fashion in ways that will make your eyes bleed. That’s not an upgrade over Kirk Cousins? (Thinking.) You’re right, D.C. football fans are screwed. My bad.
Q: I don’t think we are talking enough about the Patriots-Brady’s record in Super Bowls against goofy QBs. If there ever were an heir apparent to Eli and his dumb-guy face, it’s Nick Foles, right? I would feel a bit uneasy if I were you, Simmons.
— Justin Mink
BS: Come on. Brady and Belichick have beaten plenty of QBs who made dumb-guy faces. Peyton Manning? Jake Delhomme? Kordell Stewart? Joe Flacco? Matt Schaub? Everyone who ever took a snap for the Jets? You think we’re gonna be intimidated by Foles’s dumb-guy face? Besides, it was the horseshoe crammed up Eli’s ass that killed us, not his dumb-guy face.
Q: Let’s pretend Foles wins the Super Bowl … isn’t that a worst-case situation for Wentz? Has a backup QB ever won a Super Bowl after the starter was injured, then the starter maintained his status as a top-tier QB?
— Charlie, Chicago
BS: Our closest Foles-Wentz parallels: Tom Brady–Drew Bledsoe (2001), Kurt Warner–Trent Green (1999), Jeff Hostetler–Phil Simms (1990) and Jim Plunkett–Dan Pastorini (1980). Bledsoe and Green were quickly traded; Pastorini was gone from football in three years; and Simms won only one more playoff game before retiring four years later. Of course, if we were starting an NFL franchise from scratch, Wentz would be the first under-30 guy we picked even if he’s walking with a cane right now. He’s that good. No matter what happens with Foles on Sunday, he’s getting flipped for picks to any team that decides, “We can get him to run the RPO!”
Q: Just listened to your Super Bowl props podcast. Pink is a Philly native — her hair will be green 100 percent. Thank me later?
— Tim, Pink’s hometown
BS: Good to know. I’m adding that to my list of 10 favorite props from that podcast with Cousin Sal:
1. Brady OVER 25.5 completions (my best bet)
2. Danny Amendola OVER four catches and OVER 45.5 receiving yards
3. Justin Timberlake will cover a Prince song (+200)
4. Patriots owner Robert Kraft will be mentioned on the telecast BEFORE Eagles owner
Lorne Michaels Jeffrey Lurie (-140)
5. Gisele will be shown OVER 1 1/2 times during the actual game
6. Kyrie’s total points + assists in Sunday’s Portland game will be MORE than New England’s total points (+140)
7. Trump will tweet OVER five times on Sunday
8. There will be a second-half lead change (+135)
9. The Pats will win by exactly three points (7–1)
10. Tom Brady UNDER 0.5 kissing scandals with his son (already lost this one)
Q: If Trump had listened to you and moved Presidents’ Day to the Monday after the Super Bowl, would this be considered the highlight of his presidency?
— Steve Jacobs
BS: Come on. It’s exceedingly logical, it makes too much sense, and it makes life easier and a little more fun for people who live in America. That means he won’t do it. We’re more likely to see him move President’s Day to a Thursday in August.
Q: You have many Philly fans working for The Ringer, which is not hard to notice from the various podcasts and pieces. (I am a big fan.) So, is it awkward around the office? I picture you strutting around in Patriots T-shirts with a smug smile spread on your face as the Philly fans roast you on their secret text chain.
— JR, Richmond, Va.
BS: You’re not far off. But the Fultz trade was much more hazardous for our office’s Boston-Philly dynamic. Eagles fans know they’re playing with house money with Foles — if he loses, he’s supposed to lose because he’s Nick Foles. If he wins … holy shit! They can’t lose either way. I’ll make fun of our Philly contingent if the Patriots win, and they’ll make fun of me if the Eagles win — and it will all be in good fun. But Danny Ainge rope-a-doping Bryan Colangelo for that Lakers/Kings pick right before Fultz inexplicably lost the ability to play basketball? And right after Fultz spent two days in Boston? What did they see? What did they know?
For this and many other reasons, I can’t even bring the trade up around the Philly fans in our office anymore. In my lifetime, Fultz’s out-of-nowhere battle with the yips is the single strangest NBA story that doesn’t involve guns, cocaine, gambling, Tim Donaghy, Ron Artest, the Jail Blazers or Shawn Kemp’s penis. Thank God the Eagles are diverting Chris Ryan’s attention from Fultz; otherwise he’d be pacing around the office like this.
