"Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned but heaven hath no sweetness like a sports fan vindicated." - Samcat

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Keeping Faith

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(If I ever lose my faith in you,
There’d be nothing left for me to do. – Sting)

Some people travel home for Thanksgiving. Some travel home for Christmas. Me, I travel home for Super Bowl Sunday. It’s true that I make the journey for the aforementioned holidays as well but if there’s one tradition I’d never consider breaking, it’s being home for the Super Bowl.

This doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. I’m a Patriots fan and I live on the outskirts of Boston, Hub of the Patriots Universe. Surely, Dover, New Hampshire is no closer to the center of Patriot Nation than my own apartment on the South Shore. But geography be damned, I’m going home for the Super Bowl.

I suppose it might be a superstition thing. The last two times the Pats have won the big game, I’ve been sitting in my parents’ house in the same blue arm chair in the living room. The first year, in 2001, I fell into it in disbelief after watching Tom Brady lead the game-winning drive to set up Adam Vinatieri’s field goal and watched the ball sail through the uprights from 48 yards out with my mouth gaping open. Last year, I flopped down defiantly while mumbling under my breath, “You’ve missed the first two, lead foot, gonna make it 0 for 3?” while my brother shook his head at me and said, “Kristen, it’s gonna be fine, we’ve seen this story before.” And you can bet that I don’t plan to be very far away from that chair tomorrow night when the game’s on the line.

But aside from that, there’s just something very cool about being part of the family that’s hosting the Super Bowl party. My parents are partiers, always have been and, god willing, always will be. Since they got married over thirty years ago, they’ve always been the center of the party universe. Simply speaking, when there’s a party to be had, there’s a good bet that Rick and Sue are doing the hosting. Super Bowl is no different. About five years ago, despite the protestations of my mother that we “did not need a 60-inch television,” we got one anyway, complete with the full surround-sound, DVD, stereo system. Handy that, since the Pats were soon in the Bowl.

If we’d ever had a problem getting people to leave after parties before, we need a smoke bomb to get them out now. Attendance has grown steadily over the years as well. We’ve gone from having five or six people over, with everyone munching on chips and pretzels and comfortably seated with plenty of room to spread out to this years’ anticipated turnout of thirty plus with nothing short of a full buffet and floor space at a premium. In addition to the usual suspects – my parents, brother, myself, Paul and Ann, Pat and Fred and Jill – I’ve got at least eight friends of my own coming. That includes an Eagles fan (we may make him watch in the basement on a tiny, black and white TV), two Steelers fans (my Dad promised to only ask them once how they want their Roethlisberger grilled) and my friend’s Dominican boyfriend who knows nothing about “this American football” but is already quite familiar with the word and concept of “cheerleader.”

My mom is making a thirty pound spiral ham, Scott is bringing gallons of chili, Ann will bring her usual shrimp cocktail and Katherine has promised eleven pounds of a tasty-sounding bean concoction. And beer. Lots and lots of beer.

This has become such a tradition that I’ve gone so far as to take Monday off from work. This, after driving back to Boston after the game last year and being so pumped up that I failed to notice a piece of wood in the road that had nefarious designs on my right rear tire. And the tow truck driver I called to come and change it? Not happy that he had to leave his Super Bowl turned victory party. Not happy at all. So for his sake and the sake of my frontal lobe which will be marinating in Sam Adams come game time tomorrow, I shall stay at my parents’ house after the game.

As for the game itself, I am far too nervous about this – witness my fingernails which have been bitten down to bloody nubs – to make a prediction. I fail to understand how all the experts can be so damn confident. The Eagles are a good team. More than capable of an upset. I’ve heard all the arguments. I was listening to them on WEEI today on my drive from Weymouth to Dover. I found myself yelling at the radio, my most common exclamation, “But, still.”

