ATLANTA – In each of the past two years, I shared some personal reflections from the season on the morning of the Super Bowl.
Prior to Super Bowl LI, the focus was on embracing the journey.
Super Bowl LII, it was more about how the Patriots’ sustained success helped mark the passage of time for me in different ways.
This year, there is a behind-the-scenes story to share that reflects part of what makes covering the Patriots an enjoyable experience.
It was Christmas Eve, the day after the Patriots beat the Bills, and our two kids were on school vacation. My wife and I were working that day (there are truly no days off in football season), which meant I had company for a morning trip to Gillette Stadium as the assignment was to film something for work.
The Patriots’ staff is understanding of those family challenges, and as we parked the Honda Odyssey minivan and made our way toward the “security command” entrance, a black Tesla with tinted windows was pulling up towards the player’s parking lot.
As I motioned to the kids to step to the side so we weren’t in the middle of the lane, the car slowed and the window rolled down.
“Hi guys,” Tom Brady said as the car came to a stop. “Are you getting excited for Christmas?”
My kids, 9 and 6, didn’t quite know what to say. I’m not sure if there was shock that Tom Brady was in front of them, or they were blinded by the shiny silver door handle and couldn’t see who was driving, or if they didn’t know how to tell him that they celebrate Hanukkah like Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
No worries, the three-time NFL Most Valuable Player in the driver’s seat patiently led the discussion. The three of them conversed for a few minutes and Brady’s own kids, who are similar ages, were mentioned as they went over activities and sports they enjoy. Soon enough, we went on our way to get to work as I thought to myself about what had just happened, and how Brady easily could have avoided it by simply pulling into the player’s parking lot, unnoticeable behind the tinted windows.
So one of the first questions people ask me about covering the Patriots is often “What is Tom Brady really like?” – and now I have this new story to tell them.
When the best player and most fierce competitor on the team is also one of its kindest – but also understanding when professional criticism might be warranted — it adds a meaningful layer to what is already a dream job.
The Patriots have many players like that, and a case could be made that it is one of the secret ingredients to their success. It’s a high-quality locker room put together by Bill Belichick and that often helps them sustain through the inevitable ups and downs of the NFL season.
That parking-lot visit with Brady was unexpected, and so too is the team’s appearance in Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams.
Walking the streets of Atlanta the last few days while talking to various Patriots fans, many said part of the reason they were so excited is that they didn’t see this coming. After back-to-back losses in December that dropped the team to 9-5, many had come to grips that a Super Bowl trip didn’t have the most favorable odds.
But now that the Patriots are here, it has infused the franchise and its fan base with a new energy that is palpable. To draw approximately 35,000 fans to a Super Bowl sendoff rally, how do you explain that?
Meanwhile, the streets of Atlanta were overtaken by people in Patriots gear, and what I noticed is that every generation was accounted for. That link is something I’ve grown to appreciate more and more with sports, thinking back to the days when I was in the tailgate lots with my father and brother, the smiles in the old pictures bringing back memories of how much we enjoyed the togetherness of those Sunday mornings around football.
The kid in the backwards hat could have never dreamed what would soon happen, when it was time to put down the Budwesier and pick up the reporter’s notepad and iPhone: Nine Super Bowl appearances, with the next chapter set to unfold Sunday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Could have never seen that coming.
Which in many ways, led by a rare quarterback and person, is the theme of this Patriots season.