The Super Bowl this season returns to New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. It’s the first Roman Numeral Game in the Superdome since the upstart Patriots ran onto the field as one and defeated the Greatest Show on Turf on Feb. 3, 2002.
I take this as a good omen.
Anybody up for 16-0 and another shot at the Giants, this time in the Big Easy?
The Patriots’ 53d training camp starts Thursday as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady assert themselves as the greatest professional sports duo since Red Auerbach and Bill Russell. Indianapolis feels like a million years ago, even though it’s been less than six months.
Let’s catch up on what has happened since the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLVI Feb. 5 at Lucas Oil Can Boyd Stadium:
Chad Ochocinco was cut loose and picked up by the Dolphins. Patriots assistant coach Bill O’Brien took over the sad football program at Penn State and is learning to live with the sanctions the NCAA imposed Monday. Rob Gronkowski signed a massive contract extension, patented “Yo soy fiesta,” partied with the Kardashians, and took his shirt off at a couple hundred functions. Matt Light retired after 11 seasons in the NFL and Logan Mankins had ACL surgery. Owner Robert Kraft morphed into Hugh Hefner and is expected to attend Thursday’s workout in silk pajamas and a smoking jacket in place of his old-fashioned blue Gatsby shirt with the white collar.
The Patriots have added Brandon Lloyd (Brady loves this guy), Jabar Gaffney, and Donte Stallworth to the receiving corps. Josh McDaniels is back as the offensive coordinator. Wes Welker has been slapped with a franchise tag (remember when being a franchise player was a good thing?) and is forced to play for a measly $9.5 million. Chandler Jones (defensive end, Syracuse), Dont’a Hightower (inside linebacker, Alabama), Tavon Wilson (defensive back, Illinois), all defensive players, were deemed the best available athletes and selected in the first two rounds of the draft. Best-Guy-Ever Gino Cappelletti has retired from the broadcast booth.
The Patriots were 13-3 last season. Brady threw for 5,235 yards, second-most in league history. Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez emerged as the Fred Lynn and Jim Rice of 21st century football. The 2011 Patriots allowed the second-most passing yards in NFL history. They perfected the famed refuse-the-ball-if you-win-the-coin-toss, “double-score strategy.’’ They annihilated a horrible Broncos playoff team in Foxborough. They got to the AFC Championship game without a single victory against a team that finished better than .500 during the regular season. New England got lucky again when Baltimore kicker Billy (Buckner) Cundiff missed a 32-yard chip shot with 11 seconds left in the AFC Championship game. The Patriots took a 10-game winning streak to Indianapolis.
The final memory is a bad memory. In the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, Brady completed only 6 of 15 passes for 64 yards and one interception. Gronk was limited because of an ankle injury and Welker failed to catch a ball that would have clinched the game. In a downright Red Sox-ian postgame moment, Gisele Bundchen said that her husband cannot throw the ball and catch the ball all by himself. On the bright side, we got to see Maria Menounos wearing a Giants bikini (contradiction of terms, no?) on national television.
Now we are ready for a new season and the timing could not be better. The Red Sox have had the stage to themselves since the Celtics succumbed to the Heat, and the Local Nine has proved unworthy of the region’s love and attention.
Summer football is here. We look forward to scintillating daily analysis from Belichick. With any luck, maybe we’ll get another screen test featuring “Hef” Kraft and Miss Ricki.
Expectations for this team might be at an all-time high. Another division title and a deep playoff run are givens. It’s more about style points. Perhaps a local tabloid will tout the 2012 Patriots as “BEST TEAM EVER” on the eve of the first game in Tennessee.
“I’m actually amazed at how many fans are buying into the idea of a 16-0 season this year,’’ 98.5 The SportsHub’s Andy Gresh said Wednesday.
Preposterous, but true. We are totally unrealistic. We expect another Super Bowl, and maybe a threat to those champagne-popping 1972 Miami Dolphins.
New England’s final exhibition game is Aug. 28 against the New York Football Giants (This Time It Counts?).
The Patriots have the longest championship drought in Boston. Amazing, but true. It’s been eight whole years since they beat the Eagles in Jacksonville.
We are spoiled. We are overdue. It’s time for another Super Bowl victory. And it all starts Thursday at Gillette.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com.