If you didn’t live through it, you can’t fully appreciate or understand it.

That is true of most seismic shifts in society, and it is the phenomenon that a geezer such as I encounters when attempting to adequately put the New England Patriots’ greatness into perspective for somebody who is either much younger or a little late to the party.

In my line of work I deal with athletes who were born after 9/11 and coaches who aren’t old enough to remember disco or Reaganomics. Others my age had a closet full of Steelers, Cowboys and 49ers paraphernalia long before it was cool to wear a Flying Elvis.

Not criticizing your journey with the five-time Super Bowl champions or poo-pooing your participation one iota, but you’re missing out on something that can’t be acquired. The longer you have been a legitimate fan of the franchise, the more near-and-dear this unthinkable run is to you.

It’s even a sheepish, inadequate feeling for me that the year of my birth prevents me from remembering any of the 1960s and most of the ‘70s. The Patriots were a special kind of awful for most of their first decade. They upgraded their geographic brand from “Bay State” (yes, the brutally obvious, laugh-out-loud acronym) to Boston to New England in an attempt to siphon off New York Giants fans who weren’t buying the upstart AFL.

They couldn’t tolerate prosperity in their teenage years, either. No. 1 overall pick Jim Plunkett was the original John Elway and Eli Manning. At least those dudes did their original franchises the courtesy of saying “I will never play for you” instead of sticking around and sabotaging progress as a malcontent.


Plunkett’s eventual successor, Steve Grogan, was the perennial fan favorite with a low ceiling and 80-year-old knees. Every coach in his endless career tried and failed to find his replacement, which is why we were blessed with Matt Cavanaugh, Tony Eason, Doug Flutie and Tom Ramsey, among others.

Twice in a three-year span those AM radio-broadcasting, Schaefer Stadium-occupying Patriots were good enough to get to a Super Bowl, if, or, but. They were stood up for the first date with destiny when Ray Hamilton was the victim of the most ridiculous roughing-the-passer call in history.

The second should-have-been season started with the paralyzing hit on Darryl Stingley and ended with the flighty coach, Chuck Fairbanks, busted by the Sullivan family for trying to escape to the University of Colorado. So they essentially fired him, then inexplicably reinstated him for a predictably one-sided playoff loss. (Fairbanks left the train wreck in Boulder to coach the USFL’s New Jersey Generals, running them into the ground so quickly and thoroughly that Donald Trump purchased the disaster and was anointed savior. Supply your own punch line here.)

By now, I was on my way to elementary school, decked out in a red-white-and-blue pompom hat and an ill-fitting, leisure-suit zip-up adorned with the Pat the Patriot logo. We hustled home from church every autumn Sunday just in time for the 1 p.m. kickoff, because Lord knows the Pats were never the national game at 4 o’clock Sunday or 9 o’clock Monday.

Hell froze over in 1985. Grogan rose from the dead and led an out-of-nowhere winning streak in the second half of the regular season while Eason was out six weeks with an infected pimple or something. The Raiders lacked a quarterback worthy to back up the injured Plunkett, and the Dolphins didn’t have a running game to back up the already great Dan Marino. Stars aligned, baby.

Miracle of miracles, the Patriots stumbled into that elusive Roman Numeral Game and ran into the greatest one-hit-wonder this side of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. It was XX but should have been rated XXX. That Chicago Bears defense was so good that some people swear they could get into a time machine and beat modern teams, even though high schools today do things that are more innovative than the ‘46’ defense.


New England lost 46-10. When the plane landed at Logan the next day, the team found itself in the middle of a drug scandal. The day after that, Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. So, yeah, we really had a long time to enjoy that trip to the doorstep of the Promised Land.

One 1-15 season and another 2-14 campaign later, the Pats somehow ended up with a No. 1 overall pick at QB who wanted to be here (Drew Bledsoe) and the best active coach in the game (Bill Parcells). The latter reunited his band and brought in all his underlings from East Rutherford, including one named Bill Belichick.

The four-year plan fell into place in 1996. Somehow a Denver Broncos team that started 13-0 lost to an expansion club in the divisional playoffs, and the Patriots picked up the Super Bowl ticket they couldn’t use. Unfortunately Parcells went all Fairbanks, only worse, because the hated New York Jets were his other woman. He coached in a spastic loss to the Packers as if he couldn’t have been less interested, gave some rambling diatribe about “groceries” and went his merry way, leaving Pete Carroll to pick up the pieces.

So you’ll have to forgive me if I initially wasn’t sure in January 2000 that Belichick was the answer, or in September and October 2001 that Tom Brady was the long-term solution. And those who are around me every day will have to do the same if I seem insufferably happy about being proven wrong, five times over.

Because if you lived through all that, you’ve earned this.

Kalle Oakes spent 27 years in the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. He can be contacted by email at kaloakes1972@yahoo.com.

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