Feb. 3, 2002. Myles Lane - born three weeks after the Celtics won the 1986 title - had lived his whole life to that day without witnessing a New England sports championship. Now, the Rams having erased an improbable Patriots lead, the game was tied with seven seconds on the clock, and Adam Vinatieri was lining up for the kick that would change everything.
Seven championships, four sports, one town, 10 years.
Who could have seen that coming? Not Lane and his buddies, who cut school 36 hours later to pile into Boston for the victory parade, alongside an estimated 1.25 million others, the starved fan base of a long star-crossed franchise.
Now the Patriots are in the Super Bowl again, a bookend to a decade for the ages, touching off waves of nostalgia and reminding of a time when duck boats carried only tourists, not champagne-drenched champions.
Winning may never get old, but it can never really be new again.
“It’s crazy to think about what Boston’s been through in the last 10 years. It’s awesome,’’ said Lane, then a Malden Catholic sophomore, now a 25-year-old accountant. “But it doesn’t feel the same, really.’’
Things were so bleak back then that just a few months earlier, 20,000 people had turned out on City Hall Plaza to see Ray Bourque hoist a Stanley Cup that belonged . . . to Colorado. And now they were bear-hugging a victory of their own, jamming Government Center, lining 10-deep along the parade route, hanging from lampposts.
They all said the same: “You’ve got to be here,’’ Lane told a reporter then. “It may happen just once.’’
“It’s very important,’’ Patricia Noviello of Raynham said then, shivering in the 20-degree chill with her four children - then 9, 7, 5, and 2 - after huddling all day on Tremont Street to watch the champions roll by. “I figure it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’’
“When you see it, it was like yesterday,’’ recalled Noviello, now 48, “but it really wasn’t, because I look at my kids and how old they are.’’
She brought the brood back for the next five rallies but missed the Bruins fete last year, unable to get off work as a nurse. Her oldest, Meghan, drove the other three, keeping their streak alive at seven - so many rallies they can be hard to remember.
“They all just kind of get mixed together,’’ conceded Meghan, now 19 and a college freshman. “But it’s cool that we were born then. This is our era.’’
So much has changed. The Patriots are favored to win the region’s eighth title in a span of 10 years and two days. That’s right, favored - and no one needs to spit twice or cross themselves for being so brazen as to say it aloud.
Any lingering New England fan fatalism feels vestigial, out of place amid so much success. If the Patriots lose, it will still hurt, but it won’t be because someone shrank a lucky jersey in the wash, said the wrong thing at the wrong time, or because a certain number 12 was featured on the Sports Illustrated cover yet again. There’s more faith in our good fortune; fewer I-told-you-so’s about destiny.
“That Pats championship kind of turned around the whole sports-fan psyche in the area,’’ said Mike Schuster, 49, an all-sports fan from Foxborough who attended the first home game at what was then called Schaefer Stadium in 1971 and has held season tickets since 1994.
Schuster took the day off and wore a “Puckhead’’ hat, jersey, and black-and-gold paint for the Bourque rally. “That was fun, but you know, we were like the city of losers at that time,’’ said Schuster, a software developer whose personal website offers tutorials in face and belly painting. “Now, it’s a totally different attitude.’’
Not that fans don’t still hang on every play. Maurice Vincent was a wreck during the final drive of last week’s last-second playoff win over Baltimore. And Vincent - who used to be the post-Christmas recipient of any and all unwanted Patriots gear, turned over by friends amid all those losing seasons - still has everyone over on game days, handing out extra shirts and jerseys to those who come without.
But nothing was like the aftermath of that first Super Bowl, when Vincent, his girlfriend, and his mother piled into their car in Chicopee and drove 90 miles to Foxborough, no plan, all adrenaline. Reaching the stadium 16 hours before the victors returned from New Orleans, they were turned away by security, slept in their car at a Dunkin’ Donuts, and stood outside all day waiting to cheer and see the trophy.
“It was amazing,’’ said Vincent, now 42, who stayed home after the subsequent championships. “You just can’t compare it. It’s just like, now we’re spoiled.’’
Plus, his mother is not much for spur-of-the-moment road trips anymore. Nearing 80, she left her son’s house after halftime last week - to avoid driving after dark - and watched at home alone as Billy Cundiff’s kick missed wide left. She cheered, loud as ever.
“My neighbors must’ve thought I was nuts,’’ said Pat Vincent, a grandmother of 13. “My throat was sore from screaming.’’
Kay Faford was among the 5,000 outside the stadium with the Vincents in ’02, one day before the Boston rally, and she hasn’t been back either. But this season has personal significance for the 68-year-old great-grandmother from Leicester.
Her daughter, Nancy, a season-ticket holder, lost a leg in a car accident last summer and was not expected to walk this season. But she returned for the playoff win over Denver, walking on a new prosthesis.
“It’s been one heck of a ride, and we’re still on it,’’ said Faford, whose brother-in-law, Richard, a Worcester firefighter and season-ticket holder, died of a heart attack in 1997, a day and a half after fighting a fire and hours after attending his last game. He never saw a championship or the new stadium, but his name adorns a plaque on one of the seats his relatives share - Nancy offers a “Hey, Richard, did you see that?’’ from time to time.
“We are so psyched right now,’’ said Faford, a retired nurse’s aide who went out the night of the Baltimore game and bought $500 in Super Bowl T-shirts, hats, and flags to send to her son and his family in Florida - where they decamped a few championships ago.
The team may have a Belichickian focus on the game, but all over New England, fans are letting their thoughts wander toward a Super Bowl victory and the celebration that would follow, beginning to ruminate on the next rally.
Eric DeCicco of Peabody has not been back since the first, when he was an unemployed 25-year-old with the time and stamina to camp out for 12 hours and avoid drinking coffee in the cold, fearing a bathroom break would cost him his front-row position by the Government Center stage.
DeCicco has missed every rally since. Now, he is daydreaming about next Sunday and beyond, contemplating a festive 10-year reunion.
“Knock on wood. If they win, I’m going to go,’’ said DeCicco, hired soon after that first rally as a graphic designer at a publishing firm, where he still works. “I’ve got enough personal time built up I think I can take a day.’’