When I first started at the newspaper nearly 17 years ago, the New England Patriots floundered in the basement of the AFC East. The Boston Red Sox were cursed. The championship years for the Celtics and Bruins were but a distant memory.
It was doom and gloom.
Then the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 happened, putting sports into perspective. The games seemed meaningless … at least until the country rallied around the 2001-02 Patriots.
New England won its first Super Bowl, defeating the St. Louis Rams, 20-17, in Super Bowl XXXVI in one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history in an atmosphere draped with patriotism. It would be the first of three Super Bowl victories in a four-year span for the Patriots – they won consecutive Lombardi trophies in 2004 and 2005.
As New England built its football dynasty, the Red Sox reversed the “Curse of the Bambino,” winning their first championship since 1918. They won again in 2007.
New Englanders, who were often left out in the cold when it came to baseball and football championships, were suddenly on top of the world.
“Spygate” hit. The integrity of the Patriots was called into question, and some critics wondered whether their first three Super Bowl victories were tainted after they were caught illegally videotaping defensive coaches’ signals.
Suddenly, the pedestal that New Englanders sat atop began to crumble.
The New England Patriots responded to allegations of cheating by going on an undefeated run, not seen since the likes of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, only to lose to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. They got another chance to get even against the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, but lost again.
New Englanders still had something to rest their hats on, three Super Bowl rings, another title from the Celtics (2008) and one by the Bruins (2011).
The Patriots returned to the big game in 2015, defeating the Seahawks when Malcom Butler stepped in front of a Russell Wilson pass at the goal line in Super Bowl XLIX.
That Super Bowl was played under the shadow of another so-called scandal, “Deflategate,” after Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was accused of deflating footballs during their AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Like many said after the game, the Patriots could have won with beach balls.
A lengthy legal battle ensued and animosity took hold between Brady’s bunch, coach Bill Belichick, owner Robert Kraft, and in fact, all of Patriots Nation, for that matter, as the NFL and league president Roger Goodell launched a crusade against the red, white, and blue.
It has become the backdrop of the Patriots’ quest for what seems like an eternity now.
New England just played in a record sixth straight AFC championship. The Patriots are looking to tie the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers with five Super Bowl titles. Only Pittsburgh has more (six). I sense Brady and Big Ben may be on another collision course in the next couple years to determine the right to be called the NFL’s top dynasty. But we have a game to play this Sunday, and it is sure to be super.
Atlanta comes into the Big Game with one of the most electric offenses in Super Bowl history. The Falcons boast arguably the league’s top wide receiver, Julio Jones, a dynamic one-two punch in the backfield with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and Matt Ryan enters having delivered an MVP worthy season.
New England will counter with Brady; Belichick; an underrated running tandem with LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, and James White; under-the-radar receivers Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, and Malcom Mitchell; and, the league’s top scoring defense.
The Patriots have won four Super Bowls decided by a total of 13 points. They lost two during the Brady era – both to the New York Giants by four and three points.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that the Patriots are favored to win Super Bowl LI by three points. I have no reason to argue with the oddsmakers. My super prediction: New England 28, Atlanta 24. – CP
Two more things – Westfield Mayor Brian P. Sullivan offered up a prediction for Sunday’s big game. Mayor Sullivan’s predicted final score: New England 28, Atlanta 17 … Once again, I’d like to take the time to thank my chief statistician Melissa Hartman, and our “Beat the Putz” sponsors Manny’s TV & Appliances and The Tavern Restaurant. Thank you. Look for an exciting new sports contest debuting here at The Westfield News in the coming weeks.