NEW ORLEANS - There are no more games, right? There aren’t any reviews, replays, or reassessments, correct? The New England Patriots won the 2002 Super Bowl, fair and square? Are we agreed on that?
Therefore, be it known that this is as great a championship as the city of Boston and the region of New England have ever experienced.
These Patriots are far from the greatest collection of stars ever to play on one of our local teams. They’re not even the most individually talented Patriots team.
But this bunch is the epitome of T-E-A-M, as the world saw when, as has been their seasonlong custom, they eschewed individual introductions at the Super Bowl and entered the field as a 45-man unit. They dominated no team or individual statistical categories, but they provided every high school and college coach in the country with a blueprint for team success. They lived out every bromide imaginable, from building championships with your offseason work, to paying close attention to what the coaches had to say, to putting aside personal goals and aspirations in complete subjugation to the good of the whole.
They kept getting better and better as the season played out, culminating in a wondrous three-game march through the playoffs. From the inspired play in the Snow Bowl, to the opportunistic performance in the AFC Championship game, to the manhandling of the haughty NFC champion Rams, this was a continual postseason highlight package that will serve the organization, the fandom, and the media with memories to carry us all happily to the grave. If you couldn’t get excited about this Patriots postseason, you have no remote claim to being a sports fan.
Unlike the 1967 and 1975 Red Sox, teams involved in some of the most dramatic games in franchise history, the Patriots were able to complete the job. October 1, 1967, was a great, great day to be a Red Sox fan. But the Cardinals won the World Series. October 21, 1975, was another great, great day to be a Red Sox fan. Bernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk made themselves icons with their home runs in Game 6. But the Reds won the World Series. There was no closure, only heartbreak in the end.
Do not dismiss the general euphoria in Boston when the Red Sox ruled the American League in the first decades of the 20th century, up to the point when Harry Frazee sent You-Know-Who You-Know-Where. Baseball was the only team sport of real consequence in America, and Boston had been a great baseball town for three decades by the time the Red Sox defeated the Pirates in 1903.
That first championship in 1903 was a great moment for Boston sports fans. Beating the National League champs was a huge achievement for the American League kings.
The 1912 World Series, in which the Red Sox needed 10 innings in Game 8 to subdue the Giants (there was a tie in Game 2), was one of the great World Series ever. Smoky Joe Wood was Tom Brady cubed that year.
After 1918, it’s all Heartbreak Hotel stuff, as we all know.
Now it’s hard to have a more dramatic way of winning a championship than the exhausting double-overtime Celtics conquest of the St. Louis Hawks in Game 7 in 1957. But comparing the cache of basketball in this town 45 years ago to the NFL today is foolish.
The greatest of all Celtics titles was the 1969 championship, when the team, with a starting five averaging well over 30 years of age, finished fourth in the Eastern Division during the regular season before knocking off Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles without benefit of the home-court advantage in any series. That was the Last Hurrah for Bill Russell and Sam Jones, and it concluded with the memorable Balloon Game in the Forum. But the Celtics were still a cult phenomenon in those days.
The town rocked to a degree during the Bird Era, but not as much as it did in the early ‘70s when the most famous man in town was Bobby Orr. The 1970 championship was a true Golden Moment. It was the first Bruins title in 29 years and it was achieved by a lovable, swashbuckling team. Orr’s famous winner in Game 4 lives on, but let’s not forget the Bruins were up, 3-0, and they were playing the vastly inferior St. Louis Blues, a team in its third year of existence.
But this Patriots championship comes with no qualifiers. Yes, there was the fumble that wasn’t a fumble, but it would have been moot had the Patriots not gotten a clutch first down and then received a historic tying field goal and then the winner from Adam Vinatieri.
The Snow Game has already entered NFL lore as a symbol of all that is good and holy about America’s preferred sport. Beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh, again by being dramatically opportunistic, added to the Patriots’ growing mystique.
Entering the Super Bowl you had the multiple backdrops of the 0-2/1-3 start; the Drew Bledsoe injury; the Brady revelation; the Brady/Bledsoe issue; the entire soap opera that is Terry Glenn; the mysterious genius of Bill Belichick; the one-for-all-and-all-for-one persona of a team largely populated by solid, but anonymous, players; the most talked-about game of the entire season (i.e. Oakland in the snow); the Bledsoe relief effort against the Steelers; Brady/Bledsoe, Part II; and the curiosity surrounding just what Belichick Co. could do to slow down the mighty Rams.
Unlike the 1967 Red Sox, the Patriots took charge in the Big Game. Unlike the 1986 and 1997 Super Bowl Patriots, they were not outclassed. Unlike the 1971 Bruins, they didn’t come undone against their big rival. Unlike the 1975 and 1986 Red Sox, they didn’t blow key leads. OK, they did, but when they did, that wasn’t the end of the game.
The whole season was a surprise, and those are the best kind. There were plots and subplots. And the entire season comes down to one kid quarterback taking the team down the field from his 17-yard line with no timeouts at his disposal to set up his kicker for a field goal that was no gimme.
Harken back to what you were thinking and feeling about this team at the end of September and compare it with what you’re feeling now. Boston has never had it better than this.