The end came to scattered boos and palpable angst with just under two minutes left in the first half of the final regular season game, at home against the Dolphins. The Fish were in a must-punt situation, around their own 35. Alone at home, I cursed aloud as Belichick failed to call the 1st of our remaining three time-outs.
Walk me through it, Bill. Here’s a 4-11 team, whom we’d crushed 43 to 0 in our first meeting. As the half progressed, we’d started to jell, tying it at 10 after being down 10-0. The Book says you call an immediate time-out and put in a set-piece, hurry-up offense. Handle the punt return, and, with enough time to even insert a running play or two if desired, try to pick up 40 or 50 yards for a field goal attempt. Then we get the 2nd half kick-off and – who knows? – maybe ice the game right there. Instead, you let the clock dwindle, we shoot a couple of indifferent runs up the middle, and slink into the locker room!
Whoa, we’ve still got Tom Brady! We have a bunch of other players who, whatever their limitations, seem perfectly willing to TRY. Get it? TRY! A perverse and reverse re-enactment of that long-ago moment when we got the ball back in just such circumstances at the end of our first Super Bowl win. John Madden infamously announced that Brady should take a knee and take our chances in overtime. As if!
Bad vibes and evil spirits had dogged us through the last weeks of the season. Ex-Pat Eric “Death” Rowe, as it turned out, made the play that sent us to death row, an early pick-six of a Brady duck. There would be no reprieve. It was a painful reminder that this same Eric Rowe was the sub for Malcolm Butler against the Eagles a couple of years ago – and got torched all night long, as Belichick blew the Super Bowl – out of, to all appearances, mere spite against Malcolm Butler – who’d played 98% of the defensive snaps that season and now sat on the bench.
After Miami, it was a foregone conclusion that we were cooked. Belichick quit on the team. We’d blown the first-round bye and the home field against Kansas City, things we needed with Edelman hurting and all hands wanting extra practice and rest. So, when old friend Make Vrabel, whose pressure on Kurt Warner in that first Super Bowl had led to Ty Law’s early pick-six, also, finally, The Play of the game – when Vrabel brought his Titans to town, it was all about being put out of our misery.
Four days after the Miami debacle, Fat Boy, a great favorite of genius Belichick and Bob “Happy Ending” Kraft, ate three cheeseburgers and, by drone attack, murdered General Soleimani and companions at the Baghdad Airport. Such astonishing physical courage! Bone Spurs then crowed to a crowd of fellow fatties in Ohio that he was greater than – get this! – Lincoln!
I put on a nice suit and tie, my strict rule for standing out and canvassing, and stood in the center of Bridgewater (20 miles east of Patriots’ home in Foxboro) with a sign saying TRUMP = WAR CRIMINAL. I’d anticipated some flack, as Bridgewater, and neighboring East Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, Lakeville, and Middleboro, had all gone for Trump in 2016. Factor in the demonization of Iran from most quarters, and the danger of “war” fever, even when the “war” is waged at long distance by drones.
When standing out I keep count of smiles and thumbs up versus obscene gestures and orc yells by the Trump people. I’d had very good luck with my [HEART] ILHAN OMAR and TRUMP = LIAR, COWARD, BULLY signs last summer, but I thought this might be problematic. Given everything, I figured around 60% my way. I planned to leave when the numbers fell into a good, round football score. Imagine my delight at the numbers the early rush hour yielded:
Thirty-one to seven!
A few days later I stood outside the large VA Hospital in Brockton with a sign saying, over a bed of flames, SEND TRUMP.
All good, but couldn’t get a football score:
Twenty to one.
So now the chatter here in New England is about where free agent Brady will land. Will he return? Some say he’ll be with the Las Vegas Raiders, a proposition so obscene on so many levels that you can only cover your ears.
So, Northern California, thanks for giving us Tom Brady. Twenty years of great play and a familiarity that made it seem like the he was playing with the kids in the back yard or on the village green.
May blameless Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners bring you joy! Jimmy was great in our epic 2016-17 season, filling in during Brady’s Deflate-Gate suspension.
Many remember Bob St. Clair, featured in the wonderful old Sport magazine as “The Forty-Niner Who Eats Raw Meat,” and have had a soft spot for the Niners ever since. You’ve got fans across the nation.
We trust you can run and control the clock. We hope you’ve got two or three linebackers and safeties who can run and tackle. You’ll need them, because Texas Red is no joke. As the song says,
He was vicious and a killer,
Though a youth of twenty-four,
And the notches in his pistol
Numbered one and nineteen more!
Go Niners! God Bless Ilhan Omar!
P.S. A random factoid: Just reading a book about Robert Frost and learned that in September 1891 he was a walk-on right end for the Lawrence High School football team, undefeated that season. He apparently played pretty well, perhaps Massachusetts' best end prior to another Rob, Gronkowski. Remember when ends were designated as "left ends" and "right ends"? Also, in those days, if you played end on offense, you were generally simply flipped and played end on defense too.