Q: I’ve been a loyal reader for years and a lifelong Packers fan. As you correctly pointed out in your Round 3 column, I watched all week as the Vikings broke rule after rule of the Playoff Gambling Manifesto. They celebrated their Saints win as a Super Bowl win, started buying tickets to their upcoming “home game” against the Patriots, and completely dismissed the Eagles even though they were a road favorite dome team playing in cold weather outdoors. To watch it turn into a complete and total ass kicking in Philly was just the most Vikingsy possible outcome. The second their fans show any hubris they are slammed down without mercy. 0–4 Super Bowl record, Gary Anderson’s only missed field goal of the year, 41–0 loss after being favored in 2001, the Love Boat, Favre’s fuck-up in New Orleans, and now the “Minnesota Miracle,” which came one week too early. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! You still suck and you’ll never win a Super Bowl. You’re still our bitch. Sincerely, every person from Wisconsin.
— Dave, Seoul, South Korea
BS: The Packers-Vikings rivalry continues to be underrated.
Q: I’m a Vikings fan. I feel like Nancy Kerrigan right after she was attacked. I just keep asking Why? Why did this happen? Why?
— Ben, Longville, Minn.
BS: It’s my fault — I should have created a fourth Manifesto rule that says, “Anytime a tortured franchise is one victory away from becoming the first NFL team to host a Super Bowl, just assume something will go horribly wrong.” And maybe even a fifth rule that says, “Don’t forget, even when things are going great, you’re still the (pick one: Vikings, Bills, Browns, Bengals, Chargers, Chiefs) and it’s always going to end badly.”
But here’s a silver lining, and it’s one of the many things that makes sports great: Vikings fans came into the playoffs with a well-earned shit detector and a storied belief, built over the course of five decades or so, that things would always go wrong in the end because it’s the Vikings and that’s just what happened. Then the Diggs miracle happened … and they took that shit detector and flushed it down the toilet. Red Sox fans did the same thing in 1999 after Pedro came out of the bullpen to shut down the Indians. Everything’s different now! Bring on the Yankees! That led to Yogi Berra’s famous and apocryphal quote to Bernie Williams — “What are you nervous about? We’ve been beating these guys for 80 years.” We lost in five.
Four years later? Same thing … Game 7, three-run lead, Grady and Pedro, Boone homer, despair.
One year later, down 3–0, Roberts Steal … and wait, we won eight straight and won the whole thing. We flushed that shit detector three times in six years, and every time, it was a ridiculously dumb decision. Until it wasn’t. If you don’t give yourself to the moment in sports, you might as well be dead inside. The great thing about pre-2004 Red Sox fans, and pre-2016 Cubs/Cavs fans, and pre-2015 Warriors fans, and Vikings/Bills/Browns/Bengals/Chargers/Chiefs fans right now, is that as soon as things start going well, they will absolutely flush that shit detector. Keep that spirit alive and you’ll be fine.
(Note: I didn’t include Lions fans because nothing has ever gone well for them, so we’ve never actually seen them in this situation. They aren’t tortured; they’re more like frozen fan embryos.)
Q: As we all know, but is nevertheless fun to remember, the Patriots have won Super Bowls as follows:
— Dramatic last-second field goal as heavy underdogs
— Dramatic last-second field goal after a second-half shootout
— Relatively boring win, gave up a back-door cover
— Miracle winning interception after a late 10-point comeback, a Lap Dance Catch, a title-saving shoestring tackle, and the most inexplicable play call in Super Bowl history
— Record-breaking 25-point comeback and the first overtime Super Bowl win ever
What way is left for the Patriots to win the Super Bowl that could possibly surprise or shock you? What in the realm of fiction could possibly top what’s already happened in reality??
— Matt, Portland, Ore.
BS: We have only seven Super Bowl –clinching scenarios left: Brady Beats the Madden Curse (he’s one win away!); Blowout Win; Hail Mary; Special Teams TD; Game-Saving Fumble Recovery; Game-Losing TD Gets Overturned by Instant Replay; and finally, Brady Wins On The Final Play, Then Levitates Above The Field And Turns Into White Light.
(By the way, what an honor just to answer this mailbag question. If somebody had sent it to me 20 years ago, with the subject heading, “I’m writing from the future, don’t delete this,” I absolutely would have deleted it.)
Q: Why not combine a little bit of one-upmanship to the pregame coin toss and decide it like bridge? Each kicker bids a distance that they can make a field goal from, alternating bids until one guy doesn’t think the other guy can make it — at which point he “calls” the bid. The raiser attempts the kick (unguarded) from the distance he bid, and if he makes it, they win the toss. If not, they lose. Skill instead of luck to determine each coin toss (imagine in overtime?!?).
