Thursday, February 3, 2022

#tbt Tom Brady Memories

Today, I'm taking another trip down memory lane.  If you've hung out here, you know that I'm a big New England Patriots fan.  (I have been since I was a child.)  Tom Brady announced his retirement from football this past Tuesday, February 1st... and it got me thinking a lot about the memories that I've had as a Pats fan the past 20+ years.

Love him or hate him, you can't deny that Tom Brady has achieved incredible things in the sport of football.  I'll always think of him as the G.O.A.T.  He's certainly the best football player I've ever had the privilege to watch.  I feel like we New Englanders have been spoiled getting to watch him grow into the incredible player he has become. 

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But it wasn't always that way.  When I first really started watching the Patriots, Drew Bledsoe was our man.  I remember being so excited when we finally made it to the Super Bowl back in 1997.  It was Super Bowl XXXI (31) and I was 12 at the time.  I watched the whole game and we lost to the stupid Green Bay Packers and I've hated them ever since then.  (I even went through a slight phase of annoyance that our high school's colors were the same as theirs.  Every time I see green, yellow and white together, I have to think MDI Trojans and not the Packers and Brett Farve... ew.)

A few years later, Drew Bledsoe got injured during a regular season game and we had to bring in our back-up quarterback, a man named Tom Brady.  I wasn't sure how this was going to play out, but Brady enjoyed a lot of success during the rest of the regular season.  Before we knew it, we were going to the playoffs!

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The Patriots played their last game at Foxboro Stadium and it was one of the most memorable games ever.  We were having a massive blizzard and the field was covered in so much snow you could barely see it.  They had to shovel off the lines just so everyone knew where they were!  (This was the infamous "Tuck Rule Game".)  The Pats won in overtime on a field goal, sending us to the AFC Championship game. 

During that game, Brady got injured and had to leave the game.  Drew Bledsoe was back on the field in his first game since being inured in the regular season.  He brought us to victory, and we were going to the Super Bowl again!

Super Bowl XXXVI (36) was a fairy tale.  I was so excited for the game.  Of all of the Patriots Super Bowl appearances, this was the one that probably stuck with me the most.  (I guess you always remember your first win!)  From the second the Patriots were announced together as a team, and they erupted from the tunnel, I had a great feeling.  (This was the first time a team had ever been announced all together and this has become a tradition ever since this game.)

The game was evenly paced, with both teams tied at one minute and 30 seconds remaining.  That's when everything changed for the New England Patriots.  With no timeouts left, and the tv announcers suggesting that Brady run the clock out to go into overtime, the unthinkable happened.  Bill Belichick decided to have Brady go for it and attempt to win.  Brady fearlessly lead the team down the field until they were close enough to kick a field goal.  With 7 seconds left, he spiked the ball to make way for Adam Vinatieri to kick a field goal to win the game right as the clock expired.

The rest is history.  The New England Patriots had their first ever Super Bowl win!  Tom Brady was named the MVP of the Super Bowl and a legend was born. (Appropriately, the anniversary of our first Super Bowl win was exactly 20 years ago today.)

As the confetti rained down, I went crazy with excitement.  I remember asking my Mom is I could go outside to scream and she let me.  So there I stood, out on the back deck in the freezing cold February air, cheering and whooping like a crazy person.  

In the days that followed, all of New England celebrated.  The Duck Boat parade through the streets of Boston was born.  Everyone was so excited about our win. The energy was amazing.  My physics class did equations based solely off of the Super Bowl win.  I made myself a Patriots pillow that I still have.  Mom bought Dad, Jeremy and me matching throw blankets to commemorate our win.  I cut out any article I could find with photos from the Super Bowl.  To this day, all of those newspaper photos are still hung up on my wall at Mom and Dad's house 20 years later. 

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Two years later, the Patriots went to the Super Bowl again.  Except this time, I was in college right in the middle of Boston.  The whole city felt electric with excitement as we went through the playoffs to the build up of the big game.  I remember watching the playoff games in the freshman dorms.  The entire campus seemed to be tuning in to see what would happen.  During the actual game, I watched part of it in the dorm but I remember watching the halftime show and the second half of the game with some friends of my then boyfriend off campus.

