It's been a funny thing for me to watch the New England Patriots go from NFL also-ran to dynasty of epic proportions. When I was growing up 10 miles from Foxboro Stadium -- at times named Sullivan Stadium, at times named Schaeffer Stadium -- our neighbors who were season ticket holders couldn't give their tickets away. I know because they often tried to give them to my father.
We were transplants from New York (yes, growing up a Yankees, Giants, Knicks and Rangers fan in Massachusetts was no cup of tea) and my dad's loyalties remained with the Giants. So if someone called and asked him to go see the Patriots -- invariably it seemed it would be to a late-season game (read: cold) -- he would ask me, "Why do I want to go and freeze my[gluteus maximus] off for?"
Because of our proximity to Foxboro (Foxborough is the official spelling but outdated "ugh" often gets dropped), we often saw Patriots players at random places. This was a pretty cool thing when you were a kid. I saw Andre Tippett on line once at Anne's Market in Franklin (my hometown), I think we saw linebacker Steve Nelson, who lived in neighboring Norfolk, at Franklin's Union Cafe. (This place, as Falcons linebackers Coach Glenn Pires -- a Mass. native himself -- can attest was a favorite haunt of Patriots for its cheap pizza and Narragansett beer on tap). I once got Steve Grogan's autograph at a restaurant on Route 1 just a mile or south of the stadium. I had to work up all my nerve to go and ask him. He was very nice.
I once dated a girl who lived a few houses down from the Patriots trainer in the lovely semi-rural hamlet of Sheldonville (officially a part of Wrentham). There was the time I met safety Tim Fox, at the stadium in a weight room, I believe, when my dad was working as a salesman, selling cleaning products and the Pats were a client. A girl I went to college with worked in Walpole on Route 1, just up from the stadium at a great wings place (J.D. Wingers, it was called), and I'd go up there to visit her on breaks. Went to see a U2 concert there back in '91, I think, and sat so high up I could hardly recognize Bono.
And then there was the time in 1982 that Franklin High beat Dartmouth in the Super Bowl at the stadium in Foxboro. My dad took me. The weather was pretty good, as I remember. (The Franklin High Panthers were not much of a football power -- if memory serves, Foxboro, a rival in our Hockomock League, was much better; our sport was hockey.)
But my favorite memory as a Giants fan was the final game of the 1990 regular season. I had tickets and went to see the Patriots, who were horrible that season, host the Giants. The Giants had stumbled down the stretch and the fact that they needed a late field goal to beat New England seemed to sign a death warrant for their playoff hopes. Somehow with Phil Simms out and Jeff Hostetler leading the charge, they made it all the way to the Super Bowl and beat Buffalo when Scott Norwood missed that infamous field goal.
Bill Parcells started to change that culture when he took over New England but Bill Belichick has truly done some unprecedented things there in the salary cap-era.
If the Falcons can win this one, no doubt it will certify them as ranking among the NFL's best this year. Feel sorry for all of those out there in what appears to be a driving rain. No fun.