Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everyone!
My love for Thanksgiving has been well-documented over my years here at Pats Pulpit, as for my money it's the best holiday of the year by a long shot. It takes my three favorite things in the world - eating, football, and napping - and combines them all into a Thursday in November where we all take a moment to step back and be grateful for all of the wonderful blessings we have been given in our lives. It's a fantastic time of year, and I'm going to kick things off by saying how thankful I am to be a part of this community and how happy it makes me to know that there are those out there who think that my borderline nonsensical rants about my beloved Patriots are worth reading.
And speaking of borderline nonsensical rants, my Fan Notes from Monday saw some interesting comments from the peanut gallery, including from our very own Rich Hill. Rich made the insightful and quite astute observation, "We're on to Thanksgiving" following the Lions game, and let me tell you: truer words can not be spoken. On to Thanksgiving indeed.
But that got me thinking: since it is Thanksgiving, and we all associate Thanksgiving with football, what is the New England Patriots equivalent of Thanksgiving Dinner? What part of the meal best represents each player? Who is the turkey? Who is the gravy?
Since it's a half day for most of us and I haven't done a lick of work all week anyway, I thought I'd take a shot at tackling this highly relevant and important issue. What follows are what I think to be all the standbys of a traditional Thanksgiving feast, and the New England Patriot that best represents that food.
Thanksgiving food: Turkey. Thanksgiving is nothing without turkey. It's the staple of the holiday and the one item that no table can do without. I've heard that some people actually serve ham on Thanksgiving, but those people likely live in New York or Jacksonville and simply don't know what's going on. When you think of Thanksgiving you think of turkey, plain and simple. It's delicious, it's wonderful to look at, it smells great, and after you're done eating it you fall asleep on the couch the most satisfied, content person on the planet. Not even going to bother expounding upon this one, because it's that simple. Christmas has Santa. Easter has the Easter Bunny. Thanksgiving has turkey.
Patriots equivalent: Tom Brady. No-brainer here. Without Tommy B, this just isn't the same team. He's the unquestioned leader, unequivocal team captain, and greatest player to have ever put on a Pats uniform. He will forever be in the conversation whenever you bring up the franchise and no matter what happens from here on out, you will never be able to say the words "New England Patriots" without immediately thinking of Tom Brady. Plus, he's wonderful to look at, he smells great (at least I assume he does, I've never snuck up behind him while he was walking through Copley Place and smelled his hair, definitely never happened no not once), and he frequently leaves me feeling as content and happy as they get.
Thanksgiving food: Mashed potatoes. Is there anything better than mashed potatoes? Does it get any more delicious? Call it what you want, but mashed potatoes are probably the greatest thing ever, particularly sitting on my plate next to three hearty slabs of white meat and smothered in gravy. I'd also argue that you won't find a more fun food than mashed potatoes, either. You can sculpt, mold, and shape your food into any number of wonderful creative works of art, and there's always room for more. Spuds at their finest.
Patriots equivalent: Rob Gronkowski. What's better than Gronk? Does it get any better? Call him what you want, but Gronk is probably the greatest tight end ever, particularly standing on the line next to five hearty slabs of lineman and smothered in Brady. I'd also argue that you won't find a more fun dude than Gronk, either. He can sculpt, mold, and shape his antics into any number of creative works of art, and he'll always have room for more. Football at its finest. Mashed potatoes also very closely resemble what anyone trying to tackle Gronk looks like after he bowls them over on the way to the end zone.
Thanksgiving food: Cranberry sauce. I'd put cranberry sauce behind only turkey as the Thanksgiving Day food that defines the holiday. Turkey and cranberry sauce adorn the plates of the nation this Thursday, and even you weirdo vegetarians with your tofurky drumsticks and bean curd wings can appreciate a delicious helping of the red stuff. Canned or homemade, fake or real, cranberry sauce is that sweet, sweet break that we all need every once in a while as we jam pound after pound of turkey, mashed potatoes, and veggies down our throats. I know there are some people out there who don't really like cranberry sauce, but I feel like even those people put at least a little bit of it on their plate for the sake of the holiday if nothing else.
Patriots equivalent: Darrelle Revis. Make no mistake: Revis is absolutely essential to this team's overall defensive scheme. Revis's ability to completely shut down one receiver, on his own and without help, allows Bill Belichick to get much more creative with his blitz packages and force opposing offenses to beat the Patriots with their third and fourth weapons. Without Revis, this is a completely different defense, and much of what the unit has done so far this year can be attributed to Revis's skillset. Cornerback by definition isn't an incredibly flashy position, but Revis finds a way to make it so. He's the best offseason acquisition the Patriots have gotten in a very long time, and he is paying huge dividends. And that, my friends, is some sweet sauce.
