May 18, 2012

Farewell to Boston - Number 2 - The 2001 Pats


Three down. Two to go. We’re nearly done after half a year. From a random encounter with a Boston hoops legend to a magical season on the gridiron for the Pats. Warning: clichés and lameness probably dead ahead.

2001 was BY FAR the toughest year of my life. I was considered a “bad boy” at school, and had nearly been expelled for being a little sh*t, among other things. Naturally, my teachers and peers didn’t look on me very fondly. Meanwhile, my parents were in early stages of separation and eventual divorce. To put a cherry on top of a sh*t sandwich, my Dad was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that nearly took his life.

And here I was, a 13 year-old kid with anger-management issues in the midst of puberty, pretty much pissed off at all times. Few things mattered to me…all I cared about was playing football and watching it on TV. Unfortunately, my JV football team at Thayer Academy hadn’t scored a point in two years. Even worse, going into the 2001 season, the Patriots were complete and utter trash. They were “fresh” off a 5-11 turn of the century campaign under some no-name who went by Bill Belichick.

Little did I know the incredible season that would unfold for the Patriots in 2001. Despite an 0-2 start, a devastating injury to their franchise quarterback, and a roster devoid of star power, the Pats played the role of the “Little-Engine-That-Could”. After starting out 5-5, New England would not lose again, finishing out the season on a magical nine game winning streak (where every single break seemed to go their way) with their first ever Lombardi Trophy in hand.

I hated the world at 13. But sports have a wonderful therapeutic nature, and the 2001 Patriots were a source of joy that in my opinion saved my life. They turned me from a pessimist to a dreamer and optimist, and into someone who looks to get as many laughs out of life as possible. For that, I will be forever thankful to this glorious Pats team.

Blah blah blah, lame emotional sh*t. That now aside, here’s how I remember the 2001 Patriots.

GAME 1: @ CINCY - BENGALS 23 - PATS 17

Watched this one at my Dad's apartment. Stuffed my face with a boars head roast beef sandwich with an onion roll bun and downed half a 2 liter of vanilla coke (something I am still addicted to). That was the only thing of value that happened all day. The Pats got gashed by Corey Dillon, who had 100+. But even worse was Drew Bledsoe (who I adored). In his first game since signing a 10 year - $103 million extension, Bledsoe was his usual statue self, getting sacked 4 times and coming up miserably short on a QB sneak on 4th and two. The end result confirmed what pretty much all of us were thinking...this was going to be a lonnnnnng season.

GAME 2: FOXBORO - JETS 10 - PATS 3

The first game since September 11th. And I was there I'll talk about the pre-game stuff in my next post.

The Pats offense was complete garbage the entire 60 minutes. It was just brutal to watch. But even worse (at the time), Drew Bledsoe got his sh*t knocked out by Mo Lewis. He looked dead after the hit. In came Tom Brady, who was 4th string entering the pre-season. I remember turning over to my Dad and saying "Well...this season's over." Whoops.


GAME 3: FOXBORO - PATS 44 - COLTS 13

I missed the entire first half of this game watching a high school football game. Yeah, my faith in the Patriots was that low. But who would've thought that this team, which really only had Bledsoe as a legitimate offensive weapon, would actually be able to keep a mediocre defense in games? Especially against the highest scoring offense in the league?

But little did I know that the defense would sack up. On this Sunday, they'd beat the sh*t out of the softest team in the AFC. It all started off with Bryan Cox ending Jerome Pathon's life knocking out Colt wideout Jerome Pathon. Peyton Manning found his usual Foxboro "magic", tossing three picks, two of which were taken to the house. On the flip side, Antowain Smith had a manimal type game, with nearly 200 from scrimmage and two scores to keep the offense from looking offensive. Hope for the Patriots?


GAME 4: @ MIAMI - DOLPHINS 30 - PATS 10

Eh. Maybe not. This was the ugliest game of the season, and the Patriots got their heads kicked in. I was on the Nothhhh Showahhh at my Aunt's house, and luckily, missed the fourth quarter in favor of watching Terminator 2.

GAME 5: FOXBORO - PATS 29 - CHARGERS 26 OT

I caught this one after Church at my neighbor's house. Flutie flakes was in the house, and

If there was a game that was a sign of things to come from young Tom Brady - this was it. Brady tossed his first career touchdown to Terry Glenn - who at this point DEED want to play for the Patriots - and rallied the Pats back from down 10 with 3:36 to go to tie things up and send it to overtime. Adam Vinatieri hit the game winner in OT, as Brady was 33-54 for 364 yards and 2 scores. Nothing to get excited about when you beat a team that was 1-15 the year before. But something special was happening.


