How to spend 26 years rooting for the Patriots
(from over 3,000 miles away)
I'll never understand my Dublin Hurricanes team mate, the best infielder in Irish League baseball, Andy Martin. He was born in raised in Boston but is a Yankees fan. I am not saying if you are born somewhere you have to automatically root for that team, but what confuses me most is he is a big Patriots fan. I think the Patriots and the Sox are two of a kind. Hard nosed, working class underdog type teams, not like those snooty fat cats from New York.
At least we will always agree on being Patriots fans, even from over three thousand miles away.
What does it actually involve? Supporting a team from that distance. Well, first of all it involves spending fifteen years of your life supporting a team that seems like it is going nowhere slow. In the days before the Internet it involved snippets on late night English sports shows, which graduated in the early nineties to flashy reports off the new fangled Internet, and the new glossy Sunday night coverage on Sky Sports TV. Now It involves daily visits to the Boston Globe for the latest news on the boys from the Razor, and wearing a 'Bruschi' jersey to the cinema on a Friday night before a big game on the forthcoming Sunday.
It all started in 1985. I was on holidays with my parents and my Aunt from Connecticut, Essie, and she gave me a present of a stat book from the '84 NFL season. It wasn't much to look at, small, red, with a picture of a San Francisco player on the front, but it was stacked full of statistics, results and hundreds of pages of ways of clogging up my fertile teenager's imagination.
I devoured it. I would check every statistical category and hope that a Patriots player was in the top ten. Having been actually born in New England they were the obvious choice of teams to root for, and besides, I kind of liked their logo, Pat the Patriot, and they had cool players like Steve Grogan, Mosi Tatupu and Stanley Morgan.
The old Patriots logo, 'Pat the Patriot', doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of opponents, but looked pretty cool to a 13 year old..
Mosi Tatupu became something of a legend even after his career with the Patriots was over. Always a charismatic, interesting guy, he achieved global notoriety status when his name was invoked by some South Pacific tribes peoples on the Simpsons. I remember I was watching a video of the episode when I heard one of them shout 'Mosi Tatupu, Mosi Tatupu' and I rewound a few times wondering if I was hearing things.
Sure enough Tatupu was mentioned on the The Simpsons during Treehouse of Horror III. His name, said twice, was intended to be translated "The blue-haired woman will make a good sacrifice!"
Tatupu's son, Lofa, is now a dominating linebacker with the Seahawks, or, with the Patriots in my Franchise game I have running in Madden '08 on my PS2 (Had to give up some draft picks and Donte Stallworth to get him. Oh, did I just say all that out loud?).
They were a hard nosed, working class team and had a good '85, a time when American Football was covered pretty comprehensively by the new, chic, Chanel 4 of the UK. C4 had lots of new drama and some pretty controversial shows, you were pretty much guaranteed a couple of topless shots in some show or another late at night, which, at the time, caused pickets in Ireland with people protesting that C4 was allowed on Irish TV.
Sunday night C4 had highlights of the early games, extended highlights of one game and some decent commentary and analysis. It was exciting stuff, long before the Internet, WAP. Long before sitting at dinner on a Sunday night following the Patriots on wap with a phone hidden between my legs, watching every play in text format.
At mass in my early years I would close my eyes and visualise Tony Eason dropping back to throw a touchdown. I would construct whole drives in my head, then dash home to see if the Patriots could do it that night.
Along came the '86 season, and the wonderful Patriot's run to the Superbowl. They were underdogs every week but the Patriots won three road playoff games on their way to Super Bowl XX and a date with the Bears.
Everyone knows what happened next. It was, at the time, the worst Superbowl loss ever.
The team then floundered a good bit, splashing around uselessly for a few years, years where Chanel Four lost it's right to cover the game to then new station 'Sky' (Think Fox, slightly less inane) which in those days was essentially pay per view.
