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Unapologetic Patriots fan

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I posted this piece, below, on my facebook page after reading this New York Times article, "Confessions of an Unapologetic Patriots Fan."

Opinion | Confessions of an Unapologetic Patriots Fan

-Agree or disagree, it's just my take on things:

When I first saw this headline, “Confessions of an Unapologetic Patriots Fan,” as a Patriots fan myself I opened the article with interest but ended up being terribly disappointed. According to this author, the best if not only reason to be a Patriots fan is that they win a lot (he dismisses that being from Boston is a good reason for being a fan). He even lauds his friend Kevin, a die-hard Red Sox fan, for switching to the Yankees because he was sick of losing (this was, of course, before the Sox broke the curse of the Bambino in 2004 and have won three World Series since). He encourages people to search for winning teams to become a fan of, and your life will somehow magically get better or something. I guess under his reasoning, I should now become an Eagles fan? Hey, my hat is off to Philadelphia. They played an excellent game, which they had to, and truly earned their first Super Bowl victory while the Pats may be starting their inevitable decline. But should I switch sides? Of course not.

I believe that because a team wins a lot is not the only reason, and sometimes not even the reason, why someone should become a fan of that team. In fact, I think that becoming a fan of a team solely because they win a lot is the wrong reason to become a fan. I hate band wagon fans (the Pats have accumulated a lot of them in the past twenty years). They are like will-of-the-wisps, flitting from team to team with no real connection or depth of passion to any team, the opposite of which to me constitutes what the definition of a fan is. Fans of losing teams have far more loyalty and intensity than fair weather fans, just go to the Dawg Pound in Cleveland (poor Browns) or even Philly, whose fans finally got their just reward after decades of falling short. So if the best way to become a fan is the way that keeps a person a fan through thick and thin, then that the team is a winning team is far from the best reason to become a fan and can even be counter-productive because once that team stops winning the fan starts looking around for what next hot team to jump to.

My experience, opposite from the author’s, is instructive. I became a Patriots fan on January 27, 1986, when they played the Chicago Bears in the Pats first ever Super Bowl appearance. That sounds like I became a fan for the same reason as the author’s, that the Pats were a winning team that year, but if you saw the game you know that was not the case. It was the worst day in Patriots franchise history (some would say the Pats Super Bowl loss after the 2007 undefeated season was the worst day in Patriots history, and I wouldn’t argue with them, but that came after three Super Bowl wins and in the middle of an unprecedented winning streak that, despite the loss to the Eagles, continues to this day). The Pats were destroyed by the Chicago Bears, arguably the best defense in NFL history, or at least in the Super Bowl era. The Pats star quarterback, Tony Eason, had a deer-in-the-headlights look in his eyes and clearly his game plan was to avoid being cremated by the deadly Chicago defense. When Refrigerator Perry lined up as an offensive back at the Pats goal line, everyone knew he was going to score. It was a bloodbath. Not even close. I believe it was the most lopsided score in Super Bowl history at the time, although I think since there has been worse losses (maybe by Denver or somebody). The mismatch between the two teams was clearly palpable and would lead any objective viewer to wonder why the Pats were even there. So while the team had reached its greatest height ever at the time, the loss (and manner of losing) just reinforced the notion that the Patriots were pathetic losers who were playing way over their head and should be relegated back to the bush league status that they had occupied for most of their existence and be the lovable, hapless team from Foxborough, Mass (of all places) that every other team wanted on its schedule for the following year.

So why did I become a fan on that day? Well, for anyone who knows these things, Super Bowl XX was actually played on January 26, not the 27. The reason why I say the 27th is because I was in the U.S. Army at the time stationed in Germany, which is six hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time, so the game started after midnight where I was. If you have ever been in the service, especially overseas, you know that in an organization comprised of people from all over the country, you tend to relate to and identify from where you came from (I loved to meet Mainers in the Army, they were so rare and stuck out from the crowd always, especially their accents and slow manner of talking!) At the time, I wasn’t a Patriots fan. Growing up, we were a baseball family and the Patriots sucked for a good part of my childhood as I stated above. This was before all the sports channels like we have today and you were lucky even to find their games on TV, and that's on the off chance they were being broadcasted. So I just never really cared for or paid attention to them. But when the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl, especially after their exciting playoff run, catching lightning in the bottle, winning in the Orange Bowl for the first time, etc., as a kid from Maine I was interested.