GAME 6: @ INDY - PATS 38 - COLTS 17

The Pats defense took over right where it left off, throwing around Colt wideouts like rag dolls for another 60. On the flip side, one Patriot - a random one on that - did something that no one since Walter Payton in 1979 had been able to accomplish.

It was wideout David Patten's day...all day. He ran 29 yards for a score on an end-around on the Pat's first play. Later, he'd toss a 60 yard TD bomb to Troy Brown, and catch a 91 yard moonshot from Brady for another 6.  He was the first player since Walter Payton to run for a score, pass for a TD, and catch a touchdown pass (he had two) in one game. It was pretty badass - but again, totally random - from a guy who was the Pats third receiver at the time.

The Pats left the sh*thole called Indy at 3-3. Would they be able to keep it up?

GAME 7: @ DENVER - BRONCOS 31 - PATS 20

Another game from my neighbor's house. The Pats put on three quarters of damn good football. And Tom Brady, who hadn't thrown a pick in hist first 162 passing attempts (at the time, the longest streak by any QB starting his career) was efficient.

But then the fourth quarter happened. Brady took a page out of Peyton Manning's book, tossing FOUR...yes...FOUR...fourth quarter picks. Frustrating to say the least.

GAME 8: @ ATL - PATS 24 - FALCONS 10

The Pats shook off their Mile High woes and picked up where they'd left off in Indy. Old man Chris Chandler was under center for the Falcons - but that didn't stop New England from abusing the elderly. The Pats had 9 sacks in the game, breaking Chandler's ribs and forcing rookie Michael Vick into the game. Meanwhile, Brady bounced back from that sh*ttastic fourth quarter, tossing for 250 yards and 3 scores.

GAME 9: FOXBORO - PATS 21 - BILLS 11

The Bills were (and still are) total f*cking idiots in 2001. Forget the fact that they let Antowain Smith walk -as he only had 100 yards plus two scores, including a 42 yard game clincher in the waning moments. They cut loose Flutie Flakes for Rob F*cking Johnson, a total f*ckup of a QB (to be expected of USC grads), who sh*t mediocrity all over the field until he was knocked out of the game.  All that added up to a 1-7 start for Buffalo. Meanwhile, the Pats were sitting pretty at 5-4, with their biggest test of the season on deck.


GAME 10: FOXBORO - RAMS 24 - PATS 17

The Rams were 8-1 - dismembering everyone in their way. The Greatest Show On Turf was unstoppable on offense, and strolled into Foxboro looking to steamroll the Patriots on Sunday Night Football. To the shock of many, the Pats actually held their own in this one. They frustrated the high flying offense early with two first half interceptions, including a pick-6 by Terrell Buckley. And they came within a yard of going up 17-7 right before halftime. But an Antowain Smith fumble at the 1 yard line led to a 97-yard TD drive for the Rams, putting 'em up 14-10 at halftime. The Pats kept it close, but the Rams never looked back. Many a remote control was thrown by his Paulness on this day.


GAME 11: FOXBORO - PATS 34 - SAINTS 17

After an eight game absence, Bledsoe was finally healthy. QB controversy? Apparently not. Bill Belichick stuck to the hot hand and it paid off in a big way, as Tom Brady went beast mode in the slop for the Pats. He was 19-27 for 258 yards and a career-high 4 touchdown passes, while Antowain Smith piled on 117 yards to grind out the game. The Pats were once again back above .500. They wouldn't fall below that mark again...


GAME 12: @ NYJ - PATS 17 - JETS 16

The Pats played like total dogsh*t in the first half against Jersey B. It was really ugly. So ugly, that I spent the entire 2nd quarter playing NBA Courtside 2 on my N64, all the while listening to the game on the radio. They trailed 13-0 after 2 Q. Not good, especially with the Jets at 7-3 in front of them in the AFC East race, and the Dolphions at 8-3. But in the second half, something clicked. The offense sputtered to life just enough to power the Pats to victory, hitting the go ahead field goal with about 6 to play, and the defense hung on, clinching the game with a late pick by Terrell Buckley. Right about now, I began to believe

GAME 13: FOXBORO - PATS 27 - BROWNS 16

The defense shut down the Brownies and Troy Brown was a BAMF, with 7 catches and an 85 yard punt returner as the spark for New England. With the win, the Pats climbed to 8-5. Watch out Miami.

