The titanic Boeing wide bodied 767 roared to life. Its turbines started to make faster revolutions until the whirlpool decal on the front of the engines became a blur and the roar of a hundred or so rabid fans standing in the cold behind the airport gates were drowned out entirely by the resulting sounds of jet fuel combustion.
One long taxi run down to the end of Runway 5 at T.F. Green later and the New England Patriots players, coaching staff and various team personnel were off to Minneapolis for Super Bowl 52 – and another go at sports immortality.
The team which has become the Biblical Goliath, impossible to slay by every other NFL team not led by Eli Manning, is in the midst of an unprecedented 10th trip to football’s championship bout. If they win, they will be tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for most Lombardi Trophies, with six.
It took the Steelers 34 years to accrue those six titles. If they emerge successful this upcoming Sunday, it will have taken Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots less than half that long.
Nearly 17 years have passed since Tom Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in the second game of the 2001 season, a marker in time which will make all fans, young and old, feel nostalgic at best and helpless to the merciless ticking of Father Time’s stopwatch at worst.
The unbelievable run – a testament to unparalleled professionalism, teamwork, tough and unpopular roster choices, unthinkable numbers of hours of practice, total buy-in from ownership and, of course, a stroke of impossible luck (more like fate) that the greatest quarterback of all time happened to wind up in the 6th round and looked more suited to sell you a bad used car than throw a tight spiral – needs some perspective.
For example, the average marriage destined for divorce only lasts eight years. An entire generation of kids, many possibly brought into the world due to the championship, have grown up and learned to drive. If you invested just $1,000 in Amazon during the month Brady first started, your shares would be worth about $165,000 today.
What the Patriots have done – not just staying relevant for nearly two decades, but being in the running for a championship all but one fluke year in 2002, is nothing short of an anomaly. In fact, it shouldn’t be possible at all in a league that utilizes free agency and a salary cap to keep parity among the league high. It shouldn’t be possible, and yet we’re in the midst of it.
This is, of course, primarily due to Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Bob Craft. Younger fans will understand their perfect symmetry as bearing a close resemblance to the mystical talisman in the “Legend of Zelda” video game series – the Triforce; a golden triangle constructed out of three equal pieces which possesses the power to alter the very world itself.
One represents power – which is Craft, a billionaire who has spared no expense to give his team the best chance to win, right down to the plane mentioned at the beginning of this editorial. One represents wisdom – Belichick, who can outsmart and out-think opponents so soundly that he, in essence, can make opposing teams defeat themselves by making brazen choices they otherwise wouldn’t make in the midst of battle.
The final piece, courage, resides within Tom Brady. Anybody who will still argue against Brady’s status as the best to ever throw a football, at this point, is simply holding out bitterly against reality. He has all the records, all the achievements and a fistful of rings. He could literally lose this Super Bowl and it will not affect his standing. He earns far less than he could, voluntarily, to stay where he can continue to win. He plays through injuries time and time again. He still gets comically mad when he makes a bad throw in practice. His fire and heart are undeniable. He is a champion’s champion.
In a way, it’s fitting to make a video game reference when talking about the Patriots, because they have put up video game numbers in the past 17 years. The New England Patriots, for now at least, are the standard by which other professional sports team can only hope to aspire.
We know, deep down in the place you don’t like to think about, that this run of success will not continue indefinitely. But in the nauseating, fuel-scented cloud of dust kicked up by the 767 as it slowly drove towards another takeoff, a handful of reporters who must normally maintain objectivity were smiling and donning Patriots gear, not really thinking about anything but the moment here and the game ahead.
Enjoy the rest of the ride.