I hear it even from older people in New England – “it won’t always be like this!” they say condescendingly while describing their teenage kids who weren’t even born yet when the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI. I can’t speak for those kids. Or even their parents, for that matter. I can only share my story.
I’m 31 years old. I’m from Framingham, Mass. and the Patriots are our local team. From 1986-2001, none of Boston’s pro teams won anything. The Patriots had never won a championship. At one point, the team almost left New England altogether. The Red Sox famously had not won one since 1918 and the supposed “curse” of Babe Ruth, embodied by how close they’d get only to make some kind of crucial mistake, was the laughingstock of pro sports. The Bruins hadn’t won a championship since the 70s. The Celtics had had the most recent success, but as they kept finishing their seasons at the bottom of the standings, there was little reason for optimism there.
So from the time I was born until I was 14 years old, that was my life. And I had basically zero confidence that it would ever change. I mean, I’d never seen anything different. Again, there were times they’d come close, only to totally blow it and break everyone’s hearts. That’s more of what I expected – getting punched in the mouth. I loved my teams hard, and hoped more than anything for the day that even one of them would finally break through. But I was too scared to even expect it.
Regardless, some of my most cherished childhood memories are gathering with my family and the other families we were close to growing up to watch the games. My dad loves his TV and having a really good one has always been really important to him, so everyone usually came to our house. There were so many times when everyone I loved, everyone who was there for me every day of my life in the greatest of joys and the lowest of despair, would be in the same room together, watching the games, and cementing our relationship. It was heaven.
When the Patriots won the Super Bowl in the 2001 season, after their 0-2 start, Bledsoe getting hurt, the Tuck Rule game, winning the AFC Championship on the road at Pittsburgh after Brady got knocked out, and being 14-point underdogs to “The Greatest Show on Turf,” that absolutely defied everyone’s wildest dreams. I always think of that picture of Brady after the game, hands on his head, just taking in the moment with this look of pure disbelief on his face. That’s how I think everyone felt, and still feels when they remember that game and that time in our lives:
When the Red Sox finally won a World Series in 2004, the only team to come back from an 0-3 deficit in the American League Championship Series and advance to the final round, that really changed everything. After that, I would never say most people felt entitled to winning, but they just stopped simply expecting the worst. The memories of the heartbreaking losses have never been far from anyone’s mind though, and every time one of these teams gets a chance – it still means so much and we just count our blessings.
When I think of the Patriots, one memory in particular comes to mind: December 1997, at the Framingham YMCA, all of our dads watching on a portable TV during our basketball game to see if Drew Bledsoe and Pete Carroll might be able to make the playoffs. Honestly, that was as high as their expectations were.
When I think of that day, I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favorite books of all-time, “Wait Till Next Year” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Although she is 45 years older than me, her story is my story: a spirited girl whose love of books came from her mom and sports from her dad and together, with her neighborhood and community, they propelled her to her highest potential. In the book, Doris described how her parents and the neighbors would get so excited every time one of them got a new major appliance for their house that they’d all gather around and clap once it was taken out of the box.
“Critics have railed against the acquisitiveness of the fifties generation, but for our parents, who had lived through the Depression, the ever-expanding economy seemed like a miraculous cornucopia; they took nothing for granted, and approached each major purchase with a sense of awe”.
That’s how I feel about the Patriots. In some ways, I still feel like Brady in that picture. I remember what it was like before that picture was taken, I’ve never forgotten it, and I haven’t taken one minute of this for granted. I wouldn’t say I feel like a winner because my teams have been successful. I would say I draw inspiration from them when there are moments in my life that I struggle, and remember those times that it all seemed lost and they were able to pull it off. And that has changed me, and my community.
But mostly it has just been about being together. Really, it’s about the Patriots but it’s mostly about me and my dad and my town and our team and my friends. Those dads on the sidelines at that YMCA game? Three of them will be at our house tonight for the game. I think that is the most special part. I’m just thankful my life has been so beautiful honestly.