Bill Belichick has led the New England Patriots into being one of the best teams in NFL history. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE

New England Patriots on Paper: Hope...and cheeseburgers

Being just a casual Patriots’ fan is like being just mildly interested in breathing.  Or in eating cheeseburgers.

If you are not passionate about them, then you are taking them for granted.

These things are all around us.  Why, in Lewiston alone you can’t walk two blocks without coming across a burger joint or someone in Patriots’ gear –  and the only time you don’t notice the air you’re breathing is if the breeze is coming from the south.  Otherwise, you still smell the burgers – and whatever that other thing is…

That thing has never been properly explained, and is not brought up in most circles, either.  It’s just kind of there, which may explain the enormous number of restaurants, corner stores and street vendors in town, their hood ventilation systems pumping the aroma of cheeseburgers into the heavy air.  It’s like Lewiston’s cologne.

These things are tolerated.  It’s either that or move away, but small town inertia creates a difficult paradox.  You want to move, but the rapidly spinning vortex located at the center of every New England town has a constant gravitational effect that, eventually, sucks you towards it’s core – then spits you into nothingness.

In the interim, hard-core fans concentrate on their sports teams to keep their minds off of the inevitable – and when the teams suck or are struggling, we tend to stem on their every movement, desperately seeking The Answer.

The casual fan will whine and complain that the Patriots have lost three of their first six games, then go back to watching reruns of Fear Factor. “I mean, after all, they never lose more than three games for a whole season, right?” they will muse, distractedly.  “This is Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and the Gronk kid – and that big dude on defense – they won all of those trophies, and now they suck?”

The passionate, hard-core fan?  Well, now that I think about it, we kind of take them granted as well, but on a much deeper level.  We don’t question them when they’re struggling.  We just analyze and break down the issue, which eventually leads to frustration and high blood pressure.  But no matter what level of fandom you believe yourself to be in, we all have one failsafe, one default setting that we can fall back on when we finally realize that we have no idea what we’re talking about:

In Bill we trust.

We’ve been so spoiled by the tremendous success the team has had for the past dozen years since Bill Belichick changed the fortunes of the Patriots that we come to automatically expect them to go 13-3 every year and host the AFC Championship game.

This team has been so good for so long, that the kids who were born the year that New England started their magical run are now in middle school.

Think about that for a second or two.  Kids born after the beginning of the millenium have not known a Patriots’ team that sucked.  Their parents, however, know that feeling all to well – yet we still fall short of rendering this team the respect that they are due for the recent successes.

In the history of professional football,  a run of success like what the Patriots have strung together is rare.  Consider what we have been witness to since 2000:  The Patriots have won 9 division titles, compiling a record of 158 – 62, roughly translating to 13 wins annually.  They have been to the AFC Championship game in 6 of those seasons, winning 5 times and advancing to the Super Bowl, of which they have won 3.

Ah, the memories…even my 8 year old son has fond memories which extend back before even his birth.  That’s right, he was a fan in the pre-life.  In February of 2004 I was watching the Patriots play the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII with a couple of my kids and my very pregnant wife.  The game was a defensive struggle until the second half, when both teams started scoring at will.

The tensions were high and it was indeed a roller coaster ride for the ages.  About halfway through the 4th quarter, my wife grabbed my hand and placed it on her belly.  “He’s goin’ nuts”, she claimed – and sure enough, he was kicking to beat the band – and when Adam Vinatieri lined up for the game-winning kick, he started going after internal organs…

We all have memories like this, well maybe not our unborn sons beating the crap out of their mothers from the inside, but pleasant memories nonetheless.  Like, where you were when Vinatieri hit the game winning field goal against the Rams for the Patriots first title.  Did you have tears in your eyes?  I sure as hell did….

What were we talking about?  I kind of strayed from the topic.  Or maybe not.

The truth is that the New England Patriots are ingrained in us, and whether we are a casual fan or the die-hard, won’t-watch-SportsCenter-for-three-days-if-they-lose variety, their many successes and infrequent failures affect us all.  We all have our memories, we all breath oxygen and we all love cheeseburgers – well, all except those vegetarian perverts – and it is in our nature to take all of these things for granted.

The past decade has catapulted the New England Patriots from lovable losers to one of the most successful franchises in NFL History, all under the tenure and leadership of Owner Robert Kraft, Head Coach Bill Belichick and some guy playing quarterback named Tom Brady.

So the Patriots have set their bar so incredibly high for so long, that we are disappointed with a season that finds them struggling along at .500.  So perhaps we sould take a few minutes as we wait for the game to start this afternoon and take inventory of what this team has meant to all of us and the memories they have given us.

Naw, screw that.  You play to win the game, as Herm Edwards so eloquently stated during his now infamous rant following a New York Jets’ loss back when he was their coach.  A winning culture can transform a city, a state or an entire region.  It can give hope where there seems to be none…

…and hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing a football team can give it’s fans – and hope is something that can never be taken for granted.

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