That night in 1986, I was the only one rooting for New England in the room. My elation after scoring first (I believe Chicago fumbled the opening kickoff and the Pats recovered. Despite being deep in Bears territory, they couldn’t move the ball and settled for a field goal), turned to sullenness as the Bears had their way with the Pats all game, kicking their asses up and down the field. The Pats lone touchdown, scored under the guidance of tough Steve Grogan (still one of my favorite Patriots players), who at that point had replaced Eason, came late in garbage time and small consolation. Not only was the loss humiliating, I was humiliated as everyone in the room was ridiculing me along with my team. To make matters worse, I was drinking this nasty stuff called Apfelkorn (or something like that), a German, apple-based liqueur, and got drunk and sick. I was hungover and useless later that day at work (I always said that if the Soviets were to invade Western Europe, they should have done it on Super Bowl Monday because, except for people pulling guard duty, everyone watches the game, which typically ends at 4-5am Monday morning and everybody's wrecked.)

I have been a die-hard Patriots fan ever since. And not because they were winners and repeated their Super Bowl run any time soon after that. For many years after they pretty much sucked, going 2-14 and 1-15 in the Rod Rust/Dick MacPherson era of the early 1990s (although I still love Dick MacPherson, who passed away last summer). They were back being the lovable losers everyone wanted on their schedule, with their amateurish, drama-filled ownership in the Sullivans, crappy stadium where they had to flush every toilet all at once to prove to local health officials it could handle the crowds (I remember my first time I saw the old Foxboro/Sullivan stadium, which had dozens if not hundred of porta-potties lined up outside), punctuated by various scandals like harassing female reporters in the locker room. It was trying being a fan during those times, but I never considered rooting for another team.

Then ownership changed, the Sullivans left and after a series of short-lived ownerships, long-time fan and businessman Bob Kraft bought the team. He in turn hired legendary coach Bill Parcells who, along with quarterback Drew Bledsoe, brought the team to its second Super Bowl, against the Green Bay Packers. Although the game was far more competitive than the first Super Bowl, the Packers won and Parcells was gone, not flying home with the team after announcing the week prior he was leaving for the rival Jets (something I will never forgive Parcells for, creating this huge distraction and putting his personal interests before the team a week before the big game. I firmly believe had he not done that, we stood a much better chance of winning. Although deserved, Brett Favre should thank Parcells for helping him gain his only Super Bowl ring). But the typical Pats trajectory of falling into losing mediocrity did not happen this time. After a couple of years of decline under coach Peter Carroll (who I believe got a bad rap, it was Kraft’s personnel policy under Bobby Grier that watered down the Pat talent level), Kraft hired Bill Belichick as coach who, insisting on full personnel authority, drafted Tom Brady in the 6th round in 2000 (along with a lot of other really good players) and the rest is history eight Super Bowl appearances and five Super Bowl victories later. But that is not why I am fan; I became one years before.

I became and remained a fan through the lowest point in Patriots history. I endured rooting for a team through years of losing, futility, humiliation and ridicule. Most people only know the Patriots of today, they don’t remember or weren’t around when this team was an entirely different team. We real fans know that, despite all the winning and championships, that really doesn’t define their fandom. If they are Celtics fans as well, they know despite even rooting for a team with an even better winning record than the present Patriots (the 1960-80s Celtics), the winning can stop and the team can really suck again (e.g., the Rick Pitino “the big three aren’t walking through the door” years). Likely, maybe sooner than later, the Patriots will stop being the dominant, winning team they are now. The real fans will not desert their team. But more importantly, we know this now and do not take these wins for granted. And the reward is so much better than for a fair weather fan who has never endured rooting for a loser team – just ask any true Philly fan right now (as opposed to people who just became Philly fans this year or who did just because they dislike the Pats). That victory is so, so sweet that they will be talking about it for years. I am taking about the real fans, of course. Not the ones who will leave if the Eagles fall back into mediocrity. They will never know the true sweet feel of victory that a real fan feels. Kevin, the ex-Red Sox fan mentioned in the article, will never know this feeling with a Yankees World Series.

