With the Super Bowl only eight days way, the Pats Pulpit staff is traveling down memory lane to share it most cherished memories of the New England Patriots’ previous 10 title games. Today, we’ll continue the series with SlotMachinePlayers’ favorite moment: New England’s first appearance on the big stage.
Some kids grow up hearing their parents argue all the time. I can’t think of a single time that happened. In our house, it was the quiet times that got your attention. Those tense you can hear pin drop moments. Perhaps that’s why I learned to turn to humor to disarm those quiet situations.
Mom was a Packers fan from Wisconsin, and I was 4 when the first AFL-NFL Championship (later to be called a “Super Bowl”) was played. I’m sure the game was on and I was there playing in front of the TV as Mom’s Packers won the first two such games. I don’t remember a bit of it.
Dad was a Bears fan from Illinois, and there were a number of quiet times when the Bears and Packers (two of the oldest NFL teams) met. You were better off being somewhere / anywhere else. When it came to talking about Super Bowl wins, Mom could talk, and Dad was silent. Uncomfortably silent. When it came to picking an NFL team, I couldn’t choose the Pack, and I couldn’t choose the Bears. I wasn’t getting in the middle of that, so I learned to watch games in silence.
Eventually I went to college, and my Big Ten QB seemed poised to do well in the NFL. When he was drafted, he went to this seldom heard of team called the New England Patriots. Hell, they weren’t even in the NFC! That QB was Tony Eason, and I became a closet Patriots’ fan to cheer him on just as I had in college. It was tough to find any of their games in Illinois in part because they didn’t have any impact to the Bears, and in part because they really weren’t all that good. I’d find one here and there, but mostly I’d read the scores in the newspaper next to a lot of L’s.
The date was January 26, 1986 and somehow, miraculously, the Patriots were in the Super Bowl. I’d get to see my team on the big stage, albeit quietly because they were going up against Dad’s Bears. The Pats faced the Bears earlier that season and hadn’t fared very well. Neither had any other team beyond the Dolphins. Dad having a team in the big game brought him an optimism that I hadn’t seen before. As he’d often told me, “Bears’ fans aren’t allowed to have nice things ... like quarterbacks.” BTW, the Bears still waiting for Sid Luckman’s replacement - maybe that’s Trubisky, or maybe not. In 1986, the hopeful was Jim McMahon. He was an absolute a-hole, but he was just good enough that Walter Payton didn’t have to run against a loaded box EVERY snap. Just every OTHER snap.
Now watching Bears football damned near every Sunday, I’d developed a healthy respect / fondness for Walter Payton, AKA Sweetness. He’d run hard in the last minutes of the 4th quarter when they were down by 4 scores. He just never took plays off or went down without hitting someone. I was a little torn as the game started. I wanted Tony to win, yet Dad was down two championships to none in the parent bowl. Hannah and Tippett deserved rings, but so did Sweetness. I had to make my choice, and I determined to to cheer for the Patriots ... of course in silence.
In the end, it didn’t matter. There wasn’t much to cheer for, and I largely just suffered in silence. The Patriots offense fell victim to one of the greatest defenses the game has ever seen. Hannah played possibly the worst game I’ve ever seen him play, but the Patriots were able to put up points — ten of them. Three mostly from a defensive turnover, and seven when the game was largely out of hand. Still scoring points was something neither the Giants (Phil Simms) nor the Rams (Dieter Brock) were able to do that post-season. It was something of a moral victory. Eason, who was 0 for 6 (the first Super Bowl starting QB to fail to complete a pass), was replaced by Steve Grogan who was able to get a TD early in the 4th quarter. Even Sweetness was robbed when after moving his team the length of the field, his TD carries went to William “Refrigerator” Perry and Jim “a-hole” McMahon. So I was none too fond of either Ray Berry or Mike Ditka after that day. The entire Super Bowl was thoroughly unlikable, but it did put the Patriots on the national map for the first time and make me hope they’d get there again. Something I never thought was possible before that.
The three things that make this a positive memory for me:
- It’s the first time I had to chose a team and suffer with them. Winning is easy, but losing develops character. The Pats had a lot of fans with character in those days. I’ve stuck with the decision ever since, but it’s easier now that they drafted that other Big Ten QB.
- My Dad wasn’t silent when Championships were discussed anymore, and that made the whole house a little brighter.
- An all-time great got a ring, and if it couldn’t be Hannah or Tippett, at least it was Walter Payton, who was taken from us all too early in 1999. Right about the same time Dad died.
Oh, my time and the Patriots time would come. That lone Super Bowl (1986) was soon accompanied by another (1997), and another (2002), and another (2004), and another (2005), and another (2008), and another (2012), and another (2015), and another (2017), and another (2018), and now another (2019). Dad’s passed (he was spared the loss to the Colts in 2007), but if he was still here, I doubt we’d talk about Championships. What could he say? These days, I’m blessed to have a lot to talk about.