New England Patriots
By Sam Clemons
A Memorable Season
It’s sad to say, but despite finishing 11-5 and winning all four games in December, the Patriots are not making the playoffs. However, folks all across Patriotsland should not be too disparaged. This season has added depth the Patriots folklore. It is seasons such as these that provide fans with the prerequisite stories of days-of-yore that make the Packers, and Eagles the great fans that they are.
I’m a relatively young Patriots fan, so I don’t remember much before the 96’ Super Bowl season, but it seems that the tall tales of Patriots of old are pretty thin: There is Steve Grogan, John Hannah, the losses to Ditka’s and Favre’s teams, and now this current era. Sure there are others, but what does one remember from the 2002 Patriots team? I can only recall that the Pats went 9-7 and that we beat Miami to not let them into the playoffs on the last week of the season. What about 97’? 98’? 99’, other then Pete Carroll being thrown out of town?
The 2009 Patriots, however, will be remembered for a long time. Maybe someday there will be a Disney movie about the Patriots, like “The Invincible”, in which blue collar fans gathered at bars and talked about Steve Van Buren's 1948 touchdown and such. If this hypothetical movie is ever made, Matt Cassel and the 2008 Patriots squad will be mentioned in that conversation. This year was a top 10 year by Pats standards, and there is nothing wrong in being proud of a top 10 performance.
While I’m particularly susceptible to view Boston sports through rose-colored glasses, I believe that most of the loyal Patriot constituents exude a great pride for their 2008 squad. The fans are walking around with their heads held high and not backing down to any Spygate mongers or to the much loathed New York fans who never miss a chance to kick us when we’re down. That’s not to say that New Englanders aren’t guilt of similar ‘partisan bashing.’
There is a litany of excuses or ‘reasons’ of why the Patriots didn’t make the playoffs. And while all individuals are susceptible to bouts of pouting and whining about their woes, we should try to refrain from this because it would tarnish the 2008 club’s legacy. Sure the season was fraught with injuries (Tom Brady, Adalius Tomas, Laurence Maroney, Ty Warren, Rodney Harrison, LaMont Jordan, Tank Williams and the rest of the secondary). Sure, the standings definitely didn’t go our way with two 8-8 teams hosting playoff games next week. Sure, if it wasn’t for Jabar Gaffney’s inexcusable drop against the Colts, or the defense’s lapse on 3-and-long against Brett Favre’s Jets, the Patriots would be 13-3.
Despite all this, the team played hard and did not make any excuses for themselves. So if the team doesn’t want to hear about all the above stated difficulties, then why should we, as fans, focus on these issues? Do we, fans, want to remember this year as one of missed opportunities and one where fortune did not shine on us? Or would you rather remember it as a season where you passionately rooted for your team, not knowing if it would win on any given week? A season where you were proud of how everyone dug deep inside and overcame adversity, self doubt, and where every game while sometimes frustrating was for the most part gripping and exhilarating. Bill Belichick’s phenomenal coaching job should also not go unnoticed. It was one of his best years despite the lack of hardware to show for it. Just look at Mike Holegram’s Seahawks, Romeo Crennel’s Browns, and Jack Del Rio’s Jaguars and see how they handled their depleted personnel issues.
This season has been memorable and will become part of the Patriots lore. It will probably go down for how the ill-fortunate Brady-less Patriots went 11-5 and didn’t make the playoffs. But my hope is that the manner in which the 2008 team went 11-5 will also be remembered. I, for one, will remember the gritty game against Seattle and the Miami road game (not the stink bomb that was on display at home.) As well as sending the Jets game to overtime and the bizarre Windbowl at Buffalo. Alas, I predict this season to spur on conversations for years to come which gives the fans more character by adding an additional layer to the Patriot fandom-hood.
An Obituary for the Patriots and My Sports Innocence
I feel like a kid who just found out that Santa doesn’t really exist. My sports innocence is lost, changed forever, like a first love that forever leaves an indelible mark on future relationships. I was too young to understand the significance of Billy Buckner in 1986, started watching the Celtics after Reggie Lewis’s passing. In 2003, when Aaron Bleeping Boone rocked Wakefield in the 11th inning, it was a fitting end for the star crossed franchise, so fans took the loss in stride. It was all part of following the Red Sox, and the young batch of fans, the Gen Y’s, could now join the pantheon of the faithful, all with their own stories of how they got slaughtered by Goliath.