Thanksgiving food: Stuffing. The Yin to turkey's Yang. Turkey and stuffing go hand in hand (or hand in gullet, as it were)and stuffing is right up there with turkey and cranberry sauce as one of the items you expect to see on every plate. Stuffing is also one of those things where it's either a wonderful compliment to an already delicious meal, or you're one of those people who would be perfectly happy -nay, you would prefer it - if Thanksgiving dinner consisted of nothing more than a giant tub of stuffing and a vat of gravy. Stuffing people just can't get enough stuffing, and while I consider myself a big fan, I'm more of the opinion that stuffing is one of those complimentary pieces to my Thanksgiving Day feast. Don't get me wrong; I pile the stuffing on high and deep, but I don't think I'd ever eat stuffing without a nice slab of turkey to go alongside it. Stuffing is reliable, and absolutely crucial if you want your dinner spread to be a memorable one.
Patriots equivalent: Vince Wilfork. I could make any number of "stuffing running backs" jokes here, and each and every last one of them would not only be relevant, but they would be creative, insightful, and witty. I'm not going to do that though - low hanging fruit and all - and instead talk about how Wilfork has been the anchor of this defense for a decade now. He isn't the most glamorous guy out there. He isn't putting up the monster stats. All he does is make everyone around him better and eat up the blockers that allow for the Patriots to generate solid pressure. He's a first-ballot Patriots Hall of Famer and the Patriots are a better team when he is around - last year is proof of that.
Thanksgiving food: Gravy. Gravy just makes everything better. I mean yeah, Thanksgiving is delicious enough on its own, but a plate full of grub completely covered in gravy just puts it all over the top. Sweet, tangy brown scrumptiousness covering every square inch of my plate. What I love most about gravy is that you can put it on pretty much anything and you instantly have something awesome. Plus, anything that gets served in a boat is alright by me.
Patriots equivalent: Shane Vereen. New England's jack of all trades, Vereen is the most versatile weapon that the Patriots have. He can run between the tackles, catch balls out of the backfield, and pick up the blitz. He does everything for the Patriots - even returned kicks for a period - and he has become an integral part of this offense. When Vereen is on the field, the entire playbook is wide open, and he is the kind of player whose sheer presence makes everyone around him better.
Thanksgiving food: Peas. Small and surprisingly delicious, peas just make the plate look pretty, don't they? They add some nice color to the meal, go so well when combined with a nice forkful of turkey and mashed potatoes, and as you get older you really come to appreciate what peas bring to the table. You may think they are boring and gross as a kid, but I don't know too many adults who don't appreciate a nice side of peas, particularly on Thanksgiving.
Patriots equivalent: Julian Edelman. He's not the biggest of the bunch, but man is he fun to watch. Edelman is the absolutely perfect compliment to Brady and Gronk, as he adds a completely new wrinkle to the offense. He is also the best punt returner in the league and has even seen time on defense when desperate times called for desperate measures. Edelman is quickly rising up the ranks as everyone's favorite Patriot and has found himself firmly established on the New England table for this season and the foreseeable future.
Thanksgiving food: Buttermilk rolls. Often overlooked at the Thanksgiving table, the rolls play an essential...well...role in the overall meal. Doughy and delicious, they always go down smooth, taste great, and few things are better at mopping up all that gravy left on the plate after you have wolfed down your third helping of the afternoon. You're never going to sit back, unbuckle your pants, and say "man, those were some delicious rolls," but if they weren't on the table, you'd miss them.
Patriots equivalent: the Offensive Line. What was once a glaring weak point for the Patriots has turned into a strength, as nobody has mentioned anything about the O line for the past month or so. We all remember what happens to this team when the line is a mess; they look like I'm going to feel right around kickoff for the 4:30 game tomorrow. So that the line is back on track and getting it done is one of those storylines that's easy to forget about in the midst of 40 point days and 200 yard rushers, and I'm glad to take a moment and let them all know that I'm thankful for all the undulating rolls that keep Tommy B healthy all year.
Thanksgiving food: Creamed Onions. These aren't for everybody, and they aren't a staple on everyone's menu, but I've had them almost every year since I was little and always take a small portion for tradition's sake. You either love them or hate them, but either way they have a spot on the carving table. Creamed onions may not be something you have every year, but I feel like every family has their own version of them - that somewhat eccentric side dish that feels unique to your family, that not everyone is super into, but has managed to become a solid part of the holiday regardless.
Patriots equivalent: Danny Amendola. Has Amendola been what we expected/hoped he would be? No. With the emergence of Julian Edelman, Amendola's role in the offense has been as the fourth or fifth receiving option behind Gronk, Edelman, Vereen, and LaFell. But is he an important part of this team? Is he there for us when we need him? Absolutely. Amendola is never going to get the glory of some of the other guys, and his role isn't a glamorous one, but we'd miss him if he wasn't around.
