When your hometown team wins three championships in four seasons, there's a level of complacency that typically settles in amongst much of the fan base. Few will admit it, many will dispute it and most will deny it.
When your team achieves the amount of success that the Patriots did during the early part of last decade, though, it's completely understandable if a blind eye is turned when the franchise experiences a few hiccups in the years that follow. In fact, it's borderline inevitable, because the subconscious thinking is that your team had already made good on its promise to bring home a title.
It's a grace period, if you will.
Perhaps I'm way off on this, but in a city where championships have been a dime a dozen recently, and where spoiled doesn't even begin to describe the fan base, some defeats simply don't sting as much as others.
The Celtics suffered a difficult defeat at the hands of the Lakers in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. Yet, it didn't quite strike a nerve the same way it would have had the C's not dispatched of the Lake Show in the Finals two years prior.
And the Red Sox' sweep at the hands of the White Sox in the 2005 ALDS, their loss to the Rays in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS or their collapse in Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS against the Angels didn't quite sting as much as it would have pre-2004.
This isn't to say those losses didn't suck — and suck badly — for Boston sports fans, as any time you come so close to tasting victory, the bitter taste of defeat is somewhat vomit-inducing. But that sick feeling is likely more a reflection of the next-day hangover than of the actual defeat. Because even despite the momentary heartbreak, there's the recent evidence of accomplishment to fall back on.
The Patriots have never really been afforded that luxury, though, despite achieving the most success of any of New England's four major sports teams over the past 11 years.
Their playoff defeats in the years following their last Super Bowl win in February of 2005 have only elevated the level of anxiety amongst fans, mostly because of the way in which their defeats have occurred.
There was the Broncos' victory over the Patriots in the 2005 divisional round, which marked the first indication that Tom Brady does, in fact, have some human traits when it comes to postseason football. Until that point, he was viewed as less than a God but more than a man.
Then, there was the 2006 AFC Championship, when the Pats blew a 24-3 lead in a loss to the Peyton Manning-led Colts, marking the first time Manning was able to get the best of Brady. The Colts' ensuing Super Bowl win suddenly showed that Brady and Manning perhaps really were on a level playing field.
But the one thing that became abundantly clear as the Patriots' Super Bowl XXXIX win over the Eagles grew smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror was that Bill Belichick's Patriots — who once appeared to do no wrong in the eyes of New England fans — were suddenly very beatable. Without another title, there became this sense that all was not right in the world. And unfortunately for New England, not only have Patriots fans not received their much-needed sip of championship champagne since, but they've experienced more lows than highs.
A return to the top never appeared so close as it did following the perfect regular season of 2007. But rather than being able to say we bared witness to the greatest team to ever play, Patriots fans were instead left with the feeling that they had just been drilled over the head with Mercury Morris and Co.'s empty champagne bottle, as the Giants pulled off the improbable in Super Bowl XLII.
Throw in everything Spygate-related that's surfaced since the last Super Bowl win, and the desire to see Belichick and Brady once again ride down the streets of Boston in duckboats is as strong as ever, bringing us to where we are now: Less than a week away from another winner-take-all matchup with the G-Men.
You can sense the confidence level throughout New England isn't quite where it was prior to the teams' Super showdown four years ago, as there's still looming questions as to how good this Patriots team really is. After all, they've had a ridiculously easy road to where they are now, and they've yet to prove themselves against the game's elite — although last Sunday's win was a step toward doing so.
But none of this skepticism — warranted or not — matters at this exact moment. Sure, the Pats have been fortunate, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a Super Bowl-winning team that didn't experience a bit of good fortune along the way. Championship wins are in large part a matter of taking advantage of those opportunities, which this team has (thus far) shown an ability to do.
In the 2001-02 playoffs, the Patriots took advantage of the Tuck Rule. In the 2003-04 playoffs, they took advantage of John Kasay's kickoff out of bounds with 1:08 left in a tie game during the Super Bowl. And in the 2004-05 playoffs, New England took advantage of an incompetent Donovan McNabb during the waning minutes of Super Bowl XXXIX.
When we look back a week from now, Billy Cundiff's sailing kick and Lee Evans' dropped pass in the end zone could stand as the latest examples that teams that capitalize on what their opponents give them are more apt to achieve greatness.
Opportunistic. It's a word that so frequently attaches itself to teams that are left standing when all is said and done, and it's a word that's been buried down the list when describing the Patriots the past few years. That could all change with one more solid effort.
Has New England's road been easy? Yup. Have their wins been pretty? Hardly. Should Patriots fans be confident? Debatable.
But when it comes to the question of whether it's been enough to get the job done thus far — the only question that matters — the answer is a resounding "yes" And that answer is not debatable.
Sunday's big game can be dissected a million different ways — and it will be — and we can speculate for hours upon hours — and we will — about what's going to happen following the opening kickoff. But sometimes, championships can't really be explained, and "expect the unexpected" might just be the most accurate three words ever uttered (if only I had been around some 2,500 years ago to beat Heraclitus to the punch).
"One more. Sixty more minutes," linebacker Jerod Mayo said following the Patriots' AFC Championship win over the Ravens.
It's the most basic of statements, but it's perhaps the most spot-on of anything you'll hear this week. The Pats have done enough to enjoy success for the majority of the other 1,080 minutes they've played so far this season, so why can't they do it for another 60?
That's likely the sentiment in the Patriots locker room nowadays, and it's one that could go a long way toward making sure this particular opportunity doesn't slip through New England's grasps like some have in years past.
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