This is different. We were Mr. Clutch, all-American boys, the greatest ever. We talked and walked the professional walk. Flashy, unstoppable with a never ending well of resources that would just come in waves against game opponents, who were just an afterthought in discussions. We wrapped ourselves in a blanket of greatness, lulled to sleep by Brady’s twinkling eyes, as inner warmth spread from the knowledge that Godfather Belichick would never let us get burned.
The saddest part of the loss is that everyone will focus on the blown chance as apposed to how memorable this season has been. Everyone in this predominantly Red Sox town lived and breathed Patriots. There has been so much media scrutiny and pressure; we even followed the O-linemen’s ever changing facial hair. Now, the only thing that people will remember is that this is the game that showed the world that Brady and Belichick are not as good as Lombardi and Bradshaw. I believe it is the media coverage that is the sole reason for this new revelation in comparison of greatness. Current players should not be measured against passed greats until they themselves start fading into history. Their resume is not yet finished and there needs to be a time separation to objectively view a career. This is why players are not eligible to enter the Hall of Fame until several years after they retire.
Is Tom Brady the greatest quarterback ever? Before, you would have said yes. But today? I for one believe that the fourth quarter drive was vintage Brady, the one from Friday and Saturday. This applies to every other Patriot. They all had a great season, several of them future Hall of Famers and class acts all the way. They are the type of role models that we want in sports, and why my mother loves them. She cannot fathom why the rest of America despises this golden team. Just for illustration purposes, I received 3 text messages after the game. First 2 were from Pats fans, “Miserable. Being in NYC is hell right now” and “I want to die”. The 3rd one came from a New York fan, not even a Giants fan, just a Dirty Jersey wannabe, “Almost perfect”. Those words lingered in the air as I muttered them out loud. I can just see his smug look as he typed those teething words. The rest of America is excited and happy, while New England is depressed and silent. I for one couldn’t go to bed after the game and watched ‘White Men Can’t Jump’, so that I would avoid sitting in miserable silence. I have yet to read or listen to any coverage of the game. I have no idea what the rest of the world is saying right now. I don’t care, it is an internal struggle and I am sick and tired of media dictating how I feel.
I don’t know if people are clamoring about bad calls, or about the slippery field, or any other excuses one could come up with. I believe that excuses are like ***holes: everyone’s got one and they all stink. It was a great, hard fought game and the Giants were a better team that day. I wish there was no offseason, I want there to be another game next week (the Pro Bowl doesn’t count). However, the world will keep turning; the Patriots have the 7th pick and most of the nucleus coming back. They will be as hungry as ever, and the media scrutiny will be just as great, for it cannot be any greater then it was this season. It will be exiting and I predict us doing very well again, but I have lost my sports innocence and will always keep my guard up.
Hangover Special (Super Bowl Edition)
I believe ‘Super Bowl Hangovers’ do not exist for teams, but is rather what happens to sports analysts and fans. Inherently all of our analysis is comparative and relative, and therefore we are always stuck in the past. As a result, a team’s previous success sets its fan-base up for future disappointments. Well, I for one want to change the way we, as fans, analyze our champions because I hate hangovers. For starters, I would like to focus on THIS years’ team in comparison to THIS year’s competition and not previous seasons. We can accomplish this by emulating the athletes we follow. They have developed the ability to constructively evaluate past mistakes with the goal of being better prepared in the future. This is one of the reasons sports is such a great maturation tool for children. It helps them learn how to store constructive analysis away and move on. We as fans, however, seem to forget this and are always stuck ridiculing past ‘mistakes’.
So, I will focus on the 2009 Patriots Super Bowl campaign. I believe they will be very good this year despite the lack of hype and the weary optimism from the fans this pre-season. The wide receivers, though loosing Dante Stallworth, are still the best in the league. Our running game is much improved and it will alleviate the pressure from the offensive line to always be in pass protection. The offensive line, showed the chink in its armor during the Super Bowl, but is still very solid and one of the best in the league. The quality of the QB does not need to be mentioned. The defensive line, despite a lackluster pre-season, still has our confidence because they proven themselves to be talented and consistent veterans over years. The linebacker position has new blood that should fill the void left by Colvin and Seau. The secondary is questionable, but you can’t be the best team of all time every year. This is our one weak spot. That being said, I will go out on a limb and stat that Ellis Hobbs will have a much better year, if his body holds up.
