This column is for my Uncle Jim. A Sunday resident of Foxboro, Mass. with season tickets for the last 16 falls, my Uncle Jimmy has always talked about the Patriots like they were a franchise just waiting to turn the corner. Jimmy was probably one of the only New Englanders who truly felt the shock of the Pats’ regular season loss to the Steelers on Oct. 31, what with the rest of New England recovering from the city-wide celebration that took place on the River Charles the previous day. A resident of Upyonda Way in Rumford, R.I., he’s never let himself be consumed by the baseball fervor that exists 45 minutes up I-95 in Boston. For Jim, the Patriots come first.
This column is for me. Knowing the Red Sox, win or lose, are going to make my hair go gray long before my time, it’s amazing to watch a franchise come through again and again in such a remarkable way. The Patriots define team in so many ways; their composure and consistency are qualities I think about every time I step on a starting line. My dad likened a recent bad race to Tom Brady’s performance in Miami, which finally allowed me to shake it off. I’m coached by the track equivalent of Bill Belichick, and my teammates and I put stock in what Mark Young says like any good Patriot does with the genius in the hoody. These guys are more than Sunday entertainment; they show athletes the way sports should be played.
This column is for Patriots fans everywhere. For my buddy Steve who became a Patriots fan the moment they drafted Drew Bledsoe, and then had to trade in his No. 11 jersey for, of all things, a Deion Branch jersey. Steve’s a Mets fan from Long Island who attended his first championship parade in Boston. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, I guess you could say the Patriots had him at Bledsoe. In the storied history of the NFL and now with free agency salary disputes a regular part of the process, I urge every Patriots fan to take a long look around and soak in the moment. Any Cowboys or Steelers fan can tell you it won’t last forever, but to be able to say you rooted for a team many will consider a dynasty — that’s just, for lack of a better word, special. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll realize just how special it all is until the ride’s over.
With the consistency of success, doubters become haters and no matter how great a franchise, there will always be those who just want to root against the winner simply because they’re the best. Maybe the Pats are boring, maybe they aren’t the flashiest of winners, lacking ice in their ears and MasterCard commercials, but they’re my team, and they’ve won three Super Bowls in four years, and for anyone who can say the same about a franchise they’ve followed for as long as they can remember, that’s all that matters. They’ve won in a classy fashion that is rarely seen in a sports world where nice guys often do finish last. More importantly, they’ve proven the old adage: None of us is as smart as all of us.
Admittedly, I spent most of Super Bowl XXXIX biting the remains of my finger nails to shreds, curled up in a ball on a La-Z-Boy, just waiting with every punt for the Eagles to blow open the score — dreading the end of the ride. It wasn’t a pretty game. It’s no real consolation, but Eagles fans should be proud of the way their players beat the Pats hype and made this Super Bowl the first to have a tie score going into the final quarter. For those Philly fans that have allegiances to South Bend, they can at least feel better knowing that their new head coach is coming fresh off an NFL championship. When all was said and done, Terrell Owens outplayed every man on that field. The Eagles had more first downs and it took McNabb throwing down the gauntlet with a six-yard touchdown pass to L.J. Smith at the end of the second quarter for the game to really start. But the Patriots proved more than they ever have what a team they are.
Two of the most hyped players of the game, Tom Brady and Corey Dillon, did not live up to expectations, yet everyone around them stepped up. Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison led the defense, keeping the offense in it until Deion Branch and Brady could get into a rhythm. Kevin Faulk, one of the more underrated players in the NFL, slowly moved past the pain of his mother’s death that hung over the start of the season and came out swinging when the Pats needed him to, averaging more yards-per-carry in the post season than Dillon, who found himself slightly more contained than usual in the last three weeks.
Often a complete team is defined by a bunch of players who bring out the best in each other and can all play perfectly together on a given day. The Patriots demonstrated that there’s more to that description. This Sunday I witnessed players on a complete team carrying each other when their star teammates struggled. Dillon and Brady didn’t have banner games as far as big plays go, but they each gave what they could while lesser-known guys with names like Branch, Faulk, Vrabel, Seymour, Bruschi, Gay and Harrison stepped up and won the game. Branch getting the MVP was indicative of this.
With offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennell leaving to pursue head coaching jobs with the Fighting Irish and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively, there will be endless speculation about what will happen to next year’s team. With Tom Brady’s contract up, haters will continue to insinuate that the humble-as-pie quarterback will become the Pedro Martinez of the Patriots organization. People will mention the Patriots in the same breaths of contempt that they have for the Yankees. There are so many reasons why I know this team is different from the Yankees, why I feel that Tom Brady, with the help of his sizeable sisters, will never let success go to his head, why I believe that Bill Belichick will rise above the absence of two of the most prominent assistant coaches in the league. I could write a year’s worth of columns about it. But I don’t want to spout sports chatter that in the end is no more than speculation. I just want to enjoy this — the well-deserved success of my New England Patriots.