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In the spirit of SB Nation’s “Why I’m a Fan” series, here’s my little story from years past.
“Boston was always known as a Red Sock town, and even with the mild success that we had previously had, it was nothing like the experience that New England felt after winning Super Bowl 36. That kind of put the Patriots on the map.”
-Charlie Weis, former Patriots offensive coordinator, looking back on the 2001-2002 season
People that still have to show their IDs to pick up some brews this weekend may have a hard time believing this: pretty much nobody in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, or Maine used to care much at all about the New England Patriots, outside of the weekly yelling at the TV and "Well, that sucked" every Sunday.
That made it all that much more of a "Holy Shnikes!" big F'ing deal when the 1996 Pats pulled an 11-5 season and a ticket to the Super Bowl out of their asses with all the dumb luck of a college kid finding out that some random left a full bottle of Jack at your house after everyone trashed the place.
And that team promptly got barbecued by Brett Favre and the Packers while the Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe tied a Super Bowl record with four picks and New England's wrecking ball running back Curtis Martin ran into a brick wall with 41 rushing yards on 11 carries. As the oldest of three sports-obsessed brothers whose parents weren't even interested in watching the Super Bowl for the commercials, this was the first Super Bowl party at a friend's house I was allowed to go to, with Patriots banners and a full table of delicious snacks and soda and whatever crazy chips were popular back then and everything. The final score of 35-21 may as well have read 59-0. They blew it, and blew it hard. The kids all threw on our gigantic winter coats over our Bledsoe and Coates jerseys and Pat Patriot hoodies and headed home to rest up for another Monday of school in the dead of New England winter. We blew it.
Fast forward to 2001, and the Pats are looking like they're well on their way to another 0.500 campaign of “At least you tried” and all the Terry Glenn drama you could ask for.
This is a touchy subject, but for my generation of people that grew up in New England, the 2001 season and September 11th, 2001 are always going to be inextricably linked. As a high school underclassman kid whose biggest problems before that were whether you'd pass "that" girl in the hallway and how the Red Sox would ever beat Derek Jeter and the Yankees, that's our generation's JFK moment. It screwed us up pretty well.
After the NFL canceled all the games that week, the Patriots started doing something they'd really never done before: giving you something to get fired up about every weekend. Joe Andruzzi's ground-zero firefighter brothers being honored in a pre-game tribute. The team accidentally inventing - and popularizing - being introduced together instead of just a few superstars getting boomed over the PA (note: this actually started right before 9/11, but the team stuck with it). And with a *ahem* little bit of luck and some ice water in their veins (perhaps literally), the Pats earned the right to get stuffed in a locker by the Greatest Show on Turf, the 2001 St. Louis Rams, in the Super Bowl.
Saying anyone thought the Patriots could win would've gotten you laughed out of the party, most of us were just hoping to not get embarrassed the way our uncles talked about getting flamethrower-roasted for 60 minutes by the '85 Bears.
Come Super Bowl Sunday, we piled into the party hosted by the one guy in town that had a gigantic DLP TV and a sick-ass window-shaking tower speaker 5.1 surround sound system, laid out enough snacks to feed an army (or a bunch of high school kids and their parents, which is basically the same thing) and got ready for Kurt Warner and the Rams to hang a 50-burger on us.
They never did.
The team flipped the bird to the league and chose to risk getting fined to come out of the tunnel as a team once again. Come halftime, it's still anybody's ballgame. By the time the fourth quarter ticked down to Key-and-Peele-sweating levels, everyone was waiting for the Bill Buckner moment where that Brady beginner's luck would run out and something awful like a strip-sack or a pick-six would ice the game, the Rams dynasty would rule again, and the Patriots would go back to the anonymous 8-8 losers they'd always been.
That didn't happen either. The guys wearing red, white, and blue, the guys that came out after Bono rocked the halftime show in his USA jacket and bent, but didn't break, the double-digit underdogs, New England's little brother in Big-4 sports, stared down the barrel of Super Bowl overtime with no timeouts and said “Nah, we’re good” and sent the Greatest Show on Turf home empty-handed with a cold-as-ice field goal on the final play of the Super Bowl.
The guys that went 5-11 in 2000 and got laughed at by the 49ers, the Cowboys, the Steelers, the Dolphins, and yes, the Packers, had shocked the world and delivered six frozen little states and generations of fans that put up with decades of failure the one trophy they thought they’d never see.
And looking back on that now, four more Super Bowl titles and dozens of NFL records later, you'd better believe that New England - and, in what seemed like a joke at the time, their legions of fans all across the United States and the world - are going to go full-blown Cookie Monster on every last minute of the most dominant dynasty the sports universe has ever seen.
Well, most dominant dynasty except, of course, maybe those freaking 90's and 2000's Yankees.
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