- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2002

NEW ORLEANS — As Adam Vinatieri got ready to kick the field goal that would change New England Patriots history Sunday night, Tom Brady thought to himself: I don't want to go to overtime with these guys [meaning the Rams]. How well Patriots fans know that feeling of dread. After 41 years of not winning championships AFL or NFL they almost expect something to go wrong at such moments. They hope for the best but fear the worst.
I know. I spent a good part of my life in New England and covered the team for a Massachusetts newspaper in '78 and '79. What an experience that was. The first year, the Patriots won their division, but the season ended in turmoil because coach Chuck Fairbanks decided to take the job at the University of Colorado. When the story broke, hours before the regular-season finale at Miami, owner Billy Sullivan suspended Fairbanks and had his two coordinators take over the team. Fairbanks was reinstated for the playoff game, but the Pats to the surprise of no one came out flat and got hammered.
The next year they didn't make the playoffs at all, even though they were good enough to score 50 points twice (something the exalted Rams didn't do once this season). That was the Patriots for you. They'd break your heart if you gave them half a chance.
I can remember them winning a huge game against Buffalo near the end of '66. Jim Nance ran through tacklers like they were turnstiles. All the Patriots had to do was beat the Jets the next week and they would have gone to the title game. And this wasn't just any title game; the winner would face the NFL champ in the first Super Bowl. But the Patriots didn't beat the Jets, of course. Joe Namath saw to that.
It was like that for four decades. The Patriots would have a good team, but it wasn't quite good enough. Or their team would be good enough, but something bizarre would happen to throw it off course. Or their team would look like it was going to be good, and then it would fall completely apart.
They started out 6-1 in '74 and didn't make the playoffs. They started out 6-1 in '80 and missed the playoffs again. They started out 6-2 two years ago and barely finished .500.
I wonder if Brady understands this. I wonder if he's realizes, truly realizes, what the Patriots' 20-17 win over the Rams means to the people of New England. After all, he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area during the glory years of Joe Montana. He was at Candlestick Park in '81, barely out of diapers, when Dwight Clark made "The Catch" that gave the 49ers their first NFC title. Five times the Niners went to the Super Bowl. Five times they won.
The Patriots' track record has been a little different. The first time they went to the Super Bowl, in '85, the Bears mauled them, 46-10. When they returned in '96, Brett Favre threw a touchdown pass on the Packers' first offensive play. They probably should have gone to the Super Bowl in '76, too, but Ben Dreith made the worst roughing-the-passer call I've ever seen and cost them a playoff game at Oakland. (The Pats had crushed the Raiders, 48-17, earlier that season. They were unquestionably the better club.)
That's why nobody in New England felt guilty when the Patriots got the luckiest break of the playoffs this year Brady's fumble against Oakland that, after further review, was changed to an incomplete pass. To anyone who has followed the team over the decades, that was just a case of the scales balancing. That was a call the Pats had coming to them.
The Patriots aren't the only Boston team that has had its miseries of late. In their restless sleep, Red Sox rooters still see the ground ball go through Bill Buckner's legs in the '86 World Series. Then there are the Bruins. In Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals in '88, the lights went out at Boston Garden and the league had to cancel the game. Not exactly a great advertisement for the city. Even the Celtics, with all their championship banners, have fallen on hard times. It's been tough being a New England sports fan in recent years.
But one game, one kick, one quarterback changed all that. No longer is someone somewhere sticking pins in a Patriots doll. No longer is Miss Fortune the Pats' annual prom date. I mean, how bad can your luck be when you lose your starting QB in Week 2 and still win the Super Bowl?


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