Seven years ago, the New England Patriots hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. Since that fateful day, every single season has ended in an absolute gut-wrenching fashion. Now, with New England playing in its seventh Super Bowl, Brady, Belichick, and the rest of the Patriots have the opportunity to finally put those lost seasons to rest by achieving the ultimate redemption. But before they do, I wanted to take a moment to revisit each and every one of those six seasons of pain. I've been covering the Patriots since 2002, and at the end of every season, I took the time to reflect on the final game and the season as a whole. For the next six days, I'll be re-running the end-of-the-season article from the past six years. It's time to rip open the scabs and pout salt in these old wounds. Because until you've spent time in the valley, you'll never appreciate the view from the top of the world.
Written on February 3rd, 2008
I wouldn't swap the pain, for never knowing you,
I wouldn't swap the pain, it was worth it for the view.
- Bell X1 "In Every Sunflower"
I'm going to make this brief because I need to get to bed, and there's no way I'll be up for writing this article for at least another week. It's pretty much now or never.
The Giants were the better team tonight. They deserved to win. End of story.
I wish it was that simple. It's not. As much as I want to play the role of the dignified loser, put this game in the back of my mind, and move on, I won't be forgetting this game for a long time, maybe ever.
This one hurts. It doesn't hurt as bad as last year's collapse against Peyton Manning, but it still hurts. Deeply. To go an entire season, 18-0, and then fall short at the final seconds - "disappointing" doesn't even begin to describe it. Tonight I lost the opportunity to watch my team make history. It's an opportunity I may never get again. It's a fact that just flat-out hurts for me, for my fellow fans, for Coach Belichick, and for every man that put on that jersey tonight an played his heart out.
That being said, I'm extremely glad that I'm not a New York Giants fan. I'm not trying to pull sour grapes or diminish what they've accomplished. Believe me, they're experiencing a well-deserved euphoria tonight that I certainly wish me and my fellow fans could take part in. It's that rush of adrenaline, pride, and pure joy that makes us follow these games week in a week out. But I would never trade being a Patriots fan for the thrill of winning that game tonight. I will gladly sit here and suffer with my players, because being a part of the Patriots nation means more than any championship every could. We've overcome an amazing amount of adversity this season, just like we have the six years before this, and just like we will in the years to come. I couldn't be prouder to root for this team and what they stand for. Come the greatest victory or most crushing defeat, I am proud to be a Patriot. Here's why...
When the chapters of this season are written in the NFL History books, I'm sure that they will say that the New England Patriots lost their shot at perfection tonight. In some ways, that's a correct observation, but in other ways it's not. I'm not going to lie and say I wouldn't have gone bragging to my grave about 19-0 had we won, but in reality, winning tonight would not have made the Patriots perfect. True perfection would require scoring on every drive, never dropping a pass, and never giving up a yard, much less a point, on defense. Even on the best night a quarterback has ever had in the post-season, Tom Brady was only a very imperfect 26 for 28.
"Perfection" is unattainable and extremely unforgiving. To try and define this season by that term would be a failure to see what the Patriots truly stood for - hard work, respect, selflessness, and team work. It's those qualities that makes me love being a fan of this team, not the trophies on the case or a zero in the loss column. The New England Patriots are not and will not be defined by another person's estimation of perfection. Instead, it's the way they respond to imperfection that makes them who they are. When the going gets tough, these Patriots grow closer, work harder, and refuse to give up. As a result, you can almost be certain that New England will enter the 2008 NFL Season hungrier and more well-prepared than ever before. This is not the final chapter in their dynasty.
With that in mind, you may want to consider booking your tickets to Super Bowl XLIII now and beating the rush. I have a pretty strong feeling the Patriots may be heading to Tampa Bay, once again 18-0, just waiting for yet another chance at "ever".