(NOTICE: This is meant to be a fun sports post about my favorite football team...if you feel the need to make snarky comments about any of the media-trumped up stories like "DeflateGate" or "SpyGate," I won't tolerate it unless it's in good fun or within the realm of good discussion. I'm a homer, but I'm reasonable!)
If you read this site regularly and/or follow me on Twitter, you will know that I'm a passionate fan of all of the Boston sports teams. We New Englanders are extremely passionate about our teams and are rabidly faithful to them whether they're at the top of their respective leagues or whether they're in the basement. From birth, I've followed the Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots, and Bruins through thick and thin and I plan to continue doing so until I'm dead. My wife and I have shared this passion for our teams throughout our whole relationships and our children are now carrying on the tradition as well, which is really fun to see! The impetus for writing about all of this is that, for the 8th time in franchise history, our football team, the New England Patriots, are in the Super Bowl again, playing for their 4th championship.
The Boston teams have had an unprecedented run of success since 2000, with our teams appearing in a staggering THIRTEEN championship games/series (6 Super Bowls for the Patriots, 3 World Series for the Red Sox, 2 NBA Finals for the Celtics, and 2 Stanley Cup Finals for the Bruins), winning a whopping EIGHT of them (3 for the Patriots, 3 for the Red Sox, 1 each for the Celtics and Bruins).*** While all four franchises had a history of tradition and success prior to 2000 (apart from maybe the Patriots, who only started being successful in the early 1990s when the Krafts purchased the team, they drafted Drew Bledsoe, and they hired Bill Parcells as coach), we had gone a long time without a title (1986 Celtics) until the Patriots kicked off this run in 2001. I've written about all of this before, so I won't repeat myself any more than that, but I do want to spend the rest of this post focusing on the Patriots and their dynastic run of success.
I've been fortunate enough to have been alive during all of this and I've seen all 8 of the Pats' Super Bowl appearances:
1. Super Bowl XX in 1986, when they were a true Cinderella team, making it to the big game before getting demolished by one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, the Chicago Bears;
2. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997, led by Drew Bledsoe and the young nucleus of players who would eventually break through to success in the 2000s. They came close to beating the Green Bay Packers, but ultimately fell just a little bit short;
3. Super Bowl XXXVI in 2001, where the Patriots upset the heavily favored St. Louis Rams led by a young, unknown quarterback Tom Brady, who would go on to become one of the greatest QBs in NFL history;
4. Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2003, where they defeated the Carolina Panthers in a thrilling shoot out of a game;
5. Super Bowl XXXIX in 2004, where they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, winning their third title in four years and establishing themselves as the NFL dynasty of the 2000s;
6. Super Bowl XLII in 2007, where they lost in the last minute to the inferior New York Giants on a once-in-a-lifetime play, spoiling their bid for a perfect 19-0 season. This one still rankles me because of how flukey the upset loss was, some blown calls by the refs (especially at the end of the game), and the coordinated media campaign against the Pats by ESPN, the NFL, and others who did all they could to distract the team leading up to the game (similar to what is happening with the current Super Bowl appearance);
7. Super Bowl XLVI in 2011, where again, a once-in-a-lifetime play led to another loss to the inferior Giants team (in both cases they Giants barely qualified for the playoffs), although in this case a huge drop on a critical 3rd down by Wes Welker would have won the game for the Pats;
8. Super Bowl XLIX in 2014, which is where we are now. The game is on Sunday, February 1st, and pits the Pats against the Seattle Seahawks in a battle of #1 seeds from the AFC and NFC. Seattle are the defending champs and looking to be the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Pats did so in '03/'04. The Pats are looking to finally win their 4th title and cement themselves as the greatest team of the last 20 years. Seattle coach Pete Carroll coached the Patriots immediately before Bill Belichick , and current Patriot Brandon Browner was on last season's Seattle title team. It should be a great match-up...especially if the Patriots win!
One thing I'll never do is take this run of success for granted. My kids, as well as the legions of younger/newer fans in the region, have no idea how bad things were pre-1994, when the Patriots almost moved to St. Louis and were so bad that TV broadcasts were blacked out and you could get game tickets for a song. The last 20 years have been a true blessing, and not just for the Patriots but for all of the Boston teams, each of whom variously had lean years from the 1990s until 2000. There are a couple of other titles the Pats gave away in the last decade (most notably, 2006 when they lost to a Colts team at the last minute whom they should've beaten...the resulting Super Bowl was against the putrid Chicago Bears. Even a lousy Peyton Manning beat them, and no one doubts the Patriots would have done the same). Still, you can't win them all and this run of success shows no sign of slowing down. That being said...
WE'RE ON TO SEATTLE AND THE SUPER BOWL!
(*** I always try to avoid playing the shoulda/woulda/coulda game, but there are a few titles in there we absolutely should have won and didn't. I'm not including heartbreakers like the Red Sox losing in game 7 of both the 2003 and 2008 ALCS or the Bruins losing in game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals...the teams they lost to were equally as good and it all came down to one or two small plays here and there. The ones I still have a problem with are the Celtics losing to the Lakers in game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, when some horrible officiating and the Celtics' inability to grab just one more freaking rebound saw them blow a big lead in the final few minutes to our hated rival. And the two Patriots Super Bowl losses to the Giants...in both cases, the Pats were the superior team who had no answer for the Giants' defensive pressure up front. But what still galls is that there are two plays the Patriots should have made that would have iced each win (Asante Samuel's interception-through-the-hands in 2007, Wes Welker's 3rd down drop in 2011) and two fluke plays by the Giants that would never happen 99 other times out of 100 (David Tyree's helmet catch in 2007, Mario Manningham's sideline catch in 2011). Add in the fact that Eli Manning literally closed his eyes, threw the ball up, and prayed on both of those plays, and the questionable officiating in both games (Giants' offensive line holding on that last drive in 2007, officials adding time back to the clock on Giants final drive in 2011), and those are two losses Patriots fans will never fully get over. The last one is the 2006 season, where the Patriots blew a large lead to the Colts in the AFC Championship game. Peyton Manning was absolutely horrible that postseason, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns...if not for his defense, which played horribly all season but decided to play great in that game, the Patriots would have gone on to defeat the Bears in the Super Bowl. That season's Bears team was one of the worst teams to ever make a Super Bowl. Manning and the Colts beat them easily playing a horrible game...there's no doubt Brady and the Patriots would have won it by even more. Ah well...such is sport).