The first professional football game I ever attended was on September 19, 1971. It was the first game of the first season for the newly minted New England Patriots and their new home base, Schaefer Stadium. My father had bought season tickets after years of watching them at Fenway Park and Nickerson Field. That first game in Schaefer Stadium, they gave out ceremonial plastic coins to fans and I still have mine and my father’s. The Patriots faced the Oakland Raiders and, with first-pick Jim Plunkett (the previous year’s Heisman Trophy winner) at quarterback, beat them 20-6.
My father had those season tickets through the ’70s but he’d stopped going to games by the time I went away to college in 1981. There were a couple of good seasons (1976, 1978) but we never had a winner. It didn’t matter to me; I loved the Patriots anyway. Over those years I had numerous favorite players, such as Steve Grogan, Sam Cunningham, John Hannah, Mack Herron, Russ Francis, Julius Adams, and Steve Nelson.
The Patriots somehow made it to Super Bowl XX in 1986, getting embarrassed by the Chicago Bears, and then again reverted to loserdom until 1993, when the arrivals of Bill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe reignited hope. That promise reached its zenith with another Super Bowl berth in 1997, but again we were cut down by a more talented team, the Green Bay Packers led by a young Brett Favre.
So when the Patriots, under untested QB Tom Brady, made it back to the Super Bowl in February 2002, I wasn’t too hopeful for a victory. Still, it was the Super Bowl, and we were in it, so there was a lot of excitement. I received numerous invitations to watch parties, but as my mother had died two years before and I knew my father would be watching alone, I decided I would repay the favor of all the games he took me to, and so I went and watched the game with him.
When we went into halftime with a lead, we were excited. When the Rams tied it up late in the 4th quarter, we felt we had seen this all before, Yet when we won….well, suffice to say, nothing will ever match that feeling of finally being world champions!
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