I am a New England Patriots fan. That probably means you hate me. You might even think that makes me an ass. That’s okay, I don’t mind. Most of us don’t, despite our persistent efforts to correct your misconceptions. We are used to being treated this way. It’s been roughly ten years of abuse in this latest stage of Pats fandom.
The life of a typical Patriots fan can be broken down into three distinct phases. For the first forty years we suffered embarrassing ineptitude occasionally interrupted by calamity. Then for six years we were the tops, the toast of the town, the bee’s knees, the cream of the crop, the fans of the hour…well, you get the idea. And now in the current period we are known as the most reviled, disgusting, cheatingest cheaters in the history of cheetahs. Those middle six years were great. Right now is better.
I promise you, we are not the vile monsters that you think. It is these three distinct periods that make us who we are. Our team has never been “just another team” and no season was ever boring. Perhaps if I rundown the highlights of each, you many begin to understand us better. Perhaps not, but I’m going to do it anyway.
Right from the beginning in 1960 this team was, shall we say, unique. In the first decade for the franchise home games were played in several different stadiums. Crazy things seemed to happen in all of them. At Boston University Field, a mysterious man in a trench coat actually came onto the field to bat down a game tying touchdown pass and then disappeared. The owner, and trench coat wearing, Billy Sullivan could not be reached for comment.
Imagine going to a game with your buddy, drinking beers and having fun. You get up to get another round and return to see your friend making the tackle on a kick return. This actually happened in Harvard Stadium. Bob Gladieux was a player that was recently cut by the Patriots. He decided to go to the game anyway and was ultimately paged over the stadium’s PA and asked to come to the locker room. The team ended up shorthanded because of contract issues, and needed him after all.
Those early Patriots also played at Boston College. Not too much happened there, though. Well, except for the fire in the stands.
How could we forget playing in Fenway Park too. The benches for both teams had to be extremely close to fans. In fact, it was common for spectators to actually tap on the shoulders of players or coaches to ask a question. Think about actually being able to let the offensive coordinator know what you think of his garbage calls throughout the game.
In addition to playing all over Boston, the team even played a couple “home” games in San Diego and Alabama. The Alabama game was against Joe Namath’s New York Jets. The game was played there as a test to see if maybe the team could be moved to that location. This was the first of many times the franchise somehow avoided a move out of the area. You know, this was basically a home game for the Jets thanks to all the ‘Bama fans rooting for Broadway Joe. Their victory in that game kick-started their run on the way to an improbable Super Bowl victory over the Colts. Obviously, this calls into question the legitimacy of that championship.
It’s not just the game venues that were interesting. The early years of the team saw them practicing at a high school field very close to Logan Airport. The sound of the jets flying overhead was so loud that coaches could not get the players to understand at all what they were saying. This being the very last time that jets were able to have a negative effect on the Patriots. Yeah, and they never drafted a tight end from Florida, Eli was ruled in the grasp, and face guarding really isn’t a penalty.
Finally, in 1970 the Boston Patriots changed their name to New England and moved into a semi-normal stadium located in Foxboro. Schaefer Stadium was as memorable and palatable as the beer that named it. With the new stadium came some signs of talent on the field…eventually at least.
In 1976, New England actually made the playoffs and looked primed to go on to the Super Bowl. Their playoff game in Oakland was over when the Patriots had forced an incomplete pass thrown by Ken Stabler. But no, referee Ben Dreith called a ridiculous roughing the passer penalty and gave the Raiders new life. Stabler even admitted later that it should’t have been called. The Patriots lost their composure and Oakland went on to win the game and eventually the Super Bowl. It was a tough call, but you have to keep playing. The team still had plenty of opportunities to win the game, amirite…Raiders?
On to 1985. This was the first playoff run that I remember. Made the playoffs as a wild card team, rolled through the Jets, finally beat the Raiders, and squished the fish. Pretty impressive right? Then somebody decided to make a video and song called “New England, the Patriots and We” as a response to “The Super Bowl Shuffle”. Talk about bringing a knife to a gun fight. Clearly this is why they got smoked in the game. It had nothing to do with that crushing defense, Walter Payton or the fact that we had Tony Eason.
It took another ten years or so, but with the addition of Bill Parcells it sure looked like we finally had something going longer term. Made it all the way to the Super Bowl again in 1996 and actually made a game of it for a while. That damn Desmond Howard and his kickoff return. I’m pretty sure it didn’t help that the old Tuna was negotiating (illegally, mind you) to coach the Jets during the Super Bowl preparation. Oh what could have been…I mean, Belichick might have ended up coaching the Jets for real instead of Parcells.
I Liked the Games so Much, I bought the Team
It all starts with Robert Kraft, this dynasty. He used to be one of us. The nameless rabble sitting on those cold, metal benches every Sunday. Okay, I’m not sure he was on the benches with me and he did end up owning the stadium too. Nevertheless, he saved this team from yet another move out of town and eventually set them up for the historic run. What he made happen and all you need to know about this period in our history is this:
The Mona Lisa Vito Dynasty
I won’t get into the specifics about what has and hasn’t happened since “spygate”. We all know what we know and believe what we believe. Just like politics, trying to change a person’s mind on this subject is like .
We used to lament that after all the plumbing issues, goal post electrocutions, Victor Kiam owning and Zeke Mowatt, we were not allowed to enjoy the winning. We follow the hardest working, most competent organization in sports. A complete turnaround from the old days, and yet…couldn’t revel in it. No longer could we engage in a meaningful conversation about football or any sport with opposing team’s fans. Always the snide remarks. Always the questioning of legacies. Otherwise reasonable minded, intelligent people could not let these things go. I suppose we couldn’t let it go either.
Then came 28-3, the comeback and yet another stunning Super Bowl victory. An entire sporting world cried “uncle” at once. There are still comments and questions continue to be raised. But, the heart has been cut out of those arguments. It just doesn’t matter anymore.
The point is, we are fans just like you. We are no different. The only difference is that we suffered for years, came through a mile of shit to the promised land and someone then tried to say it didn’t count. It’s like Red finally meeting up with Andy Dufresne and telling him he wasn’t really free after all. Sorry Andy, I know you’re having a great time on the beach and all. But, you had to trick the warden and all those guards to get here. Doesn’t count. You have to understand that this pissed us off for a time. You’d be pissed too.
It’s all good now. We can talk about football again. Hey, let’s talk about how awful the NFL has become.