For the past 12 years, I have experienced such gratification being a New England sports fan. I have seen all of "my teams" win their respective league championships, some multiple times. So, I can't complain. If I were to succumb to tantrums or tears after a loss it would be quite the arrogant spectacle. But, it hasn't always been days of wine and roses during this decade of dominance. The Celtics lost in the NBA Championship to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Red Sox had an abysmal collapse in 2011 and the New England Patriots lost two Super Bowls in the past six years. The first coming during a string of eighteen straight victories just missing a perfect season, the second loss, which occurred just last year, happened on my twenty-first birthday. Those last two stung... a lot.
Still, I cannot complain. There are countless NFL teams that have never been to a Super Bowl. I seem to forget about the competition when the Patriots have compiled three Super Bowl Championships and are primed for Division titles year after year. Patriots' fans have been spoiled like an only child on Christmas morning; we always seem to get what we want. And that might be the problem. We always expect glory; we always expect the best of all of our teams.
Another bout for glory came last Sunday as my New England Patriots played in their seventh AFC Championship game under the Belichick/Brady regime. They played their AFC North foe Baltimore Ravens who had been riding the wave of Ray Lewis, their decorated linebacker who would be calling it quits come the end of the postseason. Many New England fans, myself included, already had our bags packed for the Super Bowl in New Orleans. Flashes of Popeye's chicken, gumbo and Bourbon Street filled my dreams for the past few weeks. I was looking for a morsel of redemption after last year's crushing defeat to the New York Giants... (again it was on my birthday.)
The stage was set, and it appeared that no one believed the Ravens would stand a chance against the immortal Tom Brady in his house with the legacy he has built. I was finally confident that Brady could play an MVP caliber game against the Ravens and head to the Super Bowl where he would capture his fourth title, tying his idol Joe Montana. This accomplishment would finally cement Brady as the best quarterback in the history of the National Football League. (Well... at least to me, Patriots fans and vast majority of media personnel.)
Sadly, this deed will not transpire this year, and who knows, maybe Tom Brady and the Patriots will never win that fourth championship; we can't predict the future. But as I sat in my living room watching the game slowly come to a close, I quietly mused over the journey this team has been on for years. A journey that began when a slow, bulky kid from San Mateo, California stood behind center for the first time. No one could have imagined that a 199th pick in the NFL draft could turn out to be in conversation with the greatest of all time. No one.
My father, a long time aficionado of the Patriots waited forty years to see them claim their first Super Bowl. He was a life-long fan who for years had season tickets to the old Foxboro Stadium. No matter the weather, my father would drive over an hour away for every home game. And this was when the team would compile records that would leave them out of the playoffs. But, he still went. He still looked forward to this three-hour gratification every week; it was all he thought about. To me, this is love, this is passion. This is a marriage, sticking by someone or something through the good and the bad never unsure if they are the right one for you. Meaning: if you are going to reap the benefits of a Super Bowl victory you better be around when they don't make they playoffs. (Here's looking at you Giants fans.)
I guess my goal here is to reach out to all sports fans and present them with my own prophecy that I acquired after seeing my team lose. We should always want our favorite teams to win and we should live, breathe and die our favorite teams because we are fans. But, we should never EXPECT our favorite teams to win because anything can happen. Instead of entering a game and proclaiming there is no chance for the opponent why don't we say "I have faith that it will be an exciting game for both teams." I believe this can be a viable solution in compressing our frustration over a loss because when we expect certain things to happen and they don't, the feeling is unbearable.
I am going to put my money where my mouth is come football season this fall. I have faith that Tom Brady and the Patriots will be ready to compete come September but I am not expecting them to win the Super Bowl. But, if they do win and somehow reach the pinnacle of football glory then it will be the greatest surprise of all.