September 26, 2016

Patriots Roundtable

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The day has arrived. Just one more Giant step to a perfect regular season.

On an occasion such as this, it seemed only right to query our favorite group of yahoos – the PD Roundtable gang – for their thoughts as their team stands at the brink of history.

You’ve all been Patriots fans for a long time. You’ve seen the Pats as the worst team in football, and you’ve seen them as the best. But this Saturday, the Patriots could become only the fourth team in NFL history to go undefeated in the regular season, and the first with a sixteen game schedule. As a long time fan, what are your thoughts as the Patriots try to make history tonight?

Bruce Allen: It’s pretty surreal at this point. I’ve followed the team since the mid 1980’s, but haven’t ever been a season ticket holder, as some of you are, and thus wasn’t sitting in the stands for some of those tough seasons over at the old Foxboro Stadium. One of my friends spent his one and only season as a season ticker holder during the 2-14 1992 season of Dick MacPherson and Hugh Millen. He wishes he had hung on for a few more seasons.

The Patriots have had some good teams over the years leading up to the Tom Brady era, but we couldn’t possible be prepared for what this season has brought thus far and could potentially bring over the next 6 weeks or so. When I was a kid, I idolized the Bird-era Celtics. 1986 was the closest to perfection that I had ever seen in a sports franchise as that group rolled through the regular season and playoffs. This Patriots team can surpass all of that and literally be perfect in the end. It’s mind-boggling.

I’m really trying not to get ahead of myself here with this team, as I am under no illusions that the postseason is going to be a cakewalk for the Patriots. They will face some very talented, very motivated squads who are capable of ending the season short of the ultimate goal.

A win on Saturday will mark the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history. It’s a first step towards history and something no team has ever accomplished. We should enjoy and recognize just what an amazing accomplishment this would be, but also of course keep mind there is more to accomplish.

Dan Snapp: What does it tell you that the other two teams with perfect seasons (Browns and Bears, right?) don’t immediately roll off our tongues? Other than that both did it half a century ago, the common trait was both lost their respective title games. Sixteen-and-oh means nothing without 19-0. So whatever pause we take after the accomplishment will be momentary.

I really appreciate you guys, longtime fans who know what it’s like to trudge through seasons like the Rust or McPherson years, but also revel in years like ’76 or ’85. Yes Virginia, there was Patriots life prior to 1993. I think that contrast allows us to be all the more appreciative.

I never thought something like this would happen. When Robert Kraft bought the team, he was full of optimistic bromides that we only half-believed. His well-publicized spats with Bill Parcells had us suspecting the worst: that he was a meddlesome owner to whom no real lasting success would come. But everything he promised has come to fruition, and then some. Long live Robert Kraft!

After the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons, the standards changed completely. It was Super Bowl or Bust. But it was never multiple, consecutive blowouts, stat explosions or perfect seasons. We’ve already been so spoiled by this franchise, and now this?

2007 is the “Cake and Eat It Too” season. So long as they close the deal.

No wonder everybody else hates us.

Tim Jordan: It’s really exciting, but I will need a truck load of prescription sedatives for any playoff games. This amazing season has raised the stakes for everyone.

Greg Doyle: You know Bruce, Tim and Dan all said it better than I could, but I had similar thoughts after last week’s game but before you even asked this question. And I thought about it in context of my own personal history (which is very similar to every other long time fan’s) of watching this team. And it is amazing, incredible, whatever adjective you want to come up with when considering the ups and downs (many downs) of this very same franchise I have loved following most of my life. I’ll never forget 2001, that was a magic ride I never thought possible. And I admit, though I am still a very big fan and close follower of the team, I could never work up again the passion I felt leading up to the first championship. I just think those feeling are never able to be duplicated by a second or third or fourth championship following shortly thereafter. Not to say one doesn’t appreciate it and the work and skill it takes to be that good. But still, there is nothing like the first time.

But I think some of those 2001 feelings will be rekindled as it sinks in what a special, amazing and difficult accomplishment this is, if they are to do it. And it needs to be followed by a championship if we are to truly remember the accomplishment in its best possible light. But I think the first step, really, on that ride for fans will come in watching something historic and great happen Saturday to their favorite team.

Kevin Thomas: After the ’05 Colts finally lost a game in week 15, I felt that the undefeated NFL season had become one of those accomplishments that belonged to a different era, and would likely never be matched in the modern league–like the 30-win season for a baseball pitcher, or Chamberlain’s 100 point game.

It seems to me that the league is set up to prevent this. No team is that much more or less talented than any other team. Injuries happen. Lapses in focus and concentration happen. Fluke plays happen. And if a team does survive those unavoidable pittfalls, and makes it into December without a loss, generally they will have their playoff seed locked up, and will be left with nothing of real significance to play for. Reading some of the comments from the players this week, it’s clear to me that the chase for the 16-0 season has been a primary motivator for this Patriots team. Good for them. This would be a special accomplishment, and I think it’s great that they can get as excited about it as many of the fans are.

As for the broader historical context as a Patriots fan, I agree with what everyone else has said. I don’t think its necessarily unusual that a team like the Patriots, with their turbulent past, has become the league’s model franchise. That’s not unprecedented. Just look at the Steelers before 1970, or, for recent examples of franchises going in the other direction, look at the Dolphins and 49ers. What I think we should be most thankful for is that the glory days of this franchise are occuring here, in Boston, and not in some other part of the country. We dodged a pretty huge bullet in that respect.
 