Other teams complain constantly that the Pats cheat or that when they win they still were not “the best team” (as if there is another standard for the best team in a sports match other than the team that wins). What goes for arrogance by Pats fans seen by others is not that, but confidence. We have seen ****ty teams before and know this one is not, it’s a very good team that is well coached and stocked with good players. We expect to win because of that fact, which is the same fact why the Patriots seem to be universally hated around the country (outside of New England, of course) and other teams and their fans groan when they see the Pats on their schedule for the next season.

As a fan, which would you rather your team be, a lovable loser that everyone else likes or a cold, calculated winner that everyone hates? I have experienced both as a Patriots fan. From my perspective as a fan, I watch sports because I want to see my team win – that’s the whole point, right? (Of course, it is also interesting and entertaining to watch sports just for the excitement of human beings competing against each other, but we are talking here not about disinterested observers, but fans watching their team). What is Belichick supposed to do? Not try as hard? Let the other team win sometime? Of course not. He shouldn’t apologize for being and the Patriots being as good as they are. And, especially after experiencing more losing than winning, including watching five Super Bowl losses (I believe a record, too), as far as being a Patriots fan, I am unapologetic, too.

Go Pats!
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Tony2046 Supporter Supporter
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Wow. Extremely well written.

I was stationed in Germany from 90-94. Lived in the barracks and would head down to the rec room to see sports center.

First night in Germany my buddies took me to the local guesthouse and treated me to weizen beers and a thing called a stoplight which was a apple licquor, a red licquor and a green licquor . Wonder if the apple licquor was the apfel korn you mentioned.

My ties to all new England teams are through my father who was born and raised in New Hampshire. My brother and I grew up in the military and traveled with my father all over the world. We both had secondary teams as we rarely saw the Pats on Tv. I liked the cowboys and my brother the Broncos but both watched and rooted for the Pats Super Bowl in 86 while in England. I still remember thinking that they had a chance at half time. Haha.

The thing about growing up as a military brat is that you don't really have a hometown or one that you lived in. We always considered NH our home because of my father and all of our family from his side lived there. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting that town. It gave us a sense of where we came from. We envied our cousins because they all lived in the same place and near to each other. They were just awesome people and did such cool things. They'd take us fishing, swimming and around town. The first time I remember going to McDonald's was with them. It had just opened in town. My grandma and grandpa still lived in the house my father and his siblings grew up in. It was an extremely modest house literally 100 yards from the tracks. We loved it. My grandma would serve up the best homemade lasagne ever made. So many memories.

Anyways through all of that lies my brother's and my attachment to the Red Sox and the Pats. They were a part of our home and family.

My grandmother and I would chat about the Red Sox once or twice a month. The last conversation I had with her before she passed was about the Sox. She said Clemens was a traitor and probably a wife beater. Haha. She said that followed by a tough as nails new Englander lady laugh.

My brother and I have since settled down in New England and now have passed on that connection to our kids.

I spent Super Bowl 49 in my cousins house with my other cousins, aunts and uncles and our kids. How freaking cool is that?

You're right. That article missed the entirety of what being a fan is all about.
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Practice Squad Player
Thanks. I wrote it quickly and put it up and see a lot of type-o's (a lot of mixing up first and third persons, etc.). Also, I may be wrong on some of the facts. I wrote mostly from memory and only looked up the date of Super Bowl XX and how to spell Dick MacPherson's name correctly. I think it's pretty much factually accurate. The opinion and premise, of course, is entirely mine.

Funny. because while I grew up in Maine, we moved from Dayton Ohio in 1973 when I was 7, so I was a Reds fan for the 1975 World Series. In fact, I hated the Red Sox - people up here were so into them. I just came from living an hour from Cincinnati at the height of the Big Red Machine days, and they weren't as nearly intense fans as Red Sox fans. Maybe it was because Reds fans were used to winning and Red Sox fans were not, thus my hypothesis, although I think Bostonians and their environs are just more intense sports fans. Anyway, I became a Red Sox fan in 1986 as well. If you remember, all four major Boston teams went to the finals that year, with only the Celtics converting. So I guess you can say I became a fan of all of them under the author's hypothesis, that they all were winners, but I really think it was because I was away from home and related for that reason. (My roommate was from Houston, and he almost broke the TV when the Celtics beat the Rockets in the finals). I could switch teams again, but it would be likely because I moved somewhere else and over time gained an affection for the local team, but I doubt that will ever happen.
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