MINNEAPOLIS – Last year on the morning of the Super Bowl, I posted a note about how the 2016 season was a meaningful journey regardless of how the game would unfold.
In that note, there was an understanding that if the result was not favorable to the Patriots, we might not be connecting for a bit, because there’s a blackout period some followers go through after a Super Bowl loss. It hurts for many, and I learned all about that in 2007 and 2011.
This year’s note has a little different feeling, and it captures what has been at the forefront of my thinking for a good part of the week: How the Patriots’ 17-year run of success under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady has lasted so long that it serves as a benchmark to note the passage of time/memorable events for those connected to the team.
As our lives evolve, with so many changes along the way, the team and its success has been a constant.
One way I think about that:
Daughter born in 2009. She’s never experienced a non-playoff season.
Son born in 2012. He just expects dad to work into mid-to-late January/early February every year at this point.
There are other ways I mark the time as it relates to football.
For example, I’m reminded of the length of Stephen Gostkowski’s career every time I think of our dog. Has it really been 12 years already? Yes, because the first day our beagle was howling in our home was July of 2006 when I returned from Madison, Mississippi from a trip to profile the rookie kicker who would try to replace legendary Adam Vinatieri.
The first question I ever asked Bill Belichick in a news conference was about a cornerback named Leonard Myers, who never broke through. That was late in the 2001 season — I had waited weeks to muster up the strength to do so — and my heart was pounding. I was nervous, just trying to find my way, 17 years ago.
My best pal’s wedding in California? Easy to remember; that was October of 2003 and I wasn’t going to miss it. That’s the last time I didn’t attend a Patriots home game; a 17-6 win over the Giants in which linebacker Matt Chatham had a 38-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
There have been hundreds of trips to Gillette Stadium since that time – preseason games, opening-night celebrations, playoff games.
Another memory from way back: There were times in the early 2000s that I would leave the press box hours before kickoff, walk to the Foxboro Terminals tailgate lot across from Papa Gino’s on Rte. 1, and visit family and friends while handing out the official depth chart. Can’t do that anymore with Twitter, which pretty much changed everything around 2010. Have to keep a close eye on warmups, post the inactives when they are released, and an added bonus is seeing Tom Brady and other teammates showing up at the stadium. Covering the pre-game is part of the gig now.
From the big-picture perspective, one of the things that has stood out to me in recent years is the growing feeling in certain circles that it is inevitable the Patriots will win each week. They’ve done it so often that anything less than a championship is a disappointment to some.
That’s a high bar to reach, yet another reminder of the passage of time. It wasn’t like that in 2001, when the Patriots were the lovable underdog. Today, they’re usually the favorite, even though it seldom seems to come easy to them. They work extremely hard for whatever they get, which I see on a daily basis.
On Sunday, they’ll play in their eighth Super Bowl under Belichick and Brady. This 17-year run has covered close to half my lifetime — from mid-20s single guy to early-40s father of two with a wonderful wife.
Hard to believe.