Thanksgiving food: Pumpkin Pie. I feel like pumpkin pie has gotten a bad rap over the years and has somehow slipped down the Pie Power Rankings as the chocolate creams and the pecans and the apples of the world take up center stage. Few people eat pumpkin pie on anything other than Thanksgiving, but I'll tell you right now that it's straight up legit. I'll put a well-made pumpkin pie up against any dessert out there and feel fully confident that it can hold its own. Highly underrated post-meal powerhouse.
Patriots equivalent: Brandon Browner. Count me among those who allowed Browner to fly under the radar over the past few seasons as an overlooked member of Seattle's defense. Now that he's here, his suspension is over, and he has been able to get back into football shape, I couldn't be happier with what he brings to the table and the kind of dynamic he provides to the New England secondary. In a defense where Darrelle Revis gets all the praise, Browner is quietly and efficiently shutting down big targets, jamming receivers at the line, and making everyone around him better.
Thanksgiving food: Booze. Ah, booze. Sweet, wonderful booze. Some of us hit the sauce to celebrate the day and bond with our loved ones. Others start throwing them back to help them cope with the stress of in-laws, screaming kids, and cousin Larry's latest girlfriend Charmaine. And some of us drink because hey...it's Thursday. Whatever your reason for getting hydrated this Thanksgiving, no holiday meal is complete without a libation of choice. I'm really, really not a wine guy, but few things compliment my post-meal nap like a glass or four of the red. But no matter what your drink of choice is, without a well-stocked bar, it's all just a bunch of turkey.
Patriots equivalent: Stephen Gostkowski and Matthew Slater. I ultimnately couldn't decide between the two of them here, so I decided to include them both. After all, it's the holidays! Gostkowski is sneakily becoming one of the most accurate kickers of all time and is set to become the highest scoring Patriot of all time in just a few weeks. The man in front of him, Adam Vinatieri, left some absolutely unfillable shoes when he departed for Indianapolis, and because of that Ghost just hasn't gotten the credit that he so rightly deserves. Similarly, nobody really appreciates what Slater brings to the table as team captain and special teams ace. Field position is an important part of football, and Slater makes sure that, more often than not, that's a battle that consistently skews in New England's favor. Gostkowski and Slater, like booze, don't really come up when you have a conversation about what makes the team -or the holiday - so great. But, also like booze, man is everything better because they are around.
Thanksgiving food: The 4:30 PM Cowboys game. OK, it's not really a food, but it's as much a part of your meal as anything else. If you're like me, you finish your last piece of pie, unbuckle your belt, sit there struggling to breathe for a while, waddle over to the couch, collapse onto it, and fall asleep to whoever the Cowboys are playing that afternoon. That game has gotten something of a reputation for being historically boring over the years, but I think it's gotten a bum rap; after all, we're all so tryptophan'd out by that point that few things short of this would cause us to pay attention. In reality, it's actually a pretty solid game, and just as important as everything else. There's no other team I'd rather see at home at 4:30 on Thanksgiving than the Cowboys.
Patriots equivalent: Bill Belichick. Sure, his pressers might put you to sleep. But you know what? That's just part of his charm. And there is absolutely no other coach I would want running my team. If you want flash and pomp, go listen to Rex Ryan. I'll take a guy who does his talking on the field, if that's alright with you. Consistent, reliable, and always there for you when you need him.
Thanksgiving food: 8 PM leftover plate. Hands down the best part of Thanksgiving and it isn't even close. You've had your big meal, you've taken your nap, and you wake up a little hungry and looking for a nice snack before the night game starts. So it's off to the fridge for a leg, some more cranberry sauce, and maybe some nuked potatoes and gravy. Perhaps you make yourself a turkey sandwich with a slice of pie. Whatever it may be, that leftover plate is a thing of beauty.
Patriots equivalent: LeGarrette Blount, Akeem Ayers, and Jonas Gray. Also lumped in here are all the other castoffs that are currently dominating for the Patriots this season. The guys that nobody wanted, that were traded away or signed for pennies on the dollar, are now not only contributing to the team, but they are making key plays in key situations. Ayers has three sacks. Blount rushed for two TDs his first week back with the team. Gray rushed for 201 and 4 against Indy. Tim Wright has six TDs on the season. Brandon LaFell has become one of Tommy B's favorite targets. The list goes on. Only Bill Belichick can take a bunch of leftovers and make them into one of the best meals you'll have all year.
I don't know about you, but making this list has made me unbelievably hungry. Let's all have ourselves a holiday.