The Patriots won the game and everyone went nuts.  We were already pretty much on Northeastern's campus, and the street closer to campus housing erupted with people celebrating in the street.  But before we knew it, things grew violent.  Drunk kids were causing mayhem and we retreated back.  When I saw the riot police preparing to go in, that was our cue to leave.  It was one thing to go outside and cheer with everyone who was excited, but sloppy drunk college kids causing mayhem was never my scene.  (I barely ever drank in college to begin with, and was never drunk.)

The most exciting part of living in the city of Boston after the win was the celebration that followed.  I was so excited to be able to go to the parade in person, but, it was on Tuesday and the same time as my first color theory exam.  I won't go into too many details, but the short story is that a childhood friend of mine died in a car accident a few days before the parade.  I made a decision to miss my test, and I honestly told my professor why I was missing it.  Life is too short and I would always regret not going to the parade.  Plus, I knew my friend would have wanted me to go.  (Thankfully, my professor understood and supported my decision.  She even pulled me aside at the next class to ask if I enjoyed the parade and if I was doing ok.)

The parade was amazing; I definitely made the right choice.  My boyfriend and I got there early so I was right next to the barricade.  It was cold, but not freezing.  Crowds filled in and before we knew it, the Duck Boats were approaching.  The highlight of the experience was when Tom Brady looked directly at me while smiling and waving.  We went to the rally afterwards; there were so many people at City Hall.  They estimated that a million of us crammed into the square to catch a glimpse of our champion New England Patriots.  (I can't find those photos right now, but I'll add them if I do!)

The following year, the Pats made it to the Super Bowl again.  This time, all of the colleges in the city had a better plan to combat students being out.  After the previous year, I had no desire to leave campus anyways, but there were incentives to watch it there.  Wentworth got a giant movie screen and projected the game in one of our dorms.  The lure of free food, giveaways and watching the game with my fellow students and friends was enough to keep me there happily and willingly.

Sitting there with my fellow students and friends, I watched the Patriots win their 3rd Super Bowl and complete their back-to-back.  It was amazing.  My biggest regret that year was that I didn't go to the parade.  I thought going to class was more important this particular year.  The only thing I remember from that class is that it took about 8 minutes for the safety helicopters to make their loop around the city and to pass our classroom window again.  Thankfully, that wasn't our last one though.

In the years that followed, the Patriots had much success.  A Dynasty was born.  

I watched many playoff games in the dorms with my friends.  There were more Duck Boat parades, even though I've never gone to another Patriots one.  But I have vivid memories of people cheering in the streets of Boston after we'd win games.  How people all over the city were wearing their Patriots gear during the playoffs and into the lead up to the big game.  Tom Brady jerseys were a staple of course.  And the pride and an overall sense of celebration in the city was infectious.  (Side Note: During my college years, the Red Sox and Celtics also won championships and people unofficially started referring to Boston as the City of Champions and Title Town.  As a Boston sports fan, I was spoiled.  But it was a great time to go to college in Boston!)

My last year of college, Eliot and I started dating and he had to come to terms with the fact that he fell for a Patriots fan.  He's an Eagles fan (to this day I still have no idea why) but he grew up as a 49ers fan.  Eliot isn't a huge fan of the Patriots, or of their fans (he had some jerk roommates) but he's always been respectful of my choice in football teams.  (I suppose, I have completely fallen for his Sharks after all.)

After college, I can remember when I was working as an assistant manager at the furniture store and how we were allowed to wear our Patriots gear on Sundays to make the atmosphere a bit more fun and festive.  Then, during playoff season, we were even allowed to wear them both Saturday and Sunday.  I loved wearing both my white and pink Tom Brady jerseys to work.  It was so much fun!

