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    October 13, 2003
Can This be Love?
By:  RJ Gunns
PatsFans.com Fan Columnist

Good Morning Patriots Nation,

We've begun the journey we have to make to get to the Promised Land.

Comparing seasons is fine for nostalgic purposes, but what's the reality? One of the hallmarks of the 2001 Lombardi version Patriots was their incredible ability to win. Duh! (Seems rather obvious huh?) OK, by way of some explanation, a quick run down memory lane.

2001 started with a horrendous loss to Cincinnati (yeah, THAT Cincinnati) and the Week Two follow up vs. The J-E-T-S looked just as bad and included a fallen hero. Week Three, the Boys destroyed a Colt team and Patriot Nation was given a glimmer of hope. Then came the Meltdown in Miami and confirmation that 2001 was going to be a long and lost year.

Lo and behold, several new heroes arose from the ashes. Tom Terrific and his merry band of never-say-die patchwork Patriots played inspired football to beat a good San Diego team. That game was followed by another thrashing of the Colts and suddenly we stood at 3-3 with HOPE! Who were these no-name and over-the-hill guys anyway? David Patten (he of run-pass-catch TD fame in Indianapolis)? Bryan Cox (the Pathon Pounder.)? Tom Brady?

Flash forward to this season. The Blowout in Buffalo. A banished leader. A team in turmoil. A gutsy professional win in Philadelphia. A workmanlike effort vs. the J-E-T-S. A loss consisting of missed opportunities and missing players at Washington followed by a collective TEAM victory hosting Tennessee. This past weekend we witnessed the "ugly" win over the Giants. That UGLY win was a beautiful thing!

This team looks like it has the "IT." The HEART and DESIRE, not just to overcome adversity, but to demand that adversity rear it's ugly head so they can kick it in the teeth.

The aftermath of the win over the Giants has all the prognosticators and pundits wondering "what's wrong with the Giants?"

This is another beautiful thing. That very question implies a lack of understanding about the CHARACTER of this Patriots TEAM. That lack of understanding is more commonly referred to as "lack of respect." Right now, it looks like this Patriots TEAM is going to step squarely on the throat of Mr. Disrespect.

In 2001, the Patriots put forth great effort after great effort. That team won playing well. They won playing poorly. They won lucky. They won ugly. The bottom line was they won. To a man, they had pride, passion, guts, determination, desire, and they BELIEVED.

This season has begun in similar fashion to 2001. No, not the record and actual circumstances as much as the development and evolution of the commitment to TEAM. This year they have the added advantage of KNOWING what it takes and the memory of success and the subsequent failures of 2002.

They also have the advantage of better players, depth, experience, and the promise of good players returning from injury. This last will be like getting good players via trade when no opportunity actually exists to improve the roster once well into the season. The continued improvement and development of rookies and previous bit players and their positive contributions can only add to the opportunities this TEAM will have to claim it's place atop the NFL.

There came a point in 2001 when the players' heart-and-soul efforts made us say "I LOVE THIS TEAM!" That was said a whole bunch of times by a whole bunch of people.

There have been teams that I've sorta liked. There were teams that I've liked, but haven't been able to make that next step of emotional commitment. There were the teams that I knew just weren't going to work out emotionally for me (yeah, the signs to a 1-15 season were readily apparent.) There were even teams that I loved and they still broke my heart. In the end, it becomes a symbiotic relationship.

As a diehardcore fan (yeah, obviously nothing short of perfection is the dream goal) and aside from the reality of execution, talent, zebras, luck, etc., the TEAM has to WANT to WIN as completely as I WANT THEM TO WIN. Only then can I give my complete and utter devotion.

I'm beginning to fall in love with this TEAM...

All over again.

 RJ Gunns
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