Scott Benson: Exactly, Kevin, and that’s why my mind goes back to the last game of the 1993 regular season, when Bledsoe hit Timpson to beat the Dolphins in overtime to knock Don Shula out of the playoffs. That was at the height of concern that the team would soon move to St. Louis, and as I watched the wild celebration that was touched off by the winning score, I remember a sense of dread that I was watching the last moments of the New England Patriots. It wasn’t more than a few minutes later that – boom – my power went out. An omen? I looked out the window at the rest of the neighborhood and saw nothing but darkness. I felt nothing but darkness.

Then my dad called.

He frequently did in those days, usually right after the game. We’d talk about what the Patriots did right, or more often, what they did wrong. Sometimes we’d get going and I could hear my mother on the other end of the phone telling him to settle down. This from the woman who had to leave the room anytime it was third down because it made her ‘nervous’.

No matter. We’d always finish those calls on an up note, with hope. They’ll be better next week. That was my dad in a nutshell, really. 

I learned to love the Pats from him. He took me to a game, and that alone would have done it, but then the following week he sat me down in front of the television to watch them again, and then again the next week, and then again and again and again, for most every Sunday over the next decade. Me, on the floor in front of the set, and him and my mother, behind me, in the matching chairs they bought from Treworgy’s. You know, back then there was no guarantee that the Pats would even be on TV, but in my mind’s heart, we watched every game there, together. I’ve done exactly what they taught me to do, every week since.

Anyway, there I sat that night in 1993 (actually, January of 1994 to be precise), in the dark, talking with my dad about the Patriots (“I think we’ve really got some receivers now, Dad, between Timpson and Brisby.”), hoping against hope that it wouldn’t be the last time we did so. We talked a bit about a man named Robert Kraft, who had bought the old concrete bowl that was the team’s starter home, and I tried to explain to Dad what I had read in the Globe – that this man, Kraft, might be the only thing standing between St. Louis and us. How the team wouldn’t be free to leave without Kraft’s okay. “He’s just like us, Dad,” I said. “He’s a fan just like us. He doesn’t want them to go any more than we do, and besides, what is the stadium worth with no team? Maybe he’ll do something.”

As usual, we finished on an up note. At least he did, I think – I hung up the receiver and wondered again if I would ever get another post game call from my dad. When the power came back on, I searched out highlights of Bledsoe’s pass to Timpson, watching it on channel after channel, long into the night, in a way holding on to my team, our team, for dear life.

Of course, it wasn’t too long after that Kraft paid the highest price ever paid for a sports franchise, and I remember sitting in the living room of my parents’ apartment, telling my dad that this meant they’re be plenty of football ahead for the both of us.

There wouldn’t be. That spring, on an early evening walk with his wife of more than 50 years, my dad suddenly passed from this world to the next one. Over the next several days, as family and friends came from everywhere to surround us and steady us, we talked about Dad. How fortunate we were, how humbled we were, to have such a man as our father. We talked about all the things he did for us, with his firm hand and soft, sentimental heart. And yeah, we talked about the Patriots, even to the minister who was preparing his eulogy. We couldn’t have talked about my father’s life, about our life, without also talking about his team. Which he made our team, to this day. 

That’s what I think of at times like this. That final post-game phone call in the dark, and all those Sundays, and all those up notes, win or lose. It all comes flooding back, every time, as I watch Adam Vinatieri’s kick sail through the Superdome goal posts, as I hear Gil Santos proclaim “the Patriots…are Super Bowl champions…the best team in the National Football League!”, as I watch confetti rain down on Rodney Harrison, or Gatorade rain down on Bill Belichick and his father. I can’t see those pictures or hear those words, or anything approximating them, without thinking how much they would have meant to my dad.

And every once in awhile, as my wife and I turn off the TV and celebrate another Pats accomplishment that would have been inconceivable on that January night nearly 14 years ago, the damn phone will ring. I smile every time. Still with the up notes.

Enjoy the game, Dad.

Comments

  1. Wow! Just wow. Scott Benson with writing that will resonate for a long time with me.

    Thank you for sharing that.

  2. Great story, Scott. Thanks.

    To be honest, I’m not as excited as I would normally be for a Pats game. I feel like tonight’s game is just the first quarter of a game that we will be playing for the next month. And it wouldn’t feel right to celebrate until we win every quarter.

  3. Good column, gents. And damn that Benson for making it dusty at Casa de Howzie. My old man and I had the same relationship, only about the Sox. I turned the Old Man’s picture to the TV for the 9th inning of the Series-clinching win.

    Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

  4. Scott Benson, please pass the kleenex, and thank you for writing that. I lost my Dad in 96, and every championship since then means something really special to me.

  5. Robert A. Faneuil says:

    Your comments were right on point. I have been a season ticket holder since their inception. MY dad took my brother and me to their first game against the Broncos at BU field. We have travelled with them from BU, Fenway, BC, Harvard, Foxvoro and now Gillette. As a youngster I recall the snow bowl at Fenway Park against the Bills and Cookie Gilchrist. There were not too many good years; but it was great to see good well coached teams come and play and beat us. It is now payback time for all those years of frustration. Now we are America’s team.

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