In 2012, Eliot and I visited Patriot Place and Gillette Stadium for the first time.  (Today is actually the exact 10 year anniversary of that day.)  We were going shopping at the outlet stores nearby, and I really wanted to check out Gillette Stadium.  The Patriots were going to the Super Bowl again that year, and I really felt compelled to visit the stadium in person.  (It was the weekend between AFC Championship weekend and the Super Bowl.)  Eliot agreed and took a few photos of me in my Tom Brady jersey.  I really enjoyed seeing the stadium in person and having a few quiet moments to reflect on how blessed Patriots fans have been.

Later that same year, I attended my first (and so far only) Patriots game at Gillette Stadium.  One of my coworkers at the furniture store had season tickets and he couldn't go to one of the games.  He and his friend each had two season tickets next to each other, and he mentioned it to everyone at work trying to see if anyone wanted to buy them from him.  I told him that I was interested, I checked with Mom and Dad, and before I knew it, Eliot, Dad, Jeremy and I were all going to our first NFL game!

It was December 30th, and the temperature was 28° out, but with the windchill it felt a lot colder.  We were all bundled up in multiple layers.  (I had 4 shirts, 3 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of socks, boots, a winter hat, my new Patriots baseball hat, a scarf, gloves and my jacket on!)  We were still cold, but it was totally worth it!  The Patriots beat the Dolphins 28-0, so we had plenty of times we could cheer.  Being in the stadium and feeling the energy in person was a really cool experience.  We all had a great time and said we'd go to another game someday... except that it didn't need to be one in the freezing cold.  (Those October games are looking really good... and warm!)

When I worked at the chiropractic office, I'd have a lot of conversations about Tom Brady and the Patriots with our patients.  (Tom believes in chiropractic care!)  We had some big fans, and the doctor and I were too.  I really got into it, insisting that I be allowed to wear my jersey instead of scrubs before the playoff games.  I remember making more than one Patriots bulletin board for the office.  One year, I even brought in one of my scarves and a plastic ring for "Harry" our office skeleton to wear!

In recent years, Eliot and I have enjoyed watching the games here at home.  I haven't caught as many regular season games as I used to, but I've tried to catch them.

Sometimes, we weren't at home to watch the games.  One of my most vivid recent memories was watching the Patriots game in Florida with Eliot and his Dad.  It was during our All-Star vacation in January of 2019.  We tried to get into the ESPN zone to watch the playoff game, but after standing out in the cold for far too long, we gave up, went to Magic Kingdom to watch the fireworks and headed home.  While at the Magic Kingdom, we found some other Patriots fans who were watching the game on their phone.  They gave me a few updates on the game and the score.

But the most vivid part of January 20, 2019 was watching the game at the Texas Roadhouse.  Rick, Eliot and I made it there in time to watch the 4th quarter while we ate our dinner.  We sat at the bar, surrounded by people who hated the Patriots.  I was wearing my Brady jersey and I swear every person in the room was staring at me when we walked in.  It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize they all hated Brady and the Pats.  Everyone was cheering for the Kansas City Chiefs.  

The men (aka total jerks) next to us at the bar were not being subtle about it either.  I heard many quips about cheaters while struggling to focus and watch my team finish the game.  I felt so many emotions while sitting there.  I was literally the only person there rooting for the Pats.  I couldn't eat my food.  Our waitress even asked me if something was wrong with it.  After what felt like for-ev-er, the Patriots finally won the game 37-31 (in overtime) and I was able to eat my food.  The rest of the restaurant whined about Brady being in another Super Bowl, but I spent the rest of the meal with a smug look on my face.  (We won that Super Bowl too!  I also comfort myself with the fact that those jerks hating on Brady probably were the same ones loving him when he became a Buccaneer a few years later... but I'm getting ahead of the story.)

Sometimes, it isn't easy being one of the most, if not the most, hated franchise in the NHL.  Our Patriots have had a lot of success- and that comes with it.  I usually just shrug it off and repeat the saying "you hate us 'cause you ain't us" with a grin.

