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The Pats’ date with destiny

For Boston sports fans still smarting from the Red Sox’ game-seven American League Championship Series loss to the New York Yankees, last weekend’s NFL playoffs offered a welcome tonic. After soundly defeating the Indianapolis Colts, 24-14, the New England Patriots are heading to Houston for their second Super Bowl in three years. Mere hours after game time, Vegas declared the Pats seven-point favorites over the Carolina Panthers.

Not that Patriots fans are surprised. Our boys ran up a 14-2 regular season record, the NFL’s best, and went undefeated at home. While Panthers fans sweated as pundits pointed to the Colts’ scorching offense and predicted an Indianapolis upset last week, we sat back and calmly awaited the inevitable. We expect our guys to win.

Earlier in the season, when Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri missed the potential game-winning field goal in overtime against the Houston Texans — which is tantamount to Jesus failing to walk on water — I said confidently to my buddy Stoo, "I still think they’re going to win this game." And the Pats proved me right.

What a contrast to my alter ego of a cursed Red Sox fan. Although the overlap between Sox and Pats fans is nearly total, we approach these franchises with polar-opposite mindsets. If the Patriots are down by a touchdown with under two minutes to play, we’re already high-fiving. When the Sox have a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, we’re getting out the sleeping pills and vodka.

Remember that crazy celebration when the Sox clinched a wild-card playoff spot in September? I was at Fenway that night, and my predominant memory is of hyperventilating. I hugged complete strangers. The players ran around the field spraying champagne on the fans, donning shirts and hats reading WILD CARD CHAMPIONS, which is about as ridiculous as the commercials for Something’s Gotta Give that declare it the winner of two Golden Globe nominations.

Then, when the Red Sox beat Oakland to advance to the ALCS, chaos erupted. Rioters smashed everything in sight in the Fenway neighborhood, and everywhere you looked, women were baring their chests. It was amazing, and the Sox hadn’t even won anything yet.

Following the Pats’ victory on Sunday, however, I didn’t hear a single drunken "Woo-hoo!" outside my Brighton apartment. It’s like we’re saying, "Win the whole enchilada, guys, and then maybe we’ll flip over a few cars in your honor — we don’t riot just for playoff winners." The Patriots themselves looked subdued in their post-game celebrations. They haven’t even given their coach, Bill Belichick, a Gatorade bath yet. In short, they’ve been down this road before, and so have their blasé fans.

But the problem with Pats fans’ sense of entitlement is that we can only be disappointed. If they win, that’s merely status quo. If they lose, we’ll be shocked. Maybe the city won’t plunge into a month-long depression like it did in October, but New England losing Super Bowl XXXVIII would be like Al Sharpton winning the Democratic nomination. It would just feel wrong.

Issue Date: January 23 - 29, 2004
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