2011 was a tough year for the Patriots and the NFL. There was a lockout during the offseason, and Robert Kraft, while watching his wife Myra lose her battle with cancer was the man who needed to step in and save the NFL. The only picture that matters from that whole mess is the one below, of Kraft and Jeff Saturday.
They were members of rival teams, but, in that moment, there was no doubt of the bond they developed. Saturday said that, “Without him, this deal does not get done.” He went on to thank Mr. Kraft for working so hard during such a tough time, and to Mrs. Kraft for allowing him to be there for the league. That hug is what ensued after his remarks. Two men who were both physically and mentally exhausted, and simply holding each other up.
When the season finally started, the Patriots were dominant, finishing 13-3, and only allowing 30+ points once, to the Bills in week 3. But the defense was held together with duct tape and glue sticks, as key contributors were James Ihedigbo, Sterling Moore, and Julian Edelman. Yes, for those that don’t remember, Edelman played a bit of slot corner in 2011. Rob Gronkowski had 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 receiving touchdowns, and added a rushing touchdown for good measure. Aaron Hernandez has 79 catches for over 910 yards and 7 scores, and Wes Welker had 122 catches for 1,569 yards and 9 TDs.
Even with some elite playmakers on offense, they didn’t belong in the Super Bowl, but, after Sterling Moore knocked the ball away from Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff hooked a late field goal (you’ll never convince me that Myra didn’t blow that thing wide herself), that’s exactly where they were headed. To face the Giants, who the Patriots had not only lost their last Super Bowl appearance to, but had lost to them just that season.
The game started off terribly for the Patriots, with Giants players talking the refs into an intentional grounding call in the end zone on the Patriots first play from scrimmage. The Giants then drove 78 yards for a touchdown, and were up 9-0 on the Patriots. They had held the ball for almost the entire first quarter and the Patriots had run one play. Even after the slow start, the Patriots took the lead early in the 3rd quarter thanks to back to back touchdown drives. Including a 96-yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half. Then, after allowing the Giants to kick 2 field goals to cut the lead to 2, the Patriots were driving with around 4 minutes left. We know what happened next, the Wes Welker drop/Tom Brady bad throw, the Mario Manningham catch, and the Ahmad Bradshaw score. A Hail Mary would be tipped just out of Gronk’s reach as time expired, and the Patriots lost their second straight Super Bowl appearance.
To put the defense’s struggles into perspective, outside of a kneel down at the end of the half, every Giants drive went for at least seven plays, and the shortest was the final, game winning one, which was 2:49. Gronk was also playing hurt, so one can assume that the Patriots would’ve been more successful at moving the ball if he were healthy, but he wasn’t.
This doesn’t seem like a Super Bowl to love, and yet, I do. Here’s why. The Patriots have always meant so much to me. I would be in a great mood if they won, and a terrible mood, sometimes for days, if they lost. After the 2007 Super Bowl, it took me at least a month to break out of my funk. So, naturally, after the 2011 Super Bowl, I was in a terrible mood, but something in my life was different.
My daughter was born in April, and was 10 months old. It’s hard to explain how happy your kids can make you, but after that loss, I went into her room and just watched her sleep for a while. While I watched, my mood brightened just a little. I realized that it was impossible to stay upset for too long with a beautiful baby and a growing family. It sounds silly to say, but having a family (I now have three young kids), has changed my outlook on sports. Now, although I love the Patriots, I also understand that there are some things that are more important. For three or four hours every Patriots Sunday, I pretend that isn’t true, and live and die with every play, but when the game is over, I’m right back where I belong, with my family.
Is it sappy that the season started with Mr. Kraft losing someone so important to him, and ended with me realizing that family is more important than anything that happens on a football field? Maybe, but that’s what happened. The pain of losing a Super Bowl could never match the joy of my kids, and that let me know that football, no matter how important, would always come second for me.
Pat is the host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats