SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — I lived in New England for 45 years. Connecticut and then Maine.
Like many regions, we had our sports heroes.
The Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox were well represented with the likes of Bobby Orr, Larry Bird and Ted Williams.
Then there was that one franchise that never really gave us much to cheer about.
The New England Patriots.
Not many sports fans paid attention to them. They were the red headed stepchild of Boston sports. (No offense to red heads or step children.)
Even the stadium they played in was tossed in the corner in a small town 40 miles away from Fenway Park and the Boston Garden.
Yes, the odds of the Patriots becoming the talk of the town were as slim as their playoff chances.
Yet there were some of us who tuned in year after year with the hope that our football team would at least keep it competitive.
I remember sitting with my father as he religiously watched the Pats turn in one losing season after another. I started watching one day when I was 10 years old and it was too cold to play outside.
This was back in the days of Staubach, Bradshaw, Stabler and Tarkenton.
We had Steven James Grogan. Born in San Antonio, by the way.
He was often injured but he got us to the playoffs a time or two and even came off the bench in the 1985 Super Bowl, which we lost, badly, to the Bears.
Year after year, I sit and watch the team struggle. At times, I didn’t know what was more depressing. The Patriots or the never ending New England winter.
I knew the team was terrible but I look forward to the games anyway.
Eventually we get Drew Bledsoe, who gave us some hope.
We loved Drew. He was our guy.
Then one day during the 2001 season, Bledsoe takes a sick hit during a home game against the Jets.
He suffers an injury and has to take a seat. Coming off the bench is a guy the Patriots picked late in the NFL draft a year earlier.
Number 12, Tom Brady.
I remember thinking, please, just don’t let us get creamed.
The Jets win and to make matters worse, Bledsoe’s injury is pretty severe and he won’t be back any time soon.
So we throw our support behind this young guy who was taken with pick #199 in last year’s draft.
He’s shaky at times with flashes of greatness. The games we do lose, aren’t blowouts and Brady starts to grow on us.
Eventually Bledsoe recovers and now there is a quarterback controversy.
The team’s head coach sticks with Brady and the die hard fans are wondering when we will see Drew Bledsoe again.
Now I can’t speak for all Pats fans but I know I was not expecting to make it to the playoffs that year.
But holy hell, here we are.
Then there was THE game.
It was a Saturday night at home against the Oakland/L.A/Oakland again and now Las Vegas Raiders.
Snow, wind, cold. Didn’t matter. The stands at the old Foxboro Stadium, complete with metal BLEACHERS, are packed.
I’m watching the game from home with my family and with little time left, there is what I thought to be a fumble. So I say something along the lines of it being a good season.
There was no “wait until next year” mind set with the Patriots. We knew better.
I head upstairs to call it a night when I hear “You better get back down here. They just reversed the call!”
The refs decide Brady’s arm was moving forward when the ball came out of his hand so it’s now an incomplete pass.
I’d never heard of the “tuck rule”. I can’t properly explain the “tuck rule” but thank GOD for the “tuck rule”!
We are back in business and the game ends when Adam Vinatieri kicks the winning three points though the wind driven snow.
Looks like this Brady kid lives to see another week and we prepare for the AFC Championship game against Pittsburgh, which takes a weird turn when Brady gets hurt and coming in to take us to the Super Bowl, our guy Drew Bledsoe.
Man, we were stupid excited in Patriots land.
From Madison, Connecticut to Madawaska, Maine. The excitement overpowers the brutal January cold. The Pats are back in the Super Bowl.
Now, I sat through the previous two appearances in the big game.
1985, humiliated by Chicago.
1996, a tough loss to Green Bay. (Damn you, Desmond Howard!)
Perhaps the third time is a charm? Even though it’s against last year’s Super Bowl Champs. The greatest show on turf. The St. Louis Rams.
I’ll be honest with you here. I didn’t like our chances. The Rams were crazy good and the Patriots…well. I was hoping we were good enough to make it interesting.
In the meantime, we wait to see who our starting Quarterback is going to be. Bledsoe or Brady?
Coach Bill Belichick gambles with Brady…and we frikkin’ WIN! Brady, who started the season on the bench stays calm, cool and collected and he leads the team to a come from behind victory. Something we will eventually get used to.
New England Patriots are Super Bowl Champs!
We celebrate but deep down inside I feel that it will likely never happen again. Not in my lifetime anyway.
I was so happy and to commemorate the win, my youngest son, born 8 and a half months later, is named Thomas.
I know, I know, my son rolls his eyes about it too. For the record, I also have a son whose middle name is Drew. He was born when Bledsoe was the starting QB.
Their mother put her foot down when I decided to name the family dog “Bob Kraft”.
One Super Bowl becomes two, then three, then 6! I can’t pick one championship game as a favorite. ( I do NOT talk about the losses to the Giants and Eagles!)
Perhaps the come from behind win against the Falcons. I was watching the game with two of my sons and the Patriots were down 28 to 3. They eventually came back to tie it up and go into overtime.
As they lined up to run the last play of the game, my son Mike looked at me and said “If they can win this game, I will get the number 12 tattooed on my ASS!”
Pats win, 34 to 28.
As far as the tat on Mike’s butt? I don’t really want to check to see if he actually had it done.
The Pats find themselves experiencing the same level of rabid fandom we show the Bruins, Celtics and Sox.
Year after year, they take the field and give us something to cheer about on those chilly Sundays when the falling leaves are replaced by falling snow.
My kids grow up with the sounds of the NFL on CBS theme song and me screaming at the TV…. every Sunday. They are all grown up now and often tell me that hearing me carry on during the games is one of their favorite childhood memories.
To be honest, watching Brady year after year was kind of like watching one of my kids grow up.
And children eventually move out.
When Brady jumped to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, sure, I was mad. But in the end, the NFL is a business and nothing is guaranteed.
People would spot the Patriots logo tattooed on my wrist and ask if I was still going to cheer for Brady.
“Only until he plays against the Patriots. Then I hope he has the worst game of his career!”
I really did want him to do well.
The first post-Brady season reminded me of the Patriots I grew up with. Not very good!
Meanwhile in Florida, our former QB eventually wins his 7th Super Bowl.
I was happy for him but it kind of felt like watching an ex girlfriend marry a member of the royal family.
There were those Pats fans who claimed Brady was “dead to them”.
Not me. I couldn’t bring myself to hope he would fail. Too many Sundays spent watching him play his heart out for my team.
I can be nothing but grateful for the hours of exciting football he brought into my living room.
Today came the official word that Brady is going to retire after 22 seasons and you know, it made me sad.
When I had a moment, I reflected on the many changes in my life since he took that first snap against the Jets in 2001.
My children grew up and left home. I got divorced, moved to Texas and got married again.
I became a grandfather.
My early 30’s have become my mid 50’s and my full head of dark brown hair eventually turned white, then disappeared.
Life has been a constant swirl of change. But the one thing that I could count on, #12 being under center on Sunday.
Years ago, I was watching Seinfeld and Jerry said something about how in sports, you just cheer for a shirt.
That’s the case this time.
After 22 years of watching him on TV, his face is as familiar as family and I will miss our Sundays together.
Thank you, TB 12. You provided wonderful memories of times shared with family and friends, near heart attacks and blown vocal chords.