Page 2 columnist
NEW ORLEANS (Monday, 5 a.m. CT) -- Now it all makes sense.You bleed for your team, you follow them through thick and thin, you monitor every free-agent signing, you immerse yourself in Draft Day, you purchase the jerseys and caps, you plan your Sundays around the games ... and there's a little rainbow waiting at the end. You can't see it, but you know it's there. It's there. It has to be there. So you believe. Of course, there's one catch: You might never get there. Every fan's worst fear. All that energy over the years just getting displaced, no release, no satisfaction, nothing. Season after season, no championship ... and then you die. I mean, isn't that what this is all about? Isn't that the nagging fear? That those little moral victories over the years won't make up for that big payoff at the end -- that one moment when everything comes together, when your team keeps winning, when you keep getting the breaks and you just can't lose. And if none of this makes sense, well ... it does to me. My team just won the Super Bowl. Patriots 20, Rams 17. I was there. The Superdome. Feb. 3, 2002. Section 347, row 15, seat 10. And I'm not writing this for you right now, I'm writing this for me. I don't want to forget anything that happened Sunday night. I was ...
... Walking to the game down Poydras Street, seeing all the Patriots jerseys and sweatshirts, slapping strangers on the back, high-fiving people just because they were wearing a replica Grogan jersey, joining in random "Let's go Pats!" chants, feeling alive.... Finding my seat in the end zone, being pleasantly surprised that I was so close to the field, feeling like I could reach out and touch one of the uprights. And each seat had a little goodie bag that included a ticket holder, a Super Bowl doll and some other amenities (mmmmmm ... free stuff!). ... Telling the people sitting next to me that the Patriots were about to win the Super Bowl, noticing the doubt in their eyes, then reiterating it to them: "You don't understand, we are winning this game." ... Sitting through the interminable pregame show, trying to figure out why Paul McCartney was involved in a Sept. 11-USA-Freedom angle when he's from freaking England, feeling sad when they showed Leon Gray and Dick Rehbein during the "Every NFL-related person who died this year" montage, staring at those giant Rams/Patriots inflatable dolls that looked like the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Guy from "Ghostbusters," trying to decipher the difference between the "Let's go, Pats!" and "Let's go, Rams!" chants. Just waiting. Waiting. Excruciating. ... Giggling as the PA system blared Neil Diamond's "America," only because the wacky Pats fan sitting behind me kept screaming out "TO-DAY!" during the chorus. High comedy. And since he was joking, I made the quick decision that we needed to be friends, so I introduced myself to him and his buddies (Eric and Craig) and told them, "I'm gonna be coming to you guys for high fives all game." "We're ready for you," they told me. "We're ready." ... Wondering why the Rams starters were introduced to the crowd one by one, yet the Patriots all came out as a team ... and then wondering to myself, "Maybe they wanted to come out as a team" and thinking that would be pretty cool if it were true. Like a Norman Dale/Hickory High "This is your team!"-type move. (And it was true. It was true. Can I emphasize how much I I love this team? Is it possible?)
... Glancing around the stadium during the Completely Insane Mariah Carey performance of the National Anthem -- we were holding up these glow-in-the-dark thingies. Everyone in the top section had a red one; everyone in the middle section had a white one; everyone in the bottom section had a blue one. Dark stadium, 80,000 people, red, white and blue. Pretty damned cool.... Following the kickoff as it hurtled through the air, flashbulbs clicking everywhere. Didn't even seem real. Were the Pats really in the Super Bowl? ... Biding my time through all the dead spots during the commercials. NFL games always flow poorly in person, but Super Bowl games are even worse -- you spend an inordinate amount of time just sitting around. Does the NFL really need the money that badly? ... Feeling terrified of Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. Is there a more terrifying experience in sports than playing the Rams? Warner goes back, you're scared. Faulk gets the ball, you're even more scared. It's like a three-hour horror movie. All this backfield was missing was Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. ... Telling the Pats fans behind me that I was jotting down notes because I write columns for ESPN.com, then having one of them say, "Wait a second ... shut up, you're Simmons?" Two readers, both Pats fans, both sitting right behind me! Had to be a good omen, right? ... Holding on for dear life, 3-0 midway through the first quarter, Rams with the ball, Brady looking like crap, some serious blowout potential ... and then Warner gets hit ... and the ball's floating in the air forever ... and Ty Law's turning around ... AND HE CATCHES IT!!!! And he's sprinting down the sideline toward us, coming right at me, and the Patriots are about to take a 7-3 lead, and we're jumping up and down and hugging one another, one of those joyous, unexpected sports moments that defy description.
