As a native New Englander, I’ve been conditioned to believe skill and talent are not the only keys to post-season success. Luck and superstition are powerful forces that can combat even the fiercest offensive line. After years of disappointment, I can now admit that you can have the best team in the league and not make the playoffs. I also understand that you can have a bunch of hard-working guys that find themselves at the big dance.
I say all this not to prove that the underdog New England Patriots might just be able to pull off a win in Super Bowl XXXVI this weekend. I’m not so zealous as to predict matters of fate and destiny. I say this to caution all those who have jumped on the Patriots miracle wagon and want to ride it all the way to the Big Easy.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t want a professional sports championship in New England. God knows we need one. (Does the fact that we adopted Ray Bourque’s Stanley Cup victory last season as our own tell you anything?) I’m just a tad leery of what a Super Bowl win for the Patriots would mean for future generations of Beantown sports fans and franchises. It seems as if Bill Belichick and his boys have found the magic lamp and used their first two wishes wisely, winning both their division and conference on questionable calls. If that legend is true, then the Pats have one wish left, and I don’t think they will use it for new uniforms. My advice is this: Be careful what you wish for, it might come true.
My pessimistic skepticism is rooted in one well-know ideology in professional sports. Bostonians live and die through their sports teams, making them some of the most passionate fans in the country – just the type of fans that everyone else loves to hate. At the moment a championship would be great, sure. But think down the road: Do we want a championship that comes with a disclaimer, a footnote? The suspect calls will go down in history while the team will be merely the butt of barroom jokes that some kid from Pittsburgh will tell my grandson 50 years from now. That’s not the legacy we’re going for here.
When it comes to miracles and New England sports post-season plays, quality, not quantity, has been the trend: Game Seven of the 1966 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, when John Havlicheck stole the ball from Philadelphia allowing the Celtics into the NBA Finals to beat the Lakers in seven; Carlton “Pudge” Fisk’s homer hitting the foul pole to force a game seven for the Red Sox in the 1975 World Series; Bobby Ore’s overtime goal that defeated the Rangers to win the 1972 Stanley Cup.
Yes, they are legends of mythic proportions, but they are few and far between.
It’s been a 16-year drought of post-season glory in New England. We are well overdue. But for the sake of my grandson’s pride, for Paul Pierce, for Pedro Martinez, for the future of New England sports, I just don’t know how comfortable I am with the 2002 Patriots’ qualifications for this miracle.