By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
At halftime of today’s 26-10 beat down of the Los Angeles Rams – a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated, and ironically marked Tom Brady’s NFL record 201st victory over the franchise that began the Patriots dynasty with a win in Super Bowl 36 – the Patriots honored the 2001 team that started an unprecedented run of excellence that the salary cap was designed to never let happen. It was a watershed moment for a region that had dubbed itself “Loserville,” and began a run of sporting excellence that likely will never be duplicated in American professional sports.
For those of us, who can remember life without cell phones, getting your sports scores from a newspaper, and having to listen to Patriot home games on the radio because Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium hardly ever sold out; that February night in 2002 marked an occasion few Boston sports fans ever let themselves believe was possible.
To educate the Millennials, who believe it is your birthright as a Bostonian to witness a rolling rally for one of the local four professional franchises that call the Hub of the Universe home at least every other year, your parents and your parents’ parents know differently. Prior to the revolutionary season that was 2001, the Patriots were the Keystone Kops of the National Football League.
Other than brief spurts in the mid 1970’s, 1986 and 1996, the franchise was more Mickey Mouse than Disney World. Every step forward was met with a more embarrassing tumble down the stairs to the bottom of the league, and every sniff of success was followed by the stench of being a second-rate organization that couldn’t shoot straight. Even the best owner the city of Boston has ever known when it comes to professional sports stumbled when he first started out, beginning a blood feud with the head coach that saved the future of football in New England; Bill Parcells.
That being said, the success of the ’01 Super Bowl Champion Patriots transformed a region in more ways than anyone could have thought possible at the time. Viewed as a second-tier team, at best, to start the season; the roller coaster ride that this band of brothers would take the six state region resigned to have their hearts broken anytime their favorite team had a chance to win a title, and deliver them to a place they never thought they could reach.
The more seasoned Pats fan will reluctantly remember the 1976 roughing the passer call against the Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoff game in Oakland, when the Patriots seemed poised to challenge for a championship for the first time in their 16 year history. Others will remember the drubbing they took against the Green Bay Packers in 1996, when their head coach was being wooed by the New York Jets during the week leading up to the Super Bowl.
So entering the game for all the marbles against the Greatest Show on Turf in New Orleans on February 3rd, 2001, although Pats fans hoped for the best, most expected the worst as they entered the game as massive underdogs. Local sports writer/curmudgeon/plagiarist Ron Borges famously predicted that the Patriots would lose 73-0 against the highly favored Rams. Such were the expectations for this under-appreciated squad.
However, as history would have it, the group of underrated individuals who overcame losing their “franchise” quarterback – who was replaced by the greatest to ever have played the position – found a way, like the country who was reeling from the 9/11 attacks, and bonded together to do what few thought was possible – win against all odds, and refuse to bow to adversity.
So, if you have a few minutes this Sunday evening, take time to view the recap of the remarkable run that was the 2001 Patriots season. Reminisce about how amazing the beginning of what has been a nearly two-decade run of excellence in a league that is designed to breed parity. Celebrate the Snow Bowl, the Tuck Rule, The Kick, The Kid, and the Super Bowl Championship that no one saw coming.
And remember, if just for a moment, what it was like to be the underdog, something Pats fans haven’t experienced since that week in the Big Easy, almost 15 years ago. Enjoy it once again, because it was a time that may never be repeated, a time when winning wasn’t expected, and expectations were exceeded in a mind-blowing fashion.
There will be plenty of time left this season to bemoan the loss of Rob Gronkowski, or bitch about the defense. However, without that group of 53 guys who changed the history of a franchise that was all about futility before them, your Sundays would never be what they are today.