Friday, February 10, 2012

Put Down That Pink Hat And Go Away

Sometimes, a girl just has to blog about sports. Sports?!? It's true. Minutes after fawning all over my fabulous new beauty purchases from Sephora, I'm going to delve into the magical world of football. I can hear you all sighing and clicking another link. That's OK. I still heart you.

This is my final purge to get over the Patriots' loss in the Superbowl last Sunday. It will serve as nothing more than a naval-gazing retrospective on my path to fandom, which started when I was 11, clutching a Tony Eason Topps card.

Yep. That's the guy who sucked me into football. Him, and the catchy t-shirts proclaiming "Squish the Fish!" and "Berry the Bears!" My brother still has those shirts. Hilarious. But I digress.

It was a big deal when the 1985 Patriots made it to the Superbowl. They were going up against the Chicago Bears, who had the biggest man in the universe playing on their side. His nickname was "Refrigerator." Huge. Makes Vince Wilfork look like a hobbit. 

My parents let my brother & I stay up to watch the game. My dad, true to form, watched the game wearing his Minnesota Vikings hat. (Side story: My dad was stationed in Minnesota when he was in the Air Force. He became a Vikings fan then, and has been one since. But he always roots for the Pats too).

I don't remember much from the game. The only clear memory I have is sitting on the floor, clutching my Tony Eason card and willing the team to win. Then, I remember that 'man' nicknamed Refrigerator barreling through about 7 Patriots and scoring a touchdown. Ladies & gentlemen, a Patriots fan was born. And experienced her first crushing defeat. 

So what does that little walk down memory lane have to do with the events of Superbowl XLVI? When I was 11, it wasn't cool to be a Patriots fan. Unless you lived in New England, and even then it was a bit touch and go. The team wasn't really known for being good. Granted, I cheered for guys named Eason, Grogan, Tippett, Tatupu, Fryar, etc. But the rest of the country pretty much saw the teams in the 80's and 90's as 'patsies.' The Cowboys & 49ers were the teams whose bandwagons grew. Being a girl, my method for choosing a team to root for hinged on whether or not I liked their logo. For example, I like horses, so the Denver Broncos were in. Very scientific. But I never became a bandwagon fan just because a team was winning. It seemed like the easy way out. Jump on and enjoy the ride when they win, hop off and ridicule them when they lose. 

My dad would take us to Bryant College in the summer to watch the Patriots at training camp. For those of you still playing along, Bryant College (now University) is in Smithfield, RI. Nice campus, not a whole lot of people watching the team practice. I kept going to the training camps during high school and after I graduated from college. I have a really nice snapshot of Drew Bledsoe walking off the field. I kept it on my desk at work, and someone asked me, in all seriousness, if that was my boyfriend. I lived in Florida at the time, so I suppose I'll excuse them for not knowing who he was.

Oh, right. Florida. I moved to Orlando in 2000. It wasn't my first time living far away from home. I did a brief stint in Los Angeles after college. But Orlando was the first place I moved to where I didn't know anyone, and was starting completely alone at a new job and life. It was a little scary, but fun at the same time. 

I would call home every Sunday to see how the Patriots did. My dad, more often than not, had the same answer: "They lost." Regardless of the outcomes of the games, it was more of an excuse to call home & talk to my family. Living in Orlando offered only Miami Dolphins or Tampa Bay Buccaneers games. So getting the weekly Pats report from home made me feel closer to Rhode Island than I actually was.

I was still living in Orlando on 9/11. Being so far away from home, on a day like that, was a feeling I hope I never experience again. And as trivial as this sounds, knowing that I could lose myself in a football game on a Sunday afternoon helped. Obviously, being the social butterfly that I am, I made some fabulous friends in Orlando. We'd go to various sports bars on Sundays to watch all the games. But I was only interested in one. The great thing I discovered about living in a city like Orlando was that nobody was actually FROM there. I was surrounded by people from New York, New Jersey, Texas, etc. We had our own little Sunday football village, rooting for our various favorite teams (Jets, Chiefs, Raiders, Giants, Dolphins, Saints). Even though there are natural rivals to any sports organization, I took it upon myself to respect my friends and their chosen teams. There was good-natured ribbing, but no nastiness. It was a good time had by all. Of course, I took most of the ribbing, because the Patriots were just "so bad." 

Then it happened. My favorite QB was knocked out of a game with a pretty serious injury. Some kid named Brady filled in for him. I'll spare you all the rehashing of what happens next. I'm sure you've heard it a million times. But I will say this. From the eyes of a Patriots fan who stuck by her team when they were at the bottom, watching them succeed was a feeling like no other. I was working an event in Orlando on the eve of Superbowl 36. I was wearing my Patriots hat, and one of the security guys at the event stopped me and said he thought the Pats had a real shot at beating the Rams. I grinned from ear to ear because it was the first time I ever heard somebody impartial say something positive about my home team. 

The Patriots won a couple more Superbowls while I lived in Orlando. I even have a nice snapshot of Tom Brady from the MVP parade at Disney World hanging on my refrigerator. When I first started dating my now husband, he looked at the picture and wanted to know who the hell that guy was. I excused him at the time, because he's from Denmark, and had no idea what American football was. But the picture, dated 2/2/04, is still hanging proudly on my fridge. 

So, when people ask me when, or how, or why I became such a big football fan, I hope this helps explain a little. And maybe it'll shed a little light on why the past couple of Superbowl losses have stung so much, and left me in a funk for many days. The Patriots aren't just a team that I root for on a Sunday. They are  woven into the fabric of my childhood, reaching into my adulthood and beyond. They are an extension of my family when I've lived thousands of miles from home, and they are the bond that keeps my friendships strong and exciting.

There you go. My football blog. Hope you enjoyed it! And hey, if I can blog about the NKOTB cruise, I can blog about sports, right? GO PATS!