By Jason Keidel
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With a slate of soporific games on Sunday, it was easy for New Yorkers to dream about Monday night’s showdown between the Jets and the Patriots.

Parched from a four-decade title drought, Jets fans will come to blunt conclusions after the game, no matter the result. If the Jets win, they will essentially clinch the division with a one-game lead and the tiebreaker over New England. But the Jets still have to play the Steelers and Bears on the road – two games they can easily lose and lose their lead – while the Patriots play the Packers and Bills.

If New England wins, it will feel like a reversion to the template of the last ten years, watching their pretty quarterback and grimy coach tango on the Jets’ grave. But that won’t be true, either, as the Jets will still have a 7-2 record within the AFC, 3-1 within the division, and 1-1 against New England. On paper, New England needs this more. But the game feels essential to the Jets because they haven’t been here, haven’t led the race this deep with this team and this coach.

A team with no cachet (like the Jets) relies on symbolism, marginal gains before gaining the crown. Michael Jordan’s Bulls, for instance, had to conquer the Pistons before winning the NBA title, and the Pistons struggled with the Celtics before they won a championship. The Giants had to hurdle the Redskins in the ‘80s. During this decade, the Colts had to solve these Patriots.

For the Jets, there would be a special meaning to beating Bill Belichick in his place and taking his crown, symbolic or not, for his special (if not strange) role in New York sports over the last three decades.

Beyond that there’s the earnest spirit of sticking it to New England in general and Boston in particular. Many of us see Boston as New York Lite, inhabited by people with grotesque accents and a dearth of real sporting achievement. If you were born and raised in New York City it feels like your ancestral refrain to loathe all teams hatched in Massachusetts. We got it from our parents. They got it from theirs. And we all love it.

Belichick’s five-minute tenure as “HC of the NYJ” only extends that narrative, and earns him a unique spot in our vitriolic thoughts. But it’s the Super Bowl rings that he wears and the Jets don’t that distinguish him. His homeless chic wardrobe and ornery persona are rites of his success, but Belichick didn’t really become a genius until he got Tom Brady. By accident. You don’t draft prodigies in the sixth round. But he did The Jets had Chad, and you know how that went. Luck often propels dynasties. If Magic Johnson doesn’t get Paul Westhead fired we may not ever hear of Pat Riley.

As hard as it will be to believe, this game this evening in New England is just one contest out of sixteen. Should the Jets lose they will be 9-3 and still the oxymoronic “controllers of their own destiny.”

But to those of us who romanticize the game and its import – generally males who project heroic qualities on large men running with a leather ball – it means a lot more. And when you’re screaming at a glass cube and your wife is scratching her head you may pause and realize how silly you are, and then scream some more.

We watch sports for games like tonight, when the realities of rent and a recession and receding hairlines melt for a few hot hours in December. It is the thrill that only sports can give us, for better or worse.

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