If you had told me about 10 months ago, when Tom Brady’s 4 game suspension was reinstated, that I would get to stand at the New England Patriots Super Bowl LI Victory Parade, I might have doubted you for just a moment. I’d seen what this team has been capable of with Brady as their leader for over 15 years now, but without his leadership and unparalleled talent, the first quarter of the season seemed at that moment to have been thrown into complete jeopardy. If you had told me back in early December, after I heard that our ever-reliable superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski was having season-ending back surgery, that I would be at this parade, again, I may have been slightly hesitant to believe you. Most of all, if you had told me in the third quarter of Sunday’s Super Bowl LI that I would be at this parade, I wouldn’t even have heard you, because I was in the midst of a complete and total nervous breakdown.
But at the parade I was, amidst one million of my best friends, and only upon seeing Tom Terrific raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy above his beautiful head could I truly believe in the reality of the situation.
Tom Brady and company proved in the fourth quarter (the only one that matters) of this year’s Super Bowl that they deserved to carry the title of world champions once more. It looked grim for quite a while – down 25 points in the third quarter grim – so grim, in fact that some people simply went to bed rather than watch the horrific game play out any further. But any true Patriot’s fan knows that it ain’t over ’til it’s over. We learned that the hard way against the Giants in 2008…and again in 2012, we were reminded of it in a good way in 2015 when the Seahawks didn’t run the ball on the 1 yard line, and the faithful were rewarded once more after hours of agony on Sunday, when Brady reminded us all just how clutch of a player he is.
For the majority of Super Bowl LI, it appeared that the Patriots did not deserve to win. The defense was all but nonexistent, the running game was laughable, and it seemed like more of Brady’s passes were being dropped than caught. After what I can only assume was one hell of a half-time speech, along with a jolt of urgency to perform as the game clock dwindled, the Patriots we’d been watching all season finally decided to show up and shock the world with the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time.
While millions of people celebrated the victory well into Monday morning, many more hung their heads in disbelief or even screamed out in anger at the fact that the ever-villainous New England Patriots had won yet another championship. Five in 15 years does seem a little excessive, right? Yet, any member of Patriots Nation could tell you that this one – One More – was different and much more important than any other.
There’s no stronger wrath than that of a man who has been wronged, and no greater motive to bring home a trophy than in honor of an ill mother, and Tom Brady had both the wrath and the motive. The fact that Brady may or may not have been “generally aware” of a minor infraction, one that had been made by a handful of other teams in the past, never seemed like a fair trade for $1 million, a first round draft pick, and a 4 game suspension for Brady– especially with the knowledge that alleged rapists and domestic abusers have faced equal or even lesser punishments. Because of all this, Pats fans knew that Brady would return to the NFL with a vengeance, and that he did, performing better at age 39 than maybe ever before. This final win was certainly a bold response to questions surrounding Brady’s integrity as a player and person, and while it’s fun to think of this performance as Brady’s Deflategate Revenge Tour, it’s also not quite as simple as that either. It wasn’t important to win this Super Bowl just to in order to tell NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell where he can shove it, although there has been a fair amount of that going around. It was also important to prove that when those in authority want to abuse their power and push others around, a good man won’t let it get to him. The mass scrutiny didn’t break Brady – it didn’t even come close. He channeled his frustration to generate a whole new kind of greatness, showing the world once and for all who the greatest quarterback of all time is, and doing so with the utmost class. While New England’s loyal-to-a-fault fanbase knew that no ludicrous scandal could detract from or deny the Patriots’ pure skill and dedication, this victory showed the nation, a nation that could hardly bear to watch, that this team doesn’t need to cheat to win championships, so why would they? Patriots owner Bob Kraft summed up this sentiment, with some added shade, perfectly when he said, “A lot has transpired over the last two years, and I don’t think that needs any explanation. I want to say to our fans, brilliant coaching staff and players who are so spectacular, this is unequivocally the sweetest.”
After the win, the only thing left to do was bring trophy number five home. The parade day forecast was a “real-feel” of 17 degrees with a 100% chance of precipitation – a wintery mix of snow, sleet, and rain – and Patriots fans wouldn’t have had it any other way. Despite the numbing cold, the crowds on Boylston Street yesterday doubled those of Marathon Monday. People of all ages, races, creeds, and backgrounds gathered in Boston, united by one common love. Parents pulled their kids out of school and people took the day off from work even if they couldn’t necessarily afford to, all to celebrate an odds-defying team who wanted nothing more than to celebrate with all of us. There was dancing in the streets, five shiny Lombardi trophies, and a lively-looking Gronk who must have shotgunned upwards of 30 beers.
In the middle of this joyously chaotic scene yesterday, it struck me then more than ever that there is no such thing as a bandwagon Patriots fan. Maybe there was, 20 years ago, when Drew Bledsoe pulled the team into relevancy, but ever since – my whole lifetime actually – they’ve been consistently good, and sometimes, even spectacular. That’s precisely why the numbers at the parade were so large and why so many people claimed they “never had a doubt” that the Pats could pull it off the win.
Patriots fans are often called out as the “most obnoxious,” and I’ve seen a fair share of internet trolls claim that their problems aren’t most prominently with Brady, Belichick, or the team as a whole, but with the fans. I would not say that this belief is necessarily unfair, but I do think it does lack a certain understanding.
Massachusetts is a state largely defined by it’s unique and undying sports culture, something that differentiates it from really anywhere else in the country. Patriots fans are home-grown and home-raised. New Englanders are taught to drive fast, drop their “R”s, speak their minds, drink Dunks, and above all, worship The Patriots. There’s no big state schools, and therefore no college sports culture to rival the South or Midwest. There’s only the professional level, and when these teams are good, it’s great, and when they’re bad, you stick with ‘em because this is a place that breeds loyalty, and what else is there to do in a place where the air hurts your face eight months out of the year?
Contrast this sports culture with any other, and maybe one can begin to see that our pride has a bit of validity to it. After all, the Atlanta Falcons did have to cancel their Super Bowl rally in Houston on Saturday due to a lack of fan support. Call me crazy if you must, but I think that maybe, just maybe, an enthusiastic, verging on obnoxious, fanbase can help win games.
So what if it is the New England Patriots against the world? Heavy lies the head that wears a crown, and that’s the way we like it. I truly believe the Patriots have earned everything they have achieved. They have the best coaches in the world, and the team has been built from the ground up. The Patriots have taken the cast-offs – the undrafted, the 6th round draft picks – and transformed them into stars. Their work ethic is unparalleled, and the charismatic community the team has built is uniquely their own. Hell, I’m not entirely convinced that they didn’t let the Falcons run up the score in the first half, just so they could show us the greatest Super Bowl comeback in history (kidding…maybe).
I know for a fact that I will never again doubt the power of Brady and Belichick, and I feel nothing but grateful to have been born a Patriot and to carry with me all that comes with that title.
Photo One . All other photos courtesy of the author