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Win or Lose, New England Knows Both Very Well
February 3, 2012  | By Eric Gould
 
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BOSTON -- Make a casual check into the all-time most watched television broadcasts, and you'll quickly find that about half of them are Super Bowls. And the focus is, once again, on the Boys from Boston. This modern American spectacle has it all: brute force, high-flying athletic ability, luxury sports palaces, dolled-up cheerleaders and, this year, Madonna. The only thing left out are the caged, lip-smacking lions.

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This year, the New England Patriots go for their fourth title of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era, and the buzz here in Boston has been double-edged, even a little ambivalent...

Sure, everyone wants Tom Brady to get his fourth ring, and take his place among the NFL's all-time best.

But the last time they had that chance, in 2007, Boston fans watched in drained disbelief as a perfect 19-0 season evaporated in the fourth quarter, with a miracle hand-to-helmet catch saving a last-minute drive. That catch helped put the The Team That Must Not Be Named ahead for good by three points, with 35 seconds left.

Another gut-wrenching loss to New York.

Or, as one of my fantasy league team owners, a healthy Patriot critic, posted succinctly after this year's Patriots regular-season loss to TTTMNBN, "18 -1 forever."

Some are calling The Super Bowl on Sunday a chance for the Patriots to revenge the '07 loss. But there is no win that will ever affect the outcome of that game. Win or lose Sunday, the chance of that perfect season, with all the scoring records, the barnstorming through the league... all that's kaput.

This year, the recent track record is pretty clear. Two of the three top offenses in the NFL (Green Bay and New Orleans) slammed into top-ranked defenses in the playoffs, and were done. Only the Patriots, an offensive juggernaut themselves, went on to advance -- getting by Baltimore when the Ravens missed a weird, swerving kick in the final seconds.

At its best, that game was a gutty, hard-nosed playoff win. At worst, it was a non-loss, not the Patriots' usual high-flying passing domination.

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Sunday, it's up to the New England offense line to win the day, to keep the Monsters of Manhattan out, and let Brady do his thing -- putting pinpoint passes on a dime, eventually frustrating a defensive backfield so badly, they are forced to take risks and leave spots open.

Whether that transpires, who knows? Football games have their own wacky turns, and there are 22 guys on the field going at full tilt every play, trying to make things happen.

And while the oddball win over Baltimore will take its place among memorable Boston sports moments, it can't be considered at the top.

Since 2001, when the Pats won their first Super Bowl, there's been an embarrassment of riches here in Boston. Brady and the Pats have won three NFL titles, two of those back-to-back in 2003-04. Then the Red Sox broke "The Curse," an 86-year drought of World Series championships, winning two ('04 and '07).

The Celtics chipped in with one of their own, winning another NBA title in 2008, and hockey's Bruins fought their way back in a thrilling seven-game series last year, bringing the Stanley Cup back to Boston after 40 years away.

That's seven pro titles in Boston in ten years, making the area perhaps a bunch of spoiled sports brats.

Brady and New England are now generally reviled among NFL fans who get tired of a team dominating for a couple of years -- and then become downright hostile at seeing the same winning faces again and again after that.

Everyone knows that Boston isn't the most friendly place. And fans here can often be, well, plain obnoxious.

Then there's The Coach. Bill Belichick doesn't do much to endear national sports fans, either. There were fines for violating sideline rules one year, objections for running up the score when they were way ahead -- and, as always, there are the monotone press conferences of evasive non-answer answers, tinged with an edge of stubbornness and condescension.

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He often seems to be set on doing his best Captain Queeg impression of Humphrey Bogart from The Caine Mutiny.

Whatever.

We have a bit of a chip on our shoulder in Boston, and won't tire of winners anytime soon. It goes back to being second fiddle to the Yankees for decades. But finally, new ownership came to town, shrugged off the Beantown mindset, and figured out a way for the Red Sox to outspend them and put together a team that could, on a regular basis, beat them.

Same goes for the Pats, who once were the Junior Varsity, joining the upstart American Football League in 1960. They were terrible for 35 years, until football guru Bill Parcells came in as a hired gun. He started a winning tradition here, and then went back to -- you guessed it -- New York.

For a long time, it's fair to say that Boston was the Philly of the North, another red-headed stepchild of New York City.

There were some incredible, major catastrophes along the way. None, perhaps, as bad the Red Sox loss to the (yes, New York) Mets in the '86 World Series. A sure out to give them the win in Game Six went through first-baseman Bill Buckner's legs and dribbled into the outfield. The Red Sox lost in seven games.

It got so bad, at one point, that RIck Pitino, then the coach of the then-terrible post-Larry Bird Celtics, described hyper-whining callers to local sports radio stations "the fellowship of the miserable." Even the Celtic's domination during the '60s and '80s couldn't soothe the suffering masses.

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Two weeks ago, Jim Nantz handed over the AFC title trophy to New England owner Bob Kraft, who earlier this year lost his wife, Myra, to cancer. The entire team played all season with her initials, MHK, stitched onto their game jerseys.

Accepting the honor on live TV, in a touching moment, Kraft kissed the trophy and pointed to the sky.

That Patriot win (er, gift) over Baltimore couldn't be put in the same league as Brady's comeback win over the Rams in '01. Or the Red Sox's miracle come-from-behind seven-game series win over the Yankees, courtesy of Curt Schilling's legendary Bloody Sock in 2004.

But it was another memorable jaw-dropper, and another golden moment in a town that's had quite a few over the past 10 years -- after having not much of anything at all.

If the Patriots can't get it done on Sunday, and the unthinkable happens, and we lose to the TTTMNBN -- again...

Well, we'll survive. We're quite used to living with long sports heartburn.

We wrote the book on it.

2 Comments

Danny said:

A sure out to give them the win in Game Six went through first-baseman Bill Buckner's legs and dribbled into the outfield.

That wouldn't have gave them the win. Th game was already tied. Leave Buckner alone already.

Comment posted on February 5, 2012 4:59 AM


EricG said:

Quite right...as Roger Clemens (pitcher for the Red Sox and eventual Yankee turncoat) once said, I "misremembered" that one. The game was tied, and the ball between Buckner's legs actually LOST Game Six. Which is actually worse than flubbing the chance to win it. Either way, it will never be forgotten. (Even incorrectly, in my case.)

He had two bad ankles, was hitting something like .150 against the Mets that series, and shouldn't have been in the game at all, save for Red Sox Manager John McNamara's fear and stubbornness to go with his veterans, even if they weren't capable of playing.

But it is, of course, forgiven. Buckner returned to cheers at Fenway Park, returning to play for the team in 1990, and again in 2008 when he helped unfurl the 2007 World Series Banner.

He was also, a cheerful co-player in an episode about his legacy on an episode of last years "Curb Your Enthusiasm" -- so the story still has legs. Even in 2011, with Buckner a happy participant. -- EG

Comment posted on February 5, 2012 11:20 AM
 
 
 
 
 
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