In 2007, I was unemployed and living in my parents house outside of Boston, a college graduate with no idea what the hell I wanted to do with my life.
It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, by any means – I get along with my parents, I had my own space, and my girlfriend still went to college, so every weekend I could slip away to Somerville for a few days. But after putting in four years at a “prestigious” university it felt like my job prospects were the same as they were out of high school. Partly it was my own fault – instead of securing a job during senior year, I decided to take two months and tour around Asia with my girlfriend. Surprisingly, not a lot of people were looking for just-out-of-school-hires in August. Or September. Or October. Or…
Well, you get the idea. The truth is, I had three things keeping me sane that year: my girlfriend, my band, and the Patriots.
My friends will be quick to tell people that I am, and I admit this, kind of a freak about the Pats. But I wasn’t always like this. I’ve always been a football fan, the son of an Indian immigrant who fell in love with the game early on and whose sister can school you on random football trivia. But I actually grew up a Niners fan (Montana to Rice, baby – can’t tell a 5 year old not to front run) and came to the Pats when Bledsoe did. And I was a fan, throughout, and a big one, especially as I got older and the Pats, somehow, became the class of the NFL.
But 2007 was different. During that season, that magical, amazing season that we all now dread remembering, my fandom changed from a hardcore fan to someone who really, truly lives and dies with the season. Partly its the internet- the discovery of blogs and the wealth of info that went up there, the analysis and strange stories of the players that let you feel closer and closer to the team. (Mike Reiss’ old globe blog, in particular, was key to bringing things like Donte Stallworth’s Martian Alter-Ego to the fore.) But more than anything, it was that the Pats were winning.
Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you’re employed. But I’m sure there’s been that point in your life when it seemed like you simply couldn’t find a job and it feels like you never will. I hit that point around December, when a temporary campaign job I’d had ended in victory and I found myself with nothing to do. I was sending out two or three job applications a day and not hearing back on any of them. And then, a month later, it became clear that the band I loved playing in was falling apart and wasn’t going to last. So, to recap, no job, no band, no prospects, living at home. Any sense of momentum out of college, of growing up into a person of worth, was over. I was stopped.
But the Pats… they couldn’t be stopped. No matter how bad things were during the week, on Sunday I could turn on my TV, and my beloved team would look unstoppable. They kept winning. And winning, and winning. Honestly, we all hate thinking about 2007 because of how it ended, but look back at some of these scores. The Pats scored at least 34 points in their first 8 games, got held to 24 by the Colts in week 9 and then 56 on the hapless Bills. Spygate, and the lingering accusations, just seemed to fuel the team to attempt greater depravities on their opponents. It was a marvel to witness, and when there wasn’t much else good going on in your life, it was something to hold on to.
That’s the point of sports, isn’t it? To distract us from our every day lives, to be a thimble we can fill with our hopes and desires. It’s why fans say “we” when talking about teams, why cities latch onto groups of transient athletes and claim them as their own. They represent us, whether they want to or not, and we repay the players in love and high salaries.
They can win, for us. And for me.
If the Patriots could win, then my luck would turn around. Each week, each Patriots win, was like a bolt of energyt o m hopes of figuring my life out. I’d find a job, I’d find my purpose in life, I’d find… whatever it was that I’d been searching for over the last 7 months. My life could change. All that needed to happen, irrationally, was for the Patriots to win on Sunday.
And they did it 18 times in a row, and eventually found themselves only one game away from going 19-0 and being crowned the best team of all time.
You know what happened next. I remember walking out of my friends place (very consciously deciding not to flip over the giant tray of wing-leftovers on the table) and driving around for an hour, trying to numb the empty feeling inside. Then I remember going to my girlfriends place and her sitting in the car with me, holding me as I shook my head and raged. I remember avoiding the internet over the next week, not talking to anyone except to reply to the concerned “Are you dead?” texts from my friends. I DON’T remember driving back to my parents place after the game – until recently, when my girlfriend brought it up, I thought I had stayed at her house – a fact that is both terrifying and shows some clarity into my head at the time. I also don’t remember much from the next few weeks, except that I was mostly a hermit.
The Pats had lost. Not only had they lost, but they had lost the chance of securing their legacy after Spygate, leaving people questioning whether they were ever good in the first place. And even though I knew it was irrational, I couldn’t avoid the feeling that somehow, someway, my last hope at getting my life on track had slipped through Asante Samuel’s hands.
They had lost, and because they did, so did my hopes.
Of course, things got better. A few months later I found an internship down in DC, which turned into a job I’ve had since the summer of 2008. I found a new city to call my own, a place I love to live and a gig doing some damn cool work. But to this day, I can’t think about that game without physically feeling queasy. My heart skips a beat whenever they show the Tyree catch, and other highlights of that game result in me skipping to another channel for the duration.
But I never really got back to being able to enjoy football the same way since. To this day, when the Pats season ends, there’s a part of me that goes back to that 22 year old who couldn’t find a job, whose future was dimmed out and miserable. And that’s why I live and die with the Pats, and why I need a win on Sunday. Because a win here will eliminate that part of my life for good. It will let me and others – and frankly, I know I’m not the only person still haunted by that season – to finally, finally move on.
There’s a lot of reasons the Patriots players want to win on Sunday. For themselves. For their teammates. For their legacies. For Myra Kraft.
I pay lip service to all of that, for all the good things. But the honest truth of the matter, when it comes down to it is this.
I need them to win for me.
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