If you missed Part 1, check it out here…
My voice was gone, though there was little to say. My body was a rock, each leg a cement-filled deep well, and a huge hole had ripped down the back of my shorts at some unknown point. I slowly twirled a free Crown Royal on the rocks on the table, futzing with a chicken tender stewing in the remaining syrup drizzling from a small piece of waffle. Images of previous Patriots Super Bowl wins projected up and down the walls alongside countless #DriveforFive signs, plastered throughout the small arena where a few thousand people had gathered after Super Bowl LI.
About 100 feet away, John Legend performed at this official post-game celebration, for the Patriots players, coaches, organization members, families, and select fans like me. Soon, the Patriots players began waltzing in, fresh and clean off of their triumphant and completely incomprehensible comeback to defeat the Atlanta Falcons. Dont’a Hightower signed autographs, while a random group of linemen took shots at the center bar.
And as we exited for the evening just before 1a, still on cloud nine after the emotional roller coaster we’d all just experienced, Julian Edelman rolled by on a golf cart. With his hair slicked back and a victory stogie dangling from the corner of his mouth, he slapped five with the same hands that had made the circus, can’t-make-this-shit-up catch on the game-tying drive moments before. The song in the background echoed the sentiments I couldn’t quite articulate towards this player, and his teammates and coaches (especially the incomparable Tom Brady and Bill Belichick), after their still-unbelievable 34-28 win: “ALL of me loves ALL of you.”
“Lady Gaga was really good, at least,” I texted my sister while I chain-smoked during the third quarter. She had been amazing, putting on a spectacular performance that was everything you would want from the halftime show. But I wasn’t there to watch a pop superstar perform a brief medley of hits, and I seethed at my continuous rotten luck.
Seriously, what kind of world did we live in? This was the only opportunity a schmuck like me would ever have to attend such a spectacular sporting event in person, and this was the performance my beloved Patriots were giving? What. The. FUCK?!? Selfishly, I texted friends and family in fury, while I forced myself to ponder how great the entire weekend had been. I twisted my thoughts into a gnarly knot, convincing myself that, regardless of this piss poor showing from the players on the field, I could eventually appreciate how cool the whole experience was.
Sure, I may have come to see a football team I’ve religiously rooted for my entire life play in the motherfucking Super Bowl, and they were embarrassing themselves in the worst possible way…but how about these accommodations? Did you SEE the view from our seats at the game??
Honestly, without watching a replay of the game itself, I can’t remember too many details of anything before Stephen Gostkowski’s 4th quarter field goal made it a two touchdown game. Everything throughout the first three quarters is a blur: Blount’s costly fumble early on and Brady’s pick-six are the only two on-field events that register in my memory offhand. It was miserable to witness as a fan, and while I don’t remember the ensuing drive to make the score 21-3 at halftime, I vividly recall storming from my seat as quickly as Robert Alford sprinted down the sideline.
I can still viscerally feel how awful the collective mood was amongst Patriots fans, how deeply the disappointment cut for those of us in attendance. It wasn’t the end of the world, given the four rings the franchise had won up to that point…but when you’re there, in that exact moment? That reminder does little to dissipate the impact from the stomach punch of them completely and utterly falling on their faces. Because when you’re there and your team is failing so spectacularly, it just sucks. So, so much.
I know that, at one point during the second quarter, I screamed at the top of my lungs to, “Stop giving Blount the FUCKING ball!!!” At which point my godfather pulled me aside, declaring I was ruining the game with my negative hostility. He was right– I can be quite the Grumpy Gus when things don’t go my way (if you’re new here)– because the tidal wave going against my wishes that evening in Houston was washing away any positive outlook I tried to muster. It didn’t matter what I thought or how hard I worked to push away the bitter sadness: the game, and consequently the entire trip, was ruined. Nothing could change my mind at that point, it was clear, and I finished my last cigarette, returning to my seat as Gostkowski missed his PAT, making the score a hopeless 28-9.
It still seems so surreal, so impossibly dramatic, so improbably perfect. Everything had to go completely, exactly right for them to pull off that comeback, and so, so, SO many lucky bounces had to fall their way for that 25-point deficit to disappear. After stopping the Falcons midfield– following the duffing of a dubious onside kick attempt– and cutting the deficit to 16 points, the despair in the stands had morphed into a desperately hopeful push for finishing strong.
Suddenly, the team appeared to at least muster some pride, show some fucking back bone, and declare they would not go quietly into the night. If they weren’t going to win, at least they would end things on the upswing, refusing to fold like a reusable silicone straw and limp weakly into the offseason.
And then, DONT’A HIGHTOWER!!! We had hope, real, live hope, and as the team lined up for a two-point conversion (thanks a lot for the added degree of difficulty, Gostkowski!), I thought of the Patriots last Super Bowl in Houston, which I rewatched that week in anticipation of the trip. I remembered a direct snap two-point conversion to Kevin Faulk late in the team’s Super Bowl 38 win over Carolina, and wouldn’t you know it? They ran the SAME play, because I know football, folks.
At this point, I jumped to the row in front of us, as a group of douchey corporate twenty-somethings from Houston had left at halftime, and stalked back and forth. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing, blown away not just by the grit shown by the players, but the sheer lunacy of this game being a game at that point at all. We’d all buried the Pats for dead, made peace with the fact that this game was a lost cause, and yet here we were. It still doesn’t make any sense other than the fact that it actually happened.
It must have been during the following drive, when we had all woken up in the stands and anticipated a big stop from our boys on defense, that my shorts ripped, as I was vacillating between ecstatic jumping and falling to my knees or seat in crushing agony. The combination of blown coverages, and the second-most incredible catch of the game by Julio Jones, seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. The Patriots had made a valiant effort in their endeavor to come back from 25 points down, but they would fall just short of the mountaintop.
But then, out of nowhere: a holding call, followed by a HUGE sack by Trey Flowers, and lo and behold? I’m joyously and giddily proclaiming to the Texans fan next to me that Edelman DID, in fact, get his hands underneath the ball. At this point, things blur together again through the end of the drive, as destiny seemed to be calling. The touchdown was inevitable, and as they lined up for two again, after James White sliced into the endzone, now with the chance to tie the game and likely send the Super Bowl into overtime for the first time in over half a century, I had one thought on my mind: please, PLEASE convert this. Please, please, please…
You know the rest, as the Patriots converted and won the coin toss in overtime. They then marched down the field, rather swiftly, ending things on White’s outside dash to the corner pilon. I remember screaming in pure euphoria, jumping around wildly, hugging my godfather and high-fiving my fellow fans surrounding us. A smile was tattooed on my face for some time, a goofy grin that expressed how emotionally spent I was from the wondrous events that had unfolded.
We cheered wildly for Brady as he strolled up to the podium, the demons from Deflategate officially vanquished; we showered Belichick, and Robert Kraft, with our praising appreciation for their accomplishments. And I can still hear it, in the deepest caverns of my memory for all time, the COMPLETE ROAR OF BOOS we rained upon Roger Goodell. The ratio of Patriots to Falcons fans was definitively skewed towards New England, and the gusto with which we declared our hatred for the NFL commissioner was unmatched by any cheer or applause throughout the game.
My voice didn’t return for several days, and that was ok. I had left it in Houston, because it was all I had to give in support of the team who’s given me countless happy memories. Here’s hoping they’ve got a few more positive things to show us this season and beyond, but if not? I’ll always have Houston.