Working in Cape Cod for the summers of '93-'95 I got a first hand look at the rebirth of the Patriots, after the drafting of the amazing Drew Bledsoe. People are so quick to forget. Bledsoe was basically the catalyst that gave birth to these new Patriots that all of New England loves and calls their own. He was a superb passer and a class act to boot. The Superbowl run of '96 was allot of fun
I'll never forget what Bledsoe did for the Patriots. It was pretty sad for me to see journalists absolutely slate Bledsoe and jump on the Tony Romo bandwagon so fast, forgetting the Cowboys were putting up 29 points a game before they canned Bledsoe so easily, bowing to inane public pressure. How lost has Romo looked, for example, the last two weeks against Buffalo and New England?
One of my favourite Patriots memories was the AFC Championship game in '01 where Brady, the new guy at the time, twisted his ankle and Bledsoe came off the bench to quite literally lead the Patriots to the Superbowl, throwing two touchdowns, one an absolute beauty. And that was all she wrote on the Bledsoe era. With the incredible drive to set up the winning field goal Brady announced his arrival.
I was watching in Dublin at home with my brother and Father, and best friend Paul, the same people I watched the 1986 slaughter with. I'll never forget watching as Brady spiked the ball with just a few seconds left, it was like it was all in slow motion, the ball bounced back up, he twirled it on his finger for a second and flipped it to an umpire. How unbelievably calm and poised for, basically, a rookie.
As the winning field goal split the uprights my brother and I literally jumped off he sofa and hopped around the living room hugging. The unbelievable, upset win over the Rams in the 2001 Superbowl was the first Championship any team I had supported in my early teens, from 1987, to adult life had won. I simply had no clue how good that felt!
That signalled a bizarre period of five years leading up to today where the Patriots suddenly became the class of the NFL. Winners of three Superbowls and the team no one ever wanted to cross paths with.
Brady just gets the little things, like turning up at several Red Sox games and wearing the cap to press conferences. Basically he knows how to appeal dorks like me who should know better. Call him the 'anti LeBron'
Brady completely epitomized this sudden transformation from also rans to NFL Champions. The best part was he did it the hard way and the right way. From a difficult College career where he had to share time with a lesser player because of shady insider team politicking, to standing on the sidelines his first NFL season, to being the first player at training every morning Brady became the hard working face of the Patriots. Coach Bill Belichick awards a prime parking spot to the player who is most dedicated to the offseason conditioning program. Brady has earned that coveted piece of real estate in all five years since the Patriots moved to Gillette Stadium. Call him the anti T.O.
Allot of Brady's appeal is he is not a incredible athlete like Michael Vick, he doesn't have Brett Favre's arm, but he has a little bit of all the good qualities that make a terrific Quarterback and he has something 80% of them don't have, the most unbelievable will to win. This guy just despises losing. His focus is shockingly concentrated.
Brady throwing a golf club after a bad drive. School report: Possibly too competitive, may struggle to make it in future life
I will never forget settling in to watch the 2004 AFC Championship game, having been reading the last couple of days that Brady had a debilitating flu, and watching the Patriots slide from 3 to 5 point underdogs going into the game against the powerful Steelers. The pundits said Pittsburgh were going to get revenge for 2001, the Patriots, with their QB sick and probably wishing he was in bed, would be swept aside.
As Brady stepped under centre I saw it immediately. The same look Ali had the night he beat Foreman. The same look Wade had against Dallas. The same look David Callaghan had against Serbia in the 2004 European Baseball Championships. He just was not losing that game. Flu be damned.
''Brady played his best game of the year in Pittsburgh despite requiring IV treatment the previous night when he had a temperature of 103 degrees.'' The Patriots torched the Steelers 41-17.
There is an incredible comfort in watching Brady and the Patriots play. They work hard for each other and, for me anyway, play the game the right way. Watching them dismantle Tony Romo and the Cowboys in Dallas was rather enjoyable.
Just remember though, before you label the Patriots boring and call them the new Yankees. This didn't come easy, all this success. There were plenty of sour years before the sweet.
Go easy on us Patriots fans. We had dozens of years in the wilderness before we could enjoy this, this absolute steam train that's rolling through the NFL right now.
I'll tell ya, that Colts game is going to be a doozy.