December 30, 2009
Getting A Groove Back
BY: Kevin Rousseau
If I'm honest with you, I would admit that it has not come easy for me this year.
Maybe it's because if you do a column on a certain topic (the Patriots) for seven straight years it can be a little hard to write something original. After all this time, just about every defensive scheme, brilliant comeback, Idle Zinger Thought, and coaching decision imaginable has been debated and written upon in this space.
Or perhaps it's the recent tugging of obligations in my personal life--good ones, mind you, like the kids becoming little people, Coast Guard reserve service, town fire committees…you name it--that make sitting down and banging out a column that is worth both your time and mine worth reading.
But when a good column comes around in my head, it gives off a buzz that makes me go to sleep with a smile on my face. You might giggle but it's true. The one after the Baltimore game earlier this year was good and so was the Tennessee-Snow-In-October submission. But when you have to work at it and force it, well, most of the time it looks worked and forced, doesn't it.
And then suddenly, it comes back. The ability to put it all together into something that resembles a conversation where you and I sit across a table while sharing a beverage and talking Pats. It would have been easy to throw in the towel but it is gratifying when it finally starts to click again.
In some ways, it's eerily similar to how the Patriots are seemingly hitting their stride heading into the playoffs after a pleasant 35-7 win over a halfway decent Jacksonville team last Sunday. It wasn't for a lack of trying that the team wasn't hitting on all cylinders in recent misfires down in Miami or New Orleans. Like in my case, it had to be frustrating knowing that you had a better performance in you but for whatever reason it wasn't rising to the surface. But the team kept working the Rubik's Cube in mediocre December wins against Carolina and Buffalo. And when it finally comes together like it did against Jacksonville, it makes all that cube turning worth it.
In both budding democracies and the NFL, there are certain truths that are indeed self-evident. And one of them is that in this decade the Patriots always seem to hit their stride come playoff time. Many teams try to win championships in October. The Vikings, Saints and after Sunday's fiasco the Colts could all be the 2009 poster child for such early peaking. Maybe the Patriots will lay an egg in the playoffs due to lack of a pass rush or a bona fide stud running back. Or perhaps the defense will continue to keep most opponents to a reasonable amount of points and Tom Brady will set the world on fire. All scenarios are on the table as the calendar turns to January.
But when the book is closed on the 2009 year, whether it is on Wild Card Weekend or on Super Bowl Sunday, it will be safe to conclude that this was not the dreaded "falloff year" that my pre-2004 Red Sox psyche worries about at the beginning of every Patriots season. No one wants to have a team that isn't relevant when the team turns to January. Someday the Patriots will be. But not this year.
Perhaps it's that I'm worried that the gameday memories will start to dry up. There have been so many over the years that bring a smirk to my face. The time some stoned-out guy asked my 65 year-old father if he wanted some pot as we were leaving the parking lot. Or earlier that night when Mark flipped out when I didn't exactly understand the thaw part of a "thaw and serve" banana cream pie. Or Joe debating the merits of purchasing a $20 throwback knit hat for weeks on end. I hope I never forget the look on Matt's face when I handed him his Christmas gift this year. It was a Laurence Maroney doll and "Ha ha, Matt. The best part is that the football that it comes with is already out of his hands." H sure went bananas a few hours later when the subject of said doll fumbled at the goal line against the Jags.
I guess what I'm getting at is that the Patriots have been a personal vehicle for extending friendships to wonderful levels that may be hard to duplicate in many other settings. It's the picture on the desk at work of the gang in Dallas during the roadtrip a few years back or later that year after the AFC Championship was won. It's the inner joy of making Mark roll his eyes incredulously for the 3,548th time at something ridiculous I have just said in the 16 years of games we have shared.
If I keep peeling back the layers of this emotional onion, the Patriots memories that have happened because of all this winning have also shaped great, lasting memories with the ones I love the most. When I say it's "Tennessee Titans Cold" to my brother, he nods in appreciation. I smile when I think how cute my wife looked in her Patriots breast cancer awareness hat at the Ravens game earlier this year. Perhaps someday I will write a whole column on how the dynamic of Patriots games has shaped the relationship between my dad and I over the years from a pre-schooler to a guy who has some gray hair on the side of his head now.
And when I think of my dear Grandfather Don who died in August, one of the memories that comes immediately to mind is that overtime win that Drew Bledsoe engineered against the Vikings in 1994. It might have been the last game we went to together. But what I remember is his patented eternal optimism that the Patriots were going to come back and win the game and then the memory of us tumbling down two or three rows in exultation after Kevin Turner caught the ball in the corner of the end zone in overtime. That warm memory dulls the pain I still feel when I still instinctively reach to pick up the phone to check in on him.
Life evolves and changes. One day you are walking through the blueberry fields on a dirt path as a kid with your dad going to see Steve Grogan play. Then before you know it, you're thinking that maybe those awful pre-season tickets may have some value to you next year if you can bring the little ones and your dad to get a new picture for the desk. But the one constant has been that team on Route 1.
Maybe the reason that I get so wrapped up about the "falloff year" is that I worry that somehow this experience will dry up and vanish. Yet, the Patriots never disappoint me. I should know that I've been around long enough to know that life moves in up and down cycles and riding them out makes the ups so much sweeter at the end of the day.
Whether it's finally getting your writing groove back or putting it all together for a playoff run with shellacking of the Jaguars.
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