So there I was, in my usual Sunday afternoon position at this time of year, December 9, 2018 -- sprawled out on the couch with both feet up on the coffee table in front of me. I was watching the Patriots game, which had just ended. Well, in hadn't officially ended, but it was over. Wasn't it?
After all, there were only seven seconds left on the clock and the Miami Dolphins, trailing by five points, had the ball way back on their own 31 yard line. There was just enough time to launch one last, desperate, heave -- and it was too far from the end zone for a Hail Mary pass. So it was all over, right?
I had already turned my attention to the most important decision facing me that day -- whether to watch the 4:30 game or tackle the Sunday crossword puzzle. Then the Miami quarterback fired a pass only about 20 yards downfield and nowhere near the sideline. Game over. But wait, the receiver caught it and lateraled to another guy who lateraled to a third guy. This was exactly the play I had drawn up as a ten-year old playing touch football on the street in front of our house. The third guy managed to wriggle away from a tackle and suddenly he was racing down the sideline with the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski in hot pursuit -- well, maybe not "hot" pursuit; it was more like luke-warm pursuit. If Gronk on offense sometimes looks like he could walk on water, on this occasion he looked like he was trying to run under water. The guy with the ball waltzed into the end zone and promptly heaved the ball into the stands in the same fashion that the guy in the TV commercial throws his wallet into the river -- and, eventually, with the same amount of regret.
Astoundingly, the Patriots had lost. One can only imagine the amount of pretzels and throw pillows that were hurled in the direction of TV screens all across New England at that very moment; and that's to say nothing of the number of wives who raced into their kitchens to guard the knife drawers from distraught husbands.
As for me, stunned though I was, I held my usual position; sprawled on the couch, with my feet on the coffee table. Don't get me wrong, I was rooting for the Pats; I always do. My mind raced quickly through the "wouldas, couldas and shouldas" that brought them to that point. If only Belichick hadn't replaced Devin McCourty with Gronkowski at safety on that last play; if only Tom Brady hadn't suffered a brain cramp at the end of the first half and taken a sack, allowing time to run out, when they could have scored an easy field goal from the two yard line; if only Steven Gostkowski hadn't missed an extra point and a chip shot field goal earlier in the game. Gee, just think how much better off the New England Patriots would be if they didn't have Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Steven Gostkowski constanty dragging them down.
Oh, I felt bad about the freak loss, but I wasn't suicidal. The fact is that I have never had the emotional connection to the Pats that I do with the Red Sox. I'm not sure why that's so, but it is. The night the ball went through Bill Buckner's legs I threw my glasses at the TV set, damaging their frame in such a way that they never fit comfortably again. The worst time for me was 2003, when, in the eleventh inning of the seventh game of the ALCS, Aaron Boone of the dreaded Yankees hit a home run that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. "There's a long drive to left field! It's going, going," -- click. The TV was off before the ball ever landed. It did not get turned on again to a sports or news program for another week. I didn't -- couldn't -- read a newspaper. I spent the next week reading nothing but escapist novels. I didn't even call anyone to commiserate. I thought, "I'm in my sixties and it's never going to happen; they'll never win a championship in my lifetime." I was, in a word, a mess.
Then, the very next year, the Sox won it all in the most unlikely way possible. Now I ask myself if they'll ever lose another World Series in my lifetime.
But back to the Patriots and my lack of emotional connection with them. Maybe it's because in my growing-up years the Patriots didn't exist. I was already out of college before they played their first game. There are no childhood football heroes, pigskin versions of Dominic DiMaggio or Ted Williams, in my DNA. Maybe it's that for so long the Pats seemed like a minor league operation, and not a very good one at that. Or maybe it's the sense of corporate detachment that seems to emanate fom Foxborough nowadays. For most of the country, rooting for the Patriots is like rooting for Facebook. Then again, maybe it's because I'm just one of those one of guys who still likes baseball more than football.
That being said, when they play next weekend, I'll be back on the couch, watching. Tom Brady is the Ted Williams of this generation. He's an historic sports figure, and it's a privilege just to watch him in action. Fifty years from now people will be talking about how they saw him play, the same way that people today talk about having seen Bobby Orr. Come to think of it, at the rate he's going, fifty years from now Brady might still be playing. There'll be headlines asking, "Has Ninety-One Year Old Tom Brady Lost a Step?"
And 50 years from now I might still be sprawled on the couch with my feet on the coffee table. I'll be long dead, but I might still be there.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.