“Let’s see it.”
— Kevin, Toronto
BS: I haven’t been this jealous of a dumb idea in a long time. Can you imagine the first possession of overtime in last year’s Super Bowl coming down to Stephen Gostkowski and Matt Bryant trading field goal bids? Holy shit. What about the first time someone calls the Chargers kicker at 40 yards knowing he’ll choke? How high would Justin Tucker go? Would he ever NOT take the bid? At the very least, Vince McMahon should steal it for the XFL, right?
Q: Have you seen the Avengers movie Civil War? There is a scene at the end of the movie where Iron Man is getting walloped by Captain America. He then tells Jarvis, his trusty AI assistant, to analyze Captain’s punches and develop a countermeasure. Iron Man allows more pummeling, then after Jarvis crunches the data, proceeds to punch back and rebuff the Captain. This is Brady and Belichick. They use three quarters to real-time assess their competition, crunch the data, and Brady (like the cyborg he is) destroys in the final frame as Lord Belichick gleefully watches. For the Patriots, fourth-quarter comebacks are irrelevant. They PLAN for this, so their “comebacks” are calculated rather than from desperation.
— Rahul Shah
BS: Oh God, we’re getting close.
Q: Bill, I’m absolutely tired of making excuses for my team being beautiful. It’s not my fault that my coach is a genius. It’s not my fault that my quarterback is a fucking Jedi. I truly understand the hate, I honestly do, but don’t discount what they’re doing because of your hatred. I’ve been a fan of football for 25 solid years and I’ve never seen anything like this. In this date and age of concussions, domestic abuse, racial inequality and everything else in between that’s going on, this is honestly the best thing in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE!!! WHY THE FUCK DO THEY HATE US??? I TRULY DON’T GET IT. (Spare the usual rhetoric!!!!)
— Nick Patel
BS: Closer …
Q: When I listen to you and Zach Lowe do home & home podcasts, I feel the sadness that only a child of divorce can feel. It is like the wedding/graduation where the two parents come together and give a fleeting glimpse of the home life that the child once knew.
— Mitchell Epner
BS: Closer …
Q: Why do we refer to every adult film actor/actress as a “Porn Star?” Surely there are some Porn Supporting Actors/Actresses out there, as well as Porn Typecasts, Porn Extras, Porn That Guys, etc. Who do we talk to about fixing this?
— Chris “don’t print my last name,” Memphis
BS: Yup, these are my readers. All right, let’s make a Super Bowl pick.
Eagles (+4.5) over Patriots
Of their 27 playoff victories during the Brady-Belichick era, the Patriots got lucky five times: 2006 in San Diego, 2012 against Baltimore, Super Bowl 49 against Seattle, last year’s Super Bowl against Atlanta and two weeks ago against the Jaguars. The Falcons protected their lead too aggressively; the Jaguars didn’t protect their lead aggressively enough. Jacksonville didn’t fully understand how to put the Patriots away. Playoff experience doesn’t always matter, but that day, it mattered.
Still, they laid out a pretty effective beat-the-Pats blueprint. New England’s front seven wasn’t talented enough to stop the run without sacrificing something else: play-action passes, wheel routes, screen passes, pick plays, read-options and everything else the Jaguars barely knew how to do. They came into the game with 18 to 20 plays that they knew would work, ran those plays … and then, they were screwed. The Eagles have better weapons and better coaches. Can they keep the chains moving, keep taking chances and keep Brady off the field? Probably. Can they rush Brady with four (quality) guys, beat him up, beat up Gronk over the middle, keep Cooks from getting those 20-yard sprint-and-stops and keep Lewis in check? Absolutely.
I see this game playing out like the Seahawks-Pats battle — the Eagles looking slightly more potent and controlling the clock, but Brady throwing the ball 48–50 times and using the no-huddle to wear out Philly’s defense and keep the Patriots hanging around. And when the fourth quarter rolls around, suddenly it’s a Backup QB and a Second-Year Coach against Brady and Belichick, only with five Patriots titles, their superb conditioning and more than a little sky-is-falling Philly DNA sprinkled in?
The line should have been three, but Vegas threw a Nick Foles tax on it. Understandable. But it feels like a three-point nail-biter to me. And if that’s the case … I’m going with the rings.
THE PICK: New England 26, Philly 23 (Eagles cover)
Last Round: 2–0