We've had so many wonderful moments over the past 20+ years.  But eventually, all good things come to an end.  I remember watching Tom Brady's last game as a New England Patriot.  Eliot and I were with his family in Reno, Nevada for our New Year's Eve trip.  During the game, the announcers kept talking about how this might be his last game as a Patriot.  You could feel the uncertainty... and I just knew.  I held out hope that Tom would stay, but deep down I could sense that this was it.  When the game ended and we lost, I tried to hold it together but a few tears escaped.  Eliot's Dad is not a Tom Brady fan at all, but even Rick could sense the sadness and weight I was feeling.  They all tried to comfort me, but it felt like a sad day for New Englanders.

Our worst suspicions came true on March 17, 2020 when Tom Brady announced he was leaving New England.  He wrote a beautiful tribute to Robert Kraft, his coaches, his teammates and the fans, but a small part of me was heartbroken.  I've watched Brady grow into the amazing player that he's been today, so it stung a bit.

I'll be honest, I went through a bit of time grieving him leaving the Pats.  It felt kind of like he broke up with us, and I needed some time to process it.  I was happy that he was still going to play though.  Part of me always got a deep sense of pride when he kept breaking records, even when he wasn't currently on our team.

I've watched Tom since he left New England.  I didn't watch all of his games, but I kept track of the scores, how he was doing and how the team was doing.  I also got a kick out of how he and Gronk continued their bromance down in Tampa.  I always referred to the Bucs as the former Patriots.  When the Buccaneers went to the Super Bowl last year, I was 100% rooting for Tom- along with most of New England.  I was so proud when we won his 7th Super Bowl ring.  He's got more championships as a single player than any franchise in the NFL.

After the Buccaneers win, Eliot bought me a special edition jersey from one of the small shops we follow.  I wanted a Tom Brady Super Bowl jersey, but I couldn't quite stomach the idea of buying a Buccaneers jersey.  Eliot spotted this one and showed me.  It was perfect.  With Mickey dressed up as a Buccaneer on the front, it combines my love of Disney, Mickey and Tom Brady... and I can proudly wear it without feeling like I'm abandoning my beloved Patriots.

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Some people in New England feel like Tom abandoned us, but I never did.  Most of us are grateful for him, and feeling incredibly thankful that we were able to witness his greatness first hand for over 20 years.  I've always cheered for him- even when he played us this past season.  I had Sunday, October 3rd circled on my calendar for weeks.  When that game finally arrived, I said that I'd be happy no matter who won.  

I honestly thought the Buccaneers were going to hand us our butts.  However, the game was really close and it wasn't decided until the very end.  The Patriots ended up losing 19-17, but I couldn't have asked for a better game for Brady's last one at Gillette Stadium.  Fans all over the stadium were wearing Brady jerseys.  The atmosphere before the game was palpable.  The tribute videos made me cry a few times.  I think it was cathartic for me and for a lot of fans.  We were able to say our goodbyes and thank you to Brady in the stadium that he called home for so much of his career.

The rest of this season, I've kept an eye on Brady, and I was rooting for him in the playoffs too.  The Patriots got knocked out quickly, but I had hopes that Tom might make one last Super Bowl appearance, although I knew it might be a long shot.  I watched his final game, along with everyone else, wondering if this was finally it.  I wish I'd known it was; I would have soaked it all in more.

Rumors have been swirling for a few days, until this past Tuesday, when Tom Brady finally made the announcement himself.  He's officially retiring from football.  After hearing all of the rumors, the news didn't really come as a shock or surprise, but it still resonated with me.  I'm glad that he's going out on his terms, while he's healthy and still appears to be at the top of his game.  

I've been reflecting the past few days of just how lucky we've been as Pats fans, and I knew that I had to write this post... as long as I knew it would end up being.  I needed to take the time to remember all of this as Tom Brady is sailing off into the sunset.

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Tom, thank you for all of the wonderful memories and moments that you've been a part of for the past two decades.  Patriots Nation is grateful to you for sharing your talents and skills with us.  I'm so thankful to have witnessed your greatness firsthand.  I wish you much success and happiness in your future endeavors!  Enjoy retirement!  TB12

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