Every year, it’s the same thing: People, especially those not from New England, start yapping about how this is the year the Patriots dynasty will end, blah, blah, blah.
And then, every year, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady drag the franchise toward another Super Bowl, which drives everybody everywhere else crazy and which we in New England just take for granted, saying, “Pass the Doritos.”
This year is no different. Gronk has retired, so everybody everywhere else is saying, that’s it, the Pats can’t win without Gronk. Forgetting, of course, that they have won without Gronk.
If I had any black hair left, I’d bet it on Gronk coming back, throwing his cape off, ala James Brown, and returning to the stage. If Gronk unretires, it will drive everybody everywhere else nuts, which is what we in New England live for when the leaves and the rest of the AFC East begin to fall.
There is, however, real suspense, real drama, as this football season starts because Josh Gordon, the troubled but ridiculously talented receiver, has been cleared to play after his latest suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy.
Gordon showed his potential brilliance in spurts last year, when he and Brady clicked. In his first few games, Gordon showed both his talent and the effect of missing so many games over so many seasons, as he was gassed after some long gains. He made some remarkable receptions, coming back for balls and using his Herculean strength to wrestle them away from hapless defenders.
The Patriots did what they could to help Gordon, seeing the relatively minor financial investment in him as a reasonable risk. But, sadly, Gordon couldn’t stay sober. He began using yet again, and he was suspended yet again.
Now, like Sisyphus, he is rolling that stone up the hill again, and like a lot of Patriots fans I will watch and pray and cheer for this guy because he is by most accounts a decent human being who hurts no one but himself.
In that regard, Josh Gordon is an Everyman for millions of ordinary Americans who struggle with addiction and mental health. He happens to have skills that our culture rewards with mad amounts of money, the kind of money that would be better used to provide the kinds of health and drug rehab services that Americans without financial resources and an NFL team backing them struggle to find and afford.
All the more reason to cheer Gordon on this season. If he can keep sober, he will no doubt help propel the Patriots toward another potential trip to the Super Bowl.
More importantly, if he can stay sober this time around, he will provide real inspiration to those who can relate especially to his suffering and his struggle. He will be a conspicuous poster child for recovery, showing both the difficulty of that road, but also the promise of it, the reality of it: that relapse is often inevitable, but that recovery is always possible and can be achieved, even after multiple setbacks.
In welcoming Gordon back, one of his teammates, Matthew Slater, put things in proper perspective.
Slater, a man of deep faith who intends to go into the ministry when his career as one of the greatest special teams players ends, emphasized that football is secondary to Gordon’s recovery.
“We want to see him first and foremost doing well as an individual, doing well as a man, and we want to support him however we can,” Slater told reporters. “We’re just going to take this one day at a time.”
One day at a time, indeed.
It would be great if Josh Gordon puts up big numbers on the football field.
But his biggest achievement could be, as the prayer goes, finding the serenity to accept the things he can’t change, the courage to change the things he can, and the wisdom to know the difference.