(Probably ranks second for me behind Bird stealing the ball against Isiah in the '87 Eastern Conference finals. I'm not kidding. If this game were the Drago-Balboa fight, this was the moment when Rocky cuts Drago and the announcer screams, "He's cut! The Russian is cut!" I can still see Ty Law running down the sidelines. Some things you just don't forget.)... Watching in disbelief as the Pats defense kept shutting down the Greatest Show On Turf. Craig (the Pats fan sitting behind me) summed it up best when he screamed: "Silence of the Rams!" .... Thinking to myself that the perfect title for this column would be "Silence of the Rams." I could even see the headline: SILENCE OF THE RAMS. Something just felt right about it. ... Seeing the Rams fumble in the final two minutes of the first half (Otis Smith!), then seeing the underdog Pats roll down the field and score on a touchdown pass (Brady to Patten, corner of the end zone, we couldn't even see it). 14-3, Patriots. Are you KIDDING me? ... Raising my eyes as the scoreboard showed graphics like, "The Patriots are 11-1 this season when leading at the half" and "10 points is the largest deficit that anyone has overcome in Super Bowl history." Hmmmmmmm. ... Making "Karate Kid" jokes with the guys behind me as the Rams ran off the field at halftime: "Get 'em a bodybag, yeahhhhhh!" and "Sweep the leg, Johnny!" Those never get old. 14-3, Patriots.
... Sitting there in awe as U2 (my first favorite band as a kid and my favorite band of all-time) ripped off an electric version of "Beautiful Day." Another good omen. Sweet Jesus, it's a beautiful day ...... Thinking the Rams were ready to get put away, but wincing as the Pats kept letting them off the hook (especially when Brady just missed Patten on a bomb to start the second half -- would have been a backbreaker). ... Glancing at the clock. Faster. Faster. Keep moving. ... Watching Marshall Faulk hop around after a little screen pass for eight or 10 extra yards. Does anyone in sports consistently make you say "He's so damn good" more than Marshall Faulk? Scariest guy on the planet. ... Shaking my head in disbelief as the third quarter ended. The Patriots are one quarter away from winning the Super Bowl. I can't even come remotely close to being in the relative ballpark of even broaching the point of considering that there's the slightest chance that under any circumstances beyond the realm of possibility that I should be believing this could be happening ... if that makes sense. ... Seeing the Pats throttle them on fourth-and-goal, seeing them force the fumble, seeing Tebucky Jones sprinting down the sidelines right at us, jumping up and down in disbelief, hugging the Pats fans behind me, practically crying because the Pats have just clinched the Super Bowl ... and then there it is. The yellow flag. Absolutely surreal. One of the all-time stomach punches. (How 'bout the disturbing parallels between the Tebucky non-TD and the Allies' fourth goal from the Sly Stallone soccer classic "Victory." The goal has been disallowed! The goal has been disallowed! How come this game has me thinking of sports movie parallels? Is it just me?) ... Dying in the fourth quarter. Just dying. I can't even talk about it.