GAME 14: @ BUFFALO - PATS 12 - BILLS 9 OT

We were setting up Christmas decorations at my Paps house. It was good that we had a distraction, because it was an ugly game. And even even more lucky. Early in overtime, Patten caught a pass from Brady to the Bills 41. But he was absolutely leveled, losing the ball and consciousness simultaneously, and the Bills recovered. Luckily, before the fumble was recovered, Patten's head was out of bounds while his foot was touching the football. Officials looked it over - overturning the fumble - and moments later Antowain Smith scampered to the Bills 3, setting up the game winning field goal. OVER .500 BABY.

GAME 15: FOXBORO - PATS 20 - DOLPHINS 13

It was the last regular season game at Foxboro Dump Stadium, and the few existing Patriot legends were all in attendance. The Pats put on a show. They scored all 20 points in the 2nd quarter, powered by a career high 156 yards and a touchdown. The defense bent, but didn't break, forcing and recovering a fumble at their own three by Dolphins back Lamar Smith with about 8 to play.

GAME 16: @ CAROLINA - PATS 38 - PANTHERS 6

The only thing that sucked more than the Panthers in 2001 was Chris Weinke - who happened to be their QB. This one was never in doubt, as the Pats, fresh off their bye week, clubbed the Panthers into extinction - handing Carolina its 15th straight loss. With the win, the Pats earned themselves a first round playoff bye.


DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS: FOXBORO - PATRIOTS 16 - RAIDERS 13 OT

The Snow Bowl. What a game.

I was supposed to watch the game at my best friend's house. But a blizzard hit New England that night, dumping tons and tons of snow on the land. Two days later it took me 15 minutes to crawl through 50 feet up my driveway and into my house.

So I watched it at my house. I'd just gotten one of those fake, white Tom Brady jerseys from target, donning that in favor of my blue Bledsoe bad boy. It was the first time I'd worn a jersey on gameday other than Bledsoe's since I first started wearing jerseys on Sundays. I felt dirty.

And being a superstitious nutjob thirteen-year old, I felt I had made a mistake putting on that jersey when the Patriots got off to a slow start. Because EVERYTHING I do has a DIRECT impact on the Pats. YEAH. CRAZYTALK.

Speaking of crazy-talk, with the Pats trailing in the second half, my Mom walked in the room and made an observation. "Hmm...not looking too good huh." I flipped a sh*t. "MOM...YOU NEED TO GET OUT OF THIS ROOM...NOW...OR I WILL YELL MEAN THINGS" She laughed it off. "Enjoy shoveling tomorrow. Good night"

What the f*ck ever. I believed in the Pats. I knew things would turn around eventually.

And eventually they did. Brady couldn't miss in the second half despite the rough weather, leading the Pats to within 3 with a late QB scamble for 6 in the 4th.

And then? The craziest sh*t ever.

With just under 2 minutes to play, Brady dropped back. Charles Woodson blitzed, hitting Brady and forcing what appeared to be a fumble. I stood up, hands behind my head, looking on in shock. Season over. Stomach Punch.

But then? Replay. The officials would look it over, and eventually reverse the ruling. Raider fans and Nation alike bitched (and still bitch). HAAAAAAA. (It was Karma for '76 at the very least).

With second life, the Patriots drove within field goal range. Though, in this weather, a chip shot from the 1 yard line would be a bit dicey. Didn't matter. Adam Vinatieri tied things up at 13 and sent it to OT with a 45-yard kick through a blanket of thick snow. I hooted...hollered...and I'm pretty sure I woke up the whole damn neighborhood. In OT, it was all New England, as the Pats marched down the field into chip shot range for Vinatieri to finish off the Raiders and close out Foxboro Stadium in style.

What. A. Game.

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: PITTSBURGH - PATRIOTS 24 - STEELERS 17

The Pats were heavy underdogs heading into the Burgh. But I thought otherwise. Bro...Kordell Stewart is your QB. He sucks. Game over.

Things started off pretty well. Kordell Stewart was Kordell Stewart, while Jerome Bettis, seeing his first action after missing around 8 weeks was worthless. The Pats offense was mediocre, but Troy "Legend" Brown did his thang, busting a 55 yard punt return for 6 late in the first.

It was 7-3 for a while. Then...with about 2:42 to play in the 2nd quarter, Sh*t happened.

Brady went down.

So in came Drew Bledsoe, with a chance for redemption. It was the Bledsoe of old. He completed a quick pass, took a hit eerily similar to the one Mo Lewis laid on him at the beginning of the season after running for a first, then completed a beautiful pass for 6 to David Patten in the back of the corner for TD. It was a fantastic moment. Bledsoe had handled the Brady situation with such grace and class, and when he got his second chance, he stepped in and kicked ass.

