By Bob Halloran
Special to Page 2

For the better part of the 2001 NFL season, I have been The Man Without A Team.

Tom Brady
Tom Brady became the Patriots MVP with help from mirrors.

It's not quite as dire a situation as being "The Man Without A Country," as was the case for the character Philip Nolan in E.E. Hale's powerful book written during the time of the Civil War. Nolan said during his court martial, "I wish I may never hear of the United States again!" The judge granted his wish by sentencing him to a life aboard a ship that was always at sea, and none of the sailors were ever allowed to mention the United States in Nolan's presence.

And yes, E.E. Hale was a relative of Nathan Hale, the man best known for having said: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." He's dead now. But he was a true Patriot!

I am not. And because I am not, I have been adrift in a sea of bitterness. The waves of enthusiasm crashing throughout New England have had no impact on me, for I have been anchored by a stubborn pettiness. My sails are blown by gusts of jealousy. The S.S. "I Told You So" set sail for a three-hour tour every time the Patriots -- my team -- were going to win again, but I couldn't get happy about it.

You see, I never climbed aboard the Tom Brady Bandwagon, and since the Patriots' success was knotted to his success, I just couldn't enjoy the team's 14-week cruise into Port Playoffs. I created my own personal Bermuda Triangle, simply because I pledged my allegiance to Drew Bledsoe. And it pretty much ruined the season for me. I spent each Sunday wanting the Patriots to win, but hoping that Brady would play poorly enough to be escorted back to the bench.

"I wish that I may never hear of Tom Brady again!"

I didn't enjoy his Pro Bowl season, his 11-3 record as a starter, or his wholly unexpected rise to national prominence. Instead, I watched in abject disbelief as he was coronated each and every week after barely contributing to another Patriot victory.

  I don't know Tom Brady. Tom Brady's not a friend of mine. But Tom Brady is no John Kennedy. Despite what New England thinks. This is simply a case of: "Ask not what your quarterback can do for you, just ask him not to screw up too badly." 
  

The Patriots scored 44 points against Indianapolis and Brady threw for zero touchdowns and 168 yards. They scored 38 points against Carolina, and he threw for 198 yards and two interceptions. In a big win against Miami late in the year, he completed 11 passes for 108 yards. Over the last five games of the Patriots' six-game winning streak, Brady has thrown two touchdown passes and five interceptions.

He's the team's MVP? He's the reason they're winning? This is a Pro Bowl quarterback?

AAAAAARGHHHHH!!!!

I could have fallen down a rabbit hole, and stumbled into Wonderland like all the other Patriots fans. But I found the world of make believe to be more frustrating than fantasy.

    "If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?"
    -- Alice in Wonderland

Contrary-wise, the quarterback position of the New England Patriots, considered by many to be the team's area of greatest strength, is actually the area of their greatest weakness. Look at the Patriots' offense, defense and special teams, and ask yourself where they could stand to improve the most. Let me help you. They're sixth in points allowed, 12th in rushing ... and 22nd in passing.

I don't know Tom Brady. Tom Brady's not a friend of mine. But Tom Brady is no John Kennedy. Despite what New England thinks. This is simply a case of: "Ask not what your quarterback can do for you, just ask him not to screw up too badly."

Truth be told, I wasn't always a Patriot fan. I grew up in New Jersey and rooted for the Cowboys. I went to college in Virginia and rooted for whichever team I bet on. Then I moved to New England at the same time the Patriots were going to the Super Bowl in 1986. I hitched myself to a winner just in time to see them get crushed by the Bears. Then I suffered through 1-15, and 2-14 seasons. I was there to conduct postgame interviews with Mr. Enthusiasm -- head coach Rod Rust, who makes Bill Belichick look like Richard Simmons. Finally, I had a few good years there when Bill Parcells and Bledsoe came to town.

Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick, take me with you to New Orleans.

So, I've considered myself a Patriots fan for the better part of 15 years, but my loyalties don't run deep. I have no problem putting my fantasy league players up against the Patriots and hoping they put up huge numbers. My unnatural affection for my fantasy league teams has almost reached a point where I'm going to need counseling. Lining up the bobbleheads of my players each week so I can deliver a Knute Rockne-esque pep talk is not the first sign of a problem. There have been others.

My sanity still prevails, however, where the Patriots are concerned. That's unfortunate. This was the year to get a little crazy about the Patriots, but I missed out. And I regret it.

I spent the year rooting for teams such as Cleveland because I have a sister who's married to a guy who loves the Browns. I rooted for Tennessee because I have a sister who lives just outside Nashville. I rooted for the Giants because I have a sister who still lives in New Jersey and likes them. I rooted for the Cowboys because I have a sister whose son loves Emmitt Smith. I rooted for Jacksonville because I have a sister who used to live in Florida. And I rooted for the Patriots, in part because my parents like them. And with all those kids, I think they deserve to be happy.

The Patriots are one win away from the AFC championship game. Two wins away from the Super Bowl. And three wins away from forcing me to grow a tail just so I run off with it between my legs. I have brought shame to the dignity of being a fan. The men who go topless in frigid weather and paint letters on their beer bellies will never respect me. I can't blame them. I barely respect myself. I suck.

But I'm hoping it's not too late. The Patriots are as good as any team left in the AFC. They'll play at home -- in bad weather -- against a Raiders team that dropped three straight at the end of the regular season. Then there's a distinct possibility of another home game against the Ravens, or an eminently winnable game at Pittsburgh. This team could be going to the Super Bowl, and I humbly ask Patriots fans everywhere: "Can I please come along for the ride? I love Brady! He's my most favorite player ever! Forget what I said before. He is JFK and he scores just as often. He's going to New Orleans and then to Hawaii, and he's my boy!"

One touch of the Brady Bobblehead and I get my desired response: "Yes, Bob, come through the looking glass. You have been forgiven!"

Bob Halloran is an anchorman for ESPNEWS.




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Halloran
PATRIOT MISSIVE