One of the benefits of being a non-traditional student is that I have watched part or all of most of the Super Bowls, live on television. Beginning with Super Bowl VIII, when the 1973 Miami Dolphins defeated Fran Tarkenton and the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 24-7 , I can remember past athletes of that sport and many others clearly. I have the perspective of comparing them with the athletes of today, and I have to admit it is an interesting dynamic. Not only that; it is fuel for many a spirited conversation with my younger classmates at University of New Hampshire.
So what businesses have I to weigh in on the revered New England Patriots? Born in New York and high schooled in Florida, my first duty assignment in the Air Force was at Pease Air Force Base in 1982-83. Subsequent enlistments and deployments in the Army notwithstanding, I have spent most of my adult life on the New Hampshire Seacoast. I have seen Larry Bird play at the old “Gaaden”, Ray Bourque skate with the Bruins at the same arena, and I went on a field trip from Pease in 1983 and saw Carl Yastrzemski hit a double against the Cleveland Indians, in his final season at Fenway. Although not a native born New Englander, I appreciate great moments in sports regardless of location. For instance, the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Phil Jackson were great for the sport of basketball. They won two sets of three championships, and might have gone on to more if the team’s management had not decided to rebuild, instead of letting the players and coach defend their legacy.
My earliest memories of the Patriots are from elementary school. The Pats were doormats despite the efforts of Jim Plunket, John Hannah and Sam Bam Cunningham. Things began to turn in the mid-seventies, as New England was involved in division races with the (then Baltimore) Colts and Miami Dolphins from 1975 to 1977. I can remember how I thought Steve Grogan was the Man. Every year that the Pats would try to bring in a new quarterback, Grogan would end up bailing him out, like a relief pitcher in baseball. I swear it seemed like he had a 30 year career, much like Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox.
I have been amused over the years when Patriot haters take their best shot--- I have to admit there has been fuel added to that fire by certain events. I remember the Snowplow Game of 1982.
Boston Globe staffer Stan Grossfeld recounted the event in a January 3, 2010 article printed in Boston.com. On December 12, 1982, in a regular-season game played between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots ( at the old Schaeffer Stadium in Foxboro), the stadium’s snowplow operator, Mark Henderson, cleared a spot on the snowy field specifically for New England kicker John Smith. He kicked the game-winning field goal to give the Patriots a 3–0 win. Henderson, a convicted burglar on a work release from MCI-Norfolk at the time of the game, was released from prison later and currently works in the construction business. In the Hall at Patriot Place, the infamous green John Deere tractor and the attached sweeper hang suspended from the ceiling--- a part of New England Patriots lore.
When interviewed afterwards about the controversy surrounding the game, Henderson reportedly joked, “What are they gonna do, throw me in jail?”
I have to smile at that one, and when you add in Spygate and Deflategate it does seem like the Pats have not been worried about popularity contests over the years. That being said, I stand in awe of the job that Belichick has done during what can only be described as a dynasty.
I remember the Pats going to the Super Bowl XXXI, and losing to the Packers under Coach Bill Parcells. It seemed to me at the time that they had a very serviceable quarterback in Drew Bledsoe. Sustaining an injury that could have killed him, Bledsoe had to spend time sidelined to recover. And Tom Brady strode in to the picture.
Anyone who looks at old combine footage and pictures might not be impressed with the early Brady that was drafted. At Michigan, he was a backup to Brian Griese. His physique and speed and reflexes were not exactly off the charts. I recall how I did not like Bledsoe being replaced due to injury. It reminded me of how seniority protocol was mishandled when a divided San Francisco ownership favored Steve Young over Joe Montana, after Montana’s injury in 1991. Much how I dislike the owner of the Colts, who’s drafting of Andrew Luck did not allow Peyton Manning to finish a brilliant career with the Colts. And that is another reason I thought the Pats winning the Super Bowl last year was so great. Said Colts owner had an issue with the Pats and, along with other owners, facilitated the suspension of Brady.
So, who gets the most credit-Brady or Belichick? I submit that we are witnessing a symbiotic association, and that one supports the other. If it sounds like I am non-committal, I simply want to be fair to both. Despite sports radio chatter to the contrary, I do not feel that Brady would gain anything proving he could win without Belichick, or vice versa. Brady needs to retire as a Patriot, and not with another team. This happened with Forty-Niner Joe Montana and the Chiefs. And with my childhood hero, Baltimore Colts quarterback John Unitas, who retired with the Chargers.
Brady is the consummate professional, and Belichick- well, I really liked a description an NFL analyst made regarding the Belichick teams. Before the Pats beat Andrew Luck and the Colts in the 2013 AFC playoffs, Belichick was criticized for having his teams pass all the time. His response, and his team’s response, was for the Pats to beat the Colts 43-22 in the divisional playoff game that featured six rushing touchdowns for New England. This prompted one analyst to equate the Belichick Patriots with Transformers: “They turn in to whatever the other team can’t handle.”
So I was really engaged during this latest Super Bowl. Cranky owners plus jealous fans plus an inept commissioner plus injuries that make it seem like Brady has a new receiving core every year---none of these stopped the Patriots from making the most epic comeback I have ever witnessed in sports. I will forever cling to the memory of the Edelman catch. Three Falcons on him and he takes his hands off the ball, which defies every law of physics I have ever heard of and hangs suspended an inch above the ground, and he makes the Catch. I also will cherish the image of the Falcon’s owner whooping it up in the first half, and becoming increasingly quieter as the Comeback took place.
In closing I want to add a story about my days working retail in an office supply store in Portsmouth, before my Army deployments. One day an old guy came in--- he had to be ninety years old ---and he asked me if we sold one of those eight and a half by eleven magnifier sheets to aide reading of fine print. When I found it for him, he thanked me and said he used them to read baseball box scores in the newspaper. And I thought, “That guy is me when I am that old, a sports fan to the end”.