... Pining for that final first down, agonizing as it doesn't come, knowing that the Pats have to punt. Up 17-10, two minutes left ... and the Rams have one last chance ... and the Pats defense has been on the field for the entire second half ... and everyone in the building knows the Rams are about to score.... Dying some more. Dying a slow death. Almost feeling like I can't breathe. 17-17. How many times can this happen to Boston fans in a 16-year span? How many times can we endure this? When will we turn the tables? Will it ever happen? ... Watching in disbelief as Brady strings together a little drive, trying not to get my hopes up, heart pounding out of my chest, unable to speak, officially passing the point of no return ... I believe. ... Looking up at the scoreboard, seeing that there's 0:33 remaining on the clock, thinking that was a good omen (being Larry Legend's number and all), then hearing the Pats fan behind me scream, "Thirty-three seconds left! Larry Bird! That's gotta be an omen, right? Larry Bird!!!!!" Too weird. The best guy on the last Boston team to win a title, as well as the Basketball Jesus. Thirty-three. 0:33. (Of course, Troy Brown caught a pass on the next play, broke a tackle and brought the Pats into field-goal range. You couldn't make this stuff up.) ... Watching Jermaine Wiggins haul in a pass and bulldoze his way to the 31 yard-line, watching Brady spike the ball, watching Vinatieri run onto the field ... and thinking to myself, "My life as Patriots fan will never be the same after this kick. I mean, NEVER."
... Staring at the ball as it traveled through the air, right toward us, and it seemed straight, and it seemed long enough, and ...GOODDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don't remember much after that. The crowd went bonkers. All the Patriots sprinted onto the field. Everyone was hugging one another. I was climbing over my seat to get involved in a four-way hug with the Pats fans behind me. Confetti and fireworks galore, and I just kept thinking to myself, "This is my team! This is my team!" Finally, I ended up standing there, my hands behind my head, looking like the guy on Duke (Thomas Hill) after Laettner made his famous shot against Kentucky. Complete, total shock. (I don't think I've ever felt that way before. I mean, have you ever felt totally dumbfounded by something? Have you ever felt totally overwhelmed? I'm telling you, keep the faith, keep believing, keep supporting your team -- there's a slight chance that it might be worth it some day. Just trust me.) Sitting behind me, an older Patriots fan had turned bright-red -- I couldn't tell whether he was laughing, crying or both -- and he was screaming "Fifty years! I've been waiting for this for fifty years!" and "They gave us no respect! None!" And he just kept screaming those things again and again. And again. And again. Meanwhile, the other Patriots fans in our section were hugging one another and carrying on -- none of us knew what to do. We were collectively incredulous. Total disbelief. Nobody could ever make jokes about the Patriots again. We had arrived. And then they were bringing the championship trophy out, and Pats owner Bob Kraft was accepting it, and I just kept standing there like Thomas Hill. Just a wave of happiness and disbelief. Can't even be explained unless you've been there. Craig (the Pats fan sitting behind me) summed it up best: "Every year I watch them present the Super Bowl trophy to somebody... now it's ... it's us, baby! It's us!!!! YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!"
After the game, I met some of my buddies on Bourbon Street. J-Bug was there. And Grady. Rusty. Vinny. Murph. Nate. And Doons. And we threw down some Hurricanes, and we hugged one another, and then we hugged one another again. We slapped high-fives with every Pats fan in our immediate vicinity. We started "Here we go Patriots, here we go (clap clap!)." And we kept having conversations like this:
- Me: "Hey, have I mentioned that the Pats won the Super Bowl?"
JBug: "How 'bout the fact that we're the world champions right now?"
Murph: "Dude, we just won the Super Bowl."
Doons: "Hey, you guys... we're the world f---ing CHAMPIONS!"
|We needed this. Badly. After the Celtics cruised to the NBA title in '86, there were a ton of hits, one after the other. Lenny Bias died. The Red Sox choked away the '86 World Series. Magic made the sky hook. The B's couldn't win a Cup with Neely and Bourque in their primes. The Sox couldn't get past Stewart and the A's. Larry's back and McHale's feet gave out. Reggie died. The Pats almost moved to St. Louis. The Sox fell into mediocrity. Parcells skipped town after we nearly won the Super Bowl. Clemens and Mo left. We lost out on Tim Duncan. Pitino stunk out the joint. The Sox couldn't get over the hump with Pedro and Nomar in their primes. The B's basically died. During the 2000 season, we actually had all four teams miss the playoffs
-- the first time since 383AD.