As I think about this week's coming games, I try to remember a time when I was so tense about a bunch of football games. This may sound egotistical to rival fans, but it's hard to recall a time when us Patriots fans weren't in reserved parking for a playoff spot. Instead, we're tailgating in one of the dirt lots, hoping a scalper has a ticket on the way to the gate. We're waiting for others to exhibit greatness and smash the upstarts, paving the way for that reserved spot. Miss a shot at repeating the 2001 season? Great year, guys. With everything you've gone through, it's hard to imagine you even got THIS far. Lady luck smiles at your pickup line? Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches on the planet...PERIOD.
After Tommy Terrific went down, we were all in a state of shock. Who wouldn't be? Once we realized what had happened, we needed to put the season in yet another clipboard carrier's hands. Hoping that history will repeat itself, we stuck by Cassel even though many thought we were in trouble after his preseason performance. The fans who predicted Matt belonged at his backup spot deserve to throw a big, fat "I told you so" my way. I was wrong, dead wrong.
It's hard to remember a time when a playoff berth wasn't so automatic. Sure, us old timers can recall the days well. The pre-Parcells era was full of watching football for football's sake. You love it when your team wins, but watching football is what it's all about. You watch for the love of the sport. It's the same reason my dad watched the Red Sox for soooooo many years. He agonized over every pitch, every play, and every disappointing season. Until 2004. The curse was broken. He didn't sleep for 3 days because he didn't want to miss one moment, one reporter's word of the World Series sweep. A true fan.
Early in the Patriots' season, our esteemed co-writer, JohnHannahRules, said, and I quote, "We're all football fans again." I thought it was a good quote then, but I think it's a great quote now. With 15 games under our belt, we've agonized over every play, hoping against all hope that our battered, banged up, and bruised Patriots would pull it off. Watching every moment and, as we approached the end of the season, many other team's moments. Winning is no longer automatic. It's not a right, but a privilege and a hard fought one, too.
We've seen a backup quarterback show us he has the goods and, in the process, begin printing money for next year's season. We've seen a running back with the longest name in football elevate from the practice squad and give us a show. We've seen captains go down for the season and tiny wide receivers pick themselves up after hitting the ground hard. But, most of all, we've seen a coach in his element. At his best when things are worst. Even if my Patriots don't end up in the post season, I consider this one of the greatest seasons of football I've had the chance to watch.
JHR was right - we're all football fans again.