Now look at our AFC East division; Miami is improved, but isn’t going anywhere. The Jets suck. Buffalo seems to have a solid team that will fare better then expected, but cannot compete with the Patriots. So the Pats will likely once again win their division and will either have a bye or at least face a wildcard team in the playoffs. The AFC North will have Clevelandand Pittsburg dueling it out. The AFC South will have Colts and Jags jostling for position, while the AFC West will have Denver and Chargers. The two dark horses in this campaign are Raiders and Titans, but they seem to be a year away from full maturation. The most intriguing teams this year in my mind are the Browns, Jaguars, and Raiders. However, I don’t see any team being clearly better then us and given the fact that we have the easiest schedule in the league and have a terrible division, we can cautiously assume that we will be in right in the thick of things come playoff time.
The bitter truth is that anything less then the Lombardy trophy will be considered a disaster, but paradoxically it will not keep the spirits of its fans down for long. Its funny how quickly things change, just a few short years ago, say 2000, Boston was a city of lovable losers. Now, the pain from arguably the most devastating Super Bowl loss of all time has been quickly swept away by the green tide of Celtic Pride. Or was from filling out the Red Sox Nation membership forms? Or was it the straining yet rewarding Beijing TV Marathon? Or was it the endless Political Primaries that buried the raw emotion from my February 4th column? Regardless, I can now say I will enjoy this upcoming season without basing my whole psyche around it, or without hangovers, at least not sports induced ones. But it doesn’t mean I don’t expect us to win.
Season Preview 2.0
Having already written a Season Preview article before the home opener, I thought that the only way to move forward from last week’s catastrophe is to write another one.
I had the privilege of attending the now infamous game. However, I missed “the play” for I was to busy arguing that Randy Moss loosing the ball was not a fumble because the ground caused it. My attention was then quickly turned to the sight of Brady holding his knee, which immediately sent my section at Gillette into a state of depression.
After the game, as I was walking down that endless ramp from the nosebleeds, I exhaustedly mumbled, “15 more of those.” A moment later some guy rushed passed me screaming, “YEEEAHH, 18 to go!” I couldn’t believe it, was this guy crazy? Did he not witness the all-time most devastating blow dealt to an in-season team? I have always wondered when the Patriots would descend from the stratosphere to rejoin the rest of league with quality, but not great, products.
Well folks, we have landed on the surface of the NFL, but not beneath it. We now share the same problem that all but two teams have: a not-great quarterback. However, this should not signal despair. Now, more then ever, the fan base has to rally behind their team. Of course, nobody EXPECTS the Lombardy trophy, but that doesn’t mean that this year will be unexciting or ultimately unsuccessful. Brady’s tragic injury paradoxically changed the fans psyche towards the 2009 season in a positive way; it went from a pessimistic, “How are we going to follow up last year’s craziness?” to a cautiously optimistic, “Hey, we might pull this one out, wouldn’t that be crazy?” All the AM radio heads share this sentiment. They are putting a positive spin on everything. And it is true, minus the quarterback, we still have a very good experienced team, which has a chip on its shoulder, is hungry, and has a very easy schedule. When viewed in this light, it doesn’t seem all that bad. Of course we will probably lose some games, and of course we probably won’t win the Superbowl. There is also a possibility of this event could ultimately destroy our franchise, but currently Patriots Land is burying that thought deep down inside.
For now it is wise to heed the player’s advice: move on, focus on the next game. Having written about this in the original preview, it is now of utmost importance to not look back and focus on the future. With Cassel at the helm, he will need to become a game manager aka Trent Dilfer. He will not be expected to win games, rather not to lose them. I, for one, don’t know if the Pats will beat the Jets. However, I do know that it is not essential to our success to have a ‘W’ in Week 2. As long as we keep improving throughout the year, and peak in November and December we will make the playoffs. What is important to remember is that time and cushion needs to be given to the Patriots players to gel and find their new identity. If Cassel goes out and stinks up the joint, the fans should not be calling for his head on a stick. There is no other quarterback out there that can come in mid-season, learn the complicated offense, and do better then Cassel. Also, less we forget that Belichick is still devising the game plans, which will now be ‘Cassel-ised’; a game plan that did not exist for the Chiefs. I expect a 2001-like offense, but on with better personnel. Does that sound like something you might be interested in? Let’s look forward to another tense, hard fought, Patriots style season. I know I will