Pete Shepard: “The Steelers beat the crap out of the Eagles and the Patriots beat the crap out of the Steelers.”
Me: “Yeah, but still.
Shepard: “Just ‘cause the Eagles had a good record, it doesn’t mean anything. They’re in the NFC which is a far inferior conference to the AFC.”
Me: “Okay, but still.”
Shepard: “There is no coach and quarterback combination more successful or more unbeatable than Belichick and Brady.”
Me: “Okay, I see what you’re saying, but still.”

And it went on like that for the entire trip. We’ve been arguing this over at Beth’s blog in the Three (Four?) Chicks Talk Football entries. And I can’t help replaying the predictions from the last two Pats’ Super Bowls over and over in my head. The Rams were 14-point favorites. And look what happened. We brushed off Carolina last year and they damn near won the thing. Upsets are possible. Very possible.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have the utmost faith in Belichick, Brady, Bruschi and Big Willie and the Teds. It’s just to say that, as a lifelong New England sports fan, I’m conditioned to be worried. This is why I can’t see myself, as some people are arguing, turn into the NFL equivalent of a Yankees fan. I am cautiously optimistic, not overconfident. And I sure as hell am not guaranteeing victory.

If I were a religious person, I’d probably be saying a prayer to the football gods now. Clearly God is too busy healing T.O. to take much notice of me but that doesn’t mean that I’m not seriously considering lighting some candles and intoning the name of Tom Brady over and over. It doesn’t mean that I won’t lead my friends in a rousing rendition of “The Vrabel Song” tomorrow. Come on, sing along to the tune of “The Dreidel Song.”

Vrabel, Vrabel, Vrabel,
You’re not made out of clay.
Oh, Vrabel, Vrabel, Vrabel
Football you do play!

And it certainly doesn’t mean that I’ll say anything as preposterous and presumptuous as “We’ve got this one covered. No chance.” No way, no how. You’ll never hear such bold assertions from me. I am far too conditioned to expect the worst. Let’s put it this way, after Vinatieri’s kick split the uprights last year and sent everyone into déjà vu delirium, I sat down and softly said, “There’s still four seconds left.” And only after the Pats had sufficiently pummeled Carolina’s Rod Smart into the turf and the clock read all zeros did I start jumping around and screaming like a crazy person. It’s the same reason that I was relatively charitable to Yankees fans immediately following the ALCS. I waited until the World Series was over before making choking noises in their presence. Because if any team could come back from three games down in one series and promptly blow a three game lead in the next series, it would be the Red Sox.

I guess this is my way of saying that, despite what the stats and the talking heads and the experts are telling me, I can’t be overconfident. I don’t have it in me. Even if I wanted to trash talk, I wouldn’t know how. Yes, I love my team like, as Mer says, family and I will defend them against anyone who dares speak ill of them, but I also realize that all the love in the world is not enough to make them win the game. They still have to go out there and perform. Belichick, Weiss and Crennel still have to develop a bulletproof game plan. Brady still has to make his reads and play within himself, keeping mistakes to a minimum. Tedy Bear, Big Willie Style and Vrabel still have to make their tackles and not allow big gains. Adam still has to kick ‘em straight.

I believe the Patriots absolutely can win the game. And everyone tells me they should. I hope that’s the case. I really do. We’re losing both our offensive and defensive coordinators next year so who knows how good we’ll be in years to come? I’m tired of the hypothetical questions and would rather the definitive declaration of “dynasty” be bestowed upon my team while the lineman can still walk. I don’t expect anyone to rename the Lombardi trophy anytime soon and I expect that Brady will always run a distant second to Manning, stats wise, but I’m okay with that. I just want the best for my team.

I refuse to be cocky. I refuse to be arrogant. Perhaps I’ve learned that from my team. Or, more likely, it’s been ingrained in me since birth. “We could still lose this, you know.” So tomorrow, as the flashbulbs flash and the smoke clears, I will put my faith squarely in the capable hands of Tom Brady and the cranium of Bill Belichick and I will cheer my heart out. Come on, boys, bring it home.

Go Pats!