As a 9 year old, my first taste of success as a football fan was the 1996-97 season when the Patriots led by Bill Parcells made it to the Super Bowl with a young up and coming team. When Brett Favre, Reggie White and the Packers outclassed the Pats in New Orleans, I vividly remember crying myself to sleep. This was also the first time a team I had ties to had gone anywhere in the playoffs, and it sucked.
Fast forward through the Red Sox winning two world championships and the Patriots dynasty and there hadn't been much to complain about since that time other than the Red Sox losing twice to the Yankees in the ALCS ('99 and '03). The Patriots were surely going to finish an undefeated season and go down as the greatest football team of all time. Brady would have his 4th Super Bowl, Belichick would do the same, and a new dynasty would take shape.
I watched Super Bowl XLII with a bunch of friends at college and when the final drive came up well short of field goal range, we all sat there in stunned silence. I went over to the TV, hit the power switch, and avoided all contact with media, sports, and anything that might make me rehash any memory of that game. To this day I have never seen any video clip, box score or article having to do with that game.
Last night, as Tom Brady's hail mary pass hit the ground a yard past Rob Gronkowski's outstreched hands, I prepared myself to do the same thing. I wasn't going to display my frustration on twitter or facebook or watch Sportscenter or listen to sports radio on the way to and from work like I normally do. I didn't think I could deal with Giants fans, the New York media, the Boston media picking apart every play. I couldn't deal with the pink hats placing blame on small points in the game that really had little to do with the outcome.
Then this morning I realized that this game and this season were just different. Sure, members of the media and the Giant players are running their mouths and deservedly so. There was no luck involved, the Giants deserved to win the Super Bowl. They had a terrific gameplan, and made the plays they needed to make to win the game. The refs didn't play a part in the game. No matter how it is normally called, Tom threw the ball away under pressure in the pocket and in the end zone, and the refs got the call right.
Expressing my thoughts on the game is a much better feeling than trying to duck the aftermath of the biggest event of the year. It still hurts as a fan, knowing that everything this franchise hangs their hat on was what went against them and cost them the Super Bowl. Certain players did not "do their job", players that we are so used to making every play. Clock management and preparation was not on our side, and we did not jump on the opposing team when we had a chance to put the game away. Receivers who never drop balls seemed to drop everything. Tom, although I thought he played much better than people are giving him credit for, certainly could have played better.
I think that the right people are taking accountability for the loss, and that's really what will help this team in the future. Instead of waiting for next season and forgetting it all I think what this organization has to do is stand by their foundation, learn from the mistakes of this game, and address areas of need. I'm starting to see this year's team for what it is, and I urge you as a Patriot fan to do the same. It was a young team patched up with undrafted rookies playing huge roles, players playing out of position, and a core group of extremely young players who got a valuable experience of playing on the biggest of stages before they hit their prime.
We will get in to what this team has to do moving forward as far as personnel in our RTB radio show this week, but one point that cannot go without saying is that Tom Brady has somewhere between three and five years left of playing at a top level if he remains healthy, and this organization has to do everything in their power to surround him with talent and taking another run at that elusive fourth ring. Welker needs to sign, they need to lock up Gronk and Hernandez long term, and they need a deep threat to stretch the defense and open up those three. The defense obviously needs help but I think the way they played in the playoffs will be a launching point for what has the potential of being a championship caliber unit.