But the Patriots are more than that. It is, forgive me, the process, the secret sauce, the esprit de corps that allows them to plow on in a sport that does all it can to destroy the dynasty.
The way a young, unfamiliar side stayed in the match and recovered from a 12-point deficit with 10 minutes remaining to snatch a draw against an even more unfamiliar collection of Kiwis, South Africans and one runaway beast of an Aussie might have forged some esprit de corps. If anything, though, South Africa seemed to consider the result a failure.
Alongside astute technical direction comes charismatic leadership. This cannot be measured by statisticians or forecast by computer.But, as any anthropologist knows, it is essential to any thriving community committed to a joint enterprise. Andy Murray’s decision to stay in the Olympic Village, contrary to his original plan, has apparently had an impact on team morale. To scientific rigour is added the unquantifiable effect of esprit de corps.
Baron de Coubertin was a French aristocrat born to a strict Catholic Jesuit family, who grew up in the world of the French Third Republic, when the purpose of an aristocrat was no longer clear. He was a man searching for a mission. In the emerging sport cultures of North America and Britain, he comes across the contribution of sport to the transformation of nations and humanity. Above all, what he finds there is the idea of the “gentleman sporting amateur aristocrat.” When he came up with the idea of reinventing the ancient games of Olympia in a modern guise, his vision was to create a display of manly virtue—an incredible phrase, but that’s how he described it [Laughs]—in which the moral, athletic, and physical brilliance of amateur sporting gentlemen would provide not only the esprit de corps and energy they required to go on and rule their various empires, but an elevating example to the rest of us.
It was 2.20am local time when Portugal’s players came bounding out of the dressing room, shouting and chanting exuberantly as they formed a conga on their way out of the Stade de France. It was a display of camaraderie, the esprit de corps that had made them champions of Europe — a triumph of the collective over the individual.