Sunday, August 31, 2008

Next Step for Patriots?

As the 2008 season is coming into the horizon, I have different feelings about this year than any other since I started watching football. We all know the story of the Patriots '07 season...only recently have I come to grips with it. It was the most gut-wrenching loss of my sports-viewing life. Worse than the Boone home run. Worse than the phantom Knoblauch tag in the '99 ALCS. Worse than the Colts' late drive to win the '06 AFC title game. Awful.

With months of healing and regrouping has come a bit of perspective. As weird as it sounds, I've never looked more forward to a season. Patriots fans have spent an entire off season watching their team get ripped left and right...being referred to as the biggest choke artists of all time or as cheaters. It's easy to root for a team that's winning, likable and beloved by the national media; case and point being the Red Sox. For a fan, the true merit is earned in the face of controversy and obviously lack of success (if you're a Royals fan, God bless you). This team has had the most success in the NFL since 2001 but as I said before, our team's integrity and ability to succeed are being called into question at all levels. I love this us vs. the (NFL) world mentality.

Something else to consider is this team's place in history. Four Super Bowls clinches Brady as a top-three quarterback of all time. Sure, the Super Bowl loss was humbling. I probably should have received more crap from my friends who are Giants fans than I did. To go back to my initial point, I 'd say the main difference about this year and previous years is the sense of purpose Patriots fans should be feeling. There are two paths this team can take:

-The way of the '80s 49ers in that they won a few titles early on in the decade, had a few tough losses to the Giants and Bears to "take them off the throne", but had enough left to win two more titles late in the late '80s. Injuries and bad luck took them off course in the middle but the group was so talented and veteran-laden that it was able to extend its run of dominance.

-The route the '90s version of those 49ers took after winning it all in 1994. They were competitive and won some postseason games (the T.O. catch in '97 obviously comes to mind) but never really were able to get over that proverbial hump.

Both of these scenarios are entirely possible for the Pats. They could easily bounce back and win a fourth Super Bowl or they could fade as the defense continues to age and crumble. Regardless of which way they go, I'm going into this season as proud to be a Pats fan as I've ever been.

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