It's getting to be that time of year again. Chatter is starting to pick up, training camp is about ready to open and preseason games are just around the corner. That's right, it's almost time for football to start. Frequent readers of my blog know how big of a Patriots fan I am, how upset I get when they lose, how elated I am when they win. And now I'd like to share why.
For 40 years, the New England Patriots did next to nothing. In a city where the Red Sox rule and the Celtics and Bruins brought home championships, very few cared about the Patriots. Among those very few? My dad. Possibly the biggest Boston sports fan I've ever met. It didn't matter who was playing or what was going on, my dad followed all four teams with a vengeance. And so, for as long as I can remember, Sundays were spent speaking out the elusive Patriots game.
Fans in popular regions probably don't know this, but your hometown team's home games are only televised locally when the game is sold out. The idea is that it will entice people to buy tickets to see the game instead of sitting at home watching it on TV. But the Patriots were horrible, and so it was rare to see home games in Boston; we'd mostly see the away games.
When Bill Parcells was hired as head coach, all of a sudden people got excited and every game sold out (every game since that time has sold out as well). Of course, they made it to the Super Bowl in 1996 only to get destroyed and embarrassed by the Packers. The Patriots then started a familiar and steady decline.
The year 2001 was a rough one for me, personally. I had developed a serious illness that wasn't responding to anything the doctors were doing. I was sick, weak, and depressed. When the football season started, it was little more than a blip on my radar. I remember sitting in front of the TV with my dad on opening day, turning to him and saying, "Dad, why do we watch every game, every year when we know they're just going to suck?" My dad, with a small grin on his face said, "because there's always a chance." The Patriots then went out and lost that game to the Bengals.
The next week was September 11. Obviously, I don't have to explain what a horrible event that was. Football games were cancelled that week, and rightly so. In my sick and depressed state, I was crushed and scared. What was wrong with the world? How would life every be the same?
But life continued, and so did football. When the games returned the next week, Drew Bledsoe went out with a life-threatening injury and I was at my breaking point. At least with Bledsoe in the game, I thought, they had a chance. As long as they had a chance, I had something to look forward to each week. The Patriots struggled through the rest of the game as well as the following one. But then something strange started happening: they started winning.
As if the winning wasn't shocking enough, they were winning against good teams and doing so convincingly. With my health still declining, Sundays were the highlight of my week. It was three hours that I forgot how lousy I felt, how tough the struggle would be to make it through another week. Slowly but surely, the Patriots won my faith and became a bright spot for me during a time when there were few.
Following that Patriots team through the playoffs, the tuck rule, and the trip to Pittsburgh, they made me believe that anything was possible. They played as a team, and they did so with heart and honor and class.
Going into the Super Bowl, I believed that they had a shot against the Rams and not just in the "I stand behind my Boston teams no matter what" way. I had faith. They had come too far to be stopped now. And of course, they weren't stopped. When that Vinatieri field goal kick when through the uprights, I remember falling into my dad's arms and just saying very softly, "they did it." I didn't know if I should laugh or cry, but I knew that I felt, for the first time in my life, that anything was possible. This was a team who had no chance and yet, despite everything, they proved everyone wrong. If they could do it, certainly I could too.
The road to health was a long one for me, and it's still ongoing. It would be trite and just plain stupid to say that the Patriots helped me get better. I had to do a lot of work to heal and continue to do so. What I will say is that that Patriots team was a light in an otherwise dismal year for me. They made me believe in something during a time that my faith in everything had severely wavered.
So you'll need to excuse me when I get a little emotional during Sundays. Every Patriots game reminds me of that time, of that team, of the feeling that they gave me when I couldn't get excited about much of anything. Most of all, they remind me of my dad looking at me, grinning, and saying, "because there's always a chance."