Three AFC Championships in eight years and four Super Bowl appearances in 19 years.
Forget Green Bay. Foxboro, MA 02035 is now the NFL's real "Titletown."
Make no mistake. The Foxboro Faithful are a large reason why the Patriots are heading to the Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers. Besides, Foxboro is a town and Green Bay is a city. I digress. Sorry. Anyways, Gillette Stadium has become the most difficult venue in the League. This team and its fans look forward to bad weather. Minus -12 degree wind chill? No problem. A driving rainstorm? Pack a raincoat. A snowstorm? Bring it on. MVP quarterbacks? Been there. Done that.
The Patriots have earned the right to play for their second Super Bowl championship in three years by beating the best the last two weeks. Based on what we've seen out of the NFC, the three top teams in football this year were clearly the Tennessee Titans, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Patriots. And the Patriots came through the AFC playoffs by holding onto the ball, forcing the other team to make mistakes, and relying on the foot of Adam Vinatieri. Such a strategy should suit them just fine against the Panthers in the Super Bowl.
All week, the national media outlets were abuzz about was how unstoppable Peyton Manning and the Colts offense would be. All they could talk about was how the Colts had put up historical offensive numbers in their previous two games. The problem with that was the fact that the Colts hadn't played a well-rounded team like the Patriots yet in the playoffs. Impatient general managers who felt they had to hire a new head coach ASAP should all be cursing themselves for not waiting for Romeo Crennel's season to finish up. His bend-don't-break defense contained Manning and forced him to throw four interceptions. The line play by the defense forced Manning to make hurried throws that lowered his chances for success. And four times, those throws landed in Patriot arms.
The Patriots offense did their part for the defense by keeping Manning off the field in the first half, thanks mostly to running the ball behind a rejuvenated Antowain Smith (22 carries for 100 yards). By chewing up the clock, Manning had the ball for only 11 minutes in the first half and completed eight passes for 88 yards. It was a different story for the offense in the second half. The offense started to play tentatively and couldn't finish off drives. Brady was uncharacteristically off his game. The offense (1-7 in the red zone) had numerous opportunities to put the game away and just couldn't in the second half. All the while, Manning started to get hot and this had the makings of a Red Sox-like collapse.
But not to worry. Just like they showed us against the Rams two years ago in the Super Bowl, this team is cool under pressure. When the game is on the line, it's the Patriots who have the confidence to step up and make the plays to win.
There will be plenty of time to dissect the Carolina Panthers over the next two weeks. What's important right now is to enjoy this great victory and let it soak in that your team is now the gold standard for the NFL. They-and not the 49ers or Cowboys-are the franchise that the other 31 teams are trying to emulate. If you have been a fan of this team for any length of time, that is quite a difficult notion to get used to. Don't believe me? Does the Rod Rust era ring a bell?
The reason that sports hold such a place in our hearts is that it affords us the opportunity to share great (and sometimes not so great) moments with the people that we care about. It's also a great way to mark time in our lives. As I saw another AFC Championship trophy being raised in front of me on Sunday night, I looked to my right and saw my father smiling. It's hard to believe that the first Patriots game he took me to was in 1978 when I was five years old. I'm thirty-one now and still love going to the game with him. The Patriots have been central to our relationship over the years and have created a common bond throughout my childhood, adolescence, college years, and now. We've been to perhaps 150 games together over the years. At that moment on Sunday night, I again realized that this was a memory that will spring right to the front of my mind when I think back about us fifty years from now. Perhaps you had a moment similar to mine. If you did, make sure that you collect your memories now while they are fresh so that they won't be so dull when you think back years from now.
See you in Houston. I'm not done making memories.
Idle Zinger thoughts while thinking about joining the Force after watching the fine men and women serving on "Reno 911":
I hope that these last two Patriot home playoff games has put to rest this foolish idea being pushed by Paul Tagliabue about placing a Super Bowl in either New York or Washington. Can you imagine all of the Super Bowl high rollers trudging through the Meadowlands parking lot in three degree weather? Where will they have the Maxim pre-Super Bowl party? At the Vince Lombardi Rest Area on the New Jersey Turnpike?
Bill Walsh is selling his "beautiful 1995 Mercedes-Benz S600" on the 49ers official website. It is a 2-door coupe in excellent condition. It has an automatic with a V12 engine, Bose premium sound system, leather interior, sliding sunroof, dual air bags, 4 wheel ABS and alloy wheels. Current mileage is 83,500. At last check, the bidding was up to $28,500. The bidding ends on January 28th. Maybe Walsh will take the money he makes off the car and buy his 49ers some consistency for next year.
The Patriots stepped up to the plate before the Titans game by passing out free hand warmers to all fans entering the game.
If you are in Naples, Florida, you might want to visit the Foxboro Sports Tavern on U.S. 41 to watch the Patriots. It is run by Joe Popoli; who is originally from Leominster, MA. Apparently, it is a home away from home for many transplanted New England Patriots fans.
The Packer defense makes a mid-play adjustment to intercept a Matt Hasselbeck pass to win a Wild Card game. One week later, they are the victim of Brett Favre's foolish throw in overtime. So what does Mike Sherman do? He fires the Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatel instead of taking some blame himself for not going for it on 4th and 1 from the Philly 41 late in the fourth quarter. If you looked up scapegoat in the dictionary, you might see Donatel's picture.
Having spent a good deal of my high school and college years working at the old Almacs supermarket there, I can definitively say that the name you should use is Foxboro; and not Foxborough. They cut out the "ugh" and pass the savings along to you, the taxpayer.
If you are going down to the Super Bowl, make sure that you do not miss the NFL Experience. It is filled with games, exhibits, vendors, and souvenirs and is a blast. They are still talking about how cleanly I fielded a punt while there at Super Bowl XXXVI. I had to call for a fair catch as there were all kinds of 11 year-old kids talking trash and trying to distract me.
If you lived outside of the Boston radio market, you were forced to listen to the national Westwood One broadcast instead of Gil and Gino. Yet another NFL policy that is unfriendly to the die-hard fans of a team. The NFL must be the only major entertainment outfit that can get away with policies like this and the antiquated television blackout rule. Could you imagine the firestorm if Major League Baseball forced Red Sox fans to listen to a stale national broadcast instead of Joe and Jerry during last year's playoffs?
Feel free to drop me a line. I can be reached at [email protected].
Don't forget to check me out at 8:20 on Monday mornings on Bangor, Maine's sports radio leader, WZON 620 "The Zone." You can listen over the internet at www.zoneradio.com This column also appears in the Waterboro (ME) Reporter, the Maine Standard Times (Lewiston/Auburn, ME), the American Journal (Gorham/Westbrook, ME), the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly (Windham, ME), and the Village Soup Times (Belfast/Camden/Rockland, ME) .
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