It was 14-3 at halftime. And it got better. The Steelers were driving down the field looking to close the gap. The Pats stalled 'em and forced a field goal attempt. And then things went to sh*t for the Burgh. The kick was blocked by Brandon Mitchell. Troy Brown scooped it up...ran about ten yards before lateraling it to Antwan Harris, who raced the rest of the way for a Patriots touchdown. BAM. GAME BLOUSES.

You could hear a pin drop in Pittsburgh. That was the backbreaker. The Steelers were able to climb back into the game late, but Kordell Stewart did his best Kordell Stewart and Kordell Stewarted his way up and down the field. Pats win. SUPER BOWL BABY. CANCEL ALL THOSE RESERVATIONS.

SUPER BOWL XXXVI: NEW ORLEANS - PATRIOTS 20 - RAMS 17

Juggernaut v David round two. I had a good feeling going into the game, which I watched at my Mom's house with a steaming bowl of jambalaya (we used to eat Super Bowl locale themed food in front of me to demolish during the game.

In the week prior, there had been a bit of a QB controversy. Bledsoe...who had filled in admirably for Brady against the Steelers? Or Brady...who had shaken off the ill effects of the bum ankle he suffered in Pitt? Belichick went with Tommy B.

Closer and closer to game-time, and the most bad ass thing ever happened. The Rams came out one by one. "Number 13...Kurt Warner...blah blah blah." But the Patriots went a different route (something that they had been doing all season long. "Choosing to be introduced as a team, here are the American Football Conference Champions...The New England Patriots."

Bam. Right there. Game over...at least according to every sports movie ever made.

The game unfolded. Boring first quarter. Patriots did what they needed to do, blasting Marshall Faulk when he had the ball, and when he didn't too. It was working. The Rams were up 3-0 and driving towards mid-field. Then disaster struck. Kurt Warner lobbed an out to Isaac Bruce. Ty Law jumped it and took it back to the house. SHOCK AND AWE BITCHES.

The game plodded along some more until right before halftime. Then...BAM. Another Rams turnover...this time a fumble. The Pats recovered...regrouped...and ended the half with a TD pass from Brady to David Patten in the corner of the end zone. 14-3 Pats at the half. It's a beautiful day...performed by U2 at halftime...never sounded so sweet.

The third quarter was another doozer. The Pats were able to tack on another field goal making it 17-3. Everyone was in shock. How the hell had the Rams not shown up?

Turns out they were about to. The Rams calmly marched down the field to the Patriots 1. But the Pats held the line. Once. Twice. Three times. 4th and goal. The Rams called a QB sneak. It was blown up. Roman Phifer took out Warner and knocked the ball loose, and Pats safety Tebucky Jones picked it up and took it to the house. I was dumbfounded and going nuts simultaneously...23-3? WE DID IT.

But then I saw the yellow. Defensive holding on the Big Mac Willie McGinest. 1st and goal for the Rams, who would pull within seven on a Warner QB sneak. 17-10. Oh sh*t...41 years of Patriots football about to slap us in the face.

Things began to unravel. The Pats offense was non-existent and gave the Rams another shot. Which they took advantage of almost immediately. 1:20 to go and the Rams tied up the game. 17-17. Naturally, being a crazy person and all, I freaked out. Furniture was destroyed. Remotes were hurled. Swears were unleashed. I could smell the end.

The Rams kicked it off and the Pats took over. Conventional wisdom...and its opposite John Madden...clamored for the Pats to play it safe and take it to halftime. BULLSH*T said I. Pats had no momentum and based on the teams 40 year history, some act of God would shove it up their asses if they didn't win it all now.

So off they marched. Short passes. More short passes. First down. First down. Suddenly the Pats were at midfield. Then BAM. A Troy Brown catch and run set the Pats up inside the Rams 40. A Jermaine Wiggins catch and a spiked ball set the Pats up for a shot at victory with seven seconds to play.

Adam Vinatieri. Swing the leg bro.

He did. Game blouses. Walkoff game winner.

I stood up with my hands behind my head. I was in shock. As the players mobbed the field I just kept staring in disbelief. My sister hugged me...and the phone started blowing up. My dad called first. We talked and talked...and all I could keep saying was "I can't believe we're f*cking champs." I just kept staring and was tearing up like its the end of "It's A Wonderful Life". There is nothing quite like seeing your favorite team win its first ever championship. This was mine.

It was heaven.

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