I was 8 years old when I attended my first New England Patriots game. It was the season opener in 1982, it was at Schaefer Stadium against the Baltimore Colts, and the Patriots lost. It was the first loss in a four-month march of futility. The Patriots went 2-14 in 1982, earning the tiebreaker for the NFL’s worst record by losing to the 2-14 Colts again in the season finale.

The Patriots were bad. Really bad. It didn’t matter. I was hooked.

Thirty-seven years, two uniform changes, a new stadium, and six Lombardi Trophies later, I can’t believe the New England Patriots are still the same franchise I watched stagger through most of my childhood. And teen years. And college years. And those first few years out of college where you don’t know what the heck you’re doing. Aside from a few hiccups out of mediocrity, the Patriots were dreadful for, well, forever.

I get why the large segment of Patriots haters gets louder with each ensuing success the team adds to the trophy case. If the New York Jets set the standard for how modern football in the NFL would be played and how future dynasties will be judged, it would certainly grind my gears. I understand.

Understanding doesn’t mean I have to care, or listen, though. The Patriots set the standard for embarrassing antics and underwhelming play for so long, I will politely nod at any grievance directed at the team and let it go directly into the mental circular file.

When the Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night to earn their sixth championship, and third in five years, the memories of those lousy teams got a little fainter. The 46-10 loss to the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX was at the time the most lopsided game in Super Bowl history. It was a reminder to Patriots fans that, even when things appear to go well, they can go so, so horribly wrong.

The Patriots were the franchise banned from hosting Monday Night Football because the fans were a drunk horde of locusts. The Patriots had to resort to selling low alcohol beer at home games in a futile effort to keep the crowd (such as it was) relatively sober. I watched a fan sip booze from a Coppertone bottle he had washed free of sunscreen. I hope he washed it. I was 16 years old and didn’t ask.

The Patriots were the franchise that caused what might still be the biggest sexual harassment incident in NFL history, when washed up tight end Zeke Mowatt exposed himself to Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson, who was later mocked by then-team owner Victor Kiam. The whole thing became a series of Saturday Night Live skits in the fall of 1990 and became the low point of a 1-15 season.

The Patriots were the team that played in the worst stadium in the NFL. Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium set the standard for drab, all concrete and metal benches. On warm days, those benches absorbed the heat and turned the stadium into a slow roaster. On cold days, those benches radiated ice.

The Patriots were the team bought from Kiam by James Orthwein for the sole purpose of moving to St. Louis. They were going to be the St. Louis Stallions. Luckily, Robert Kraft owned the stadium and had the business sense to forbid Orthwein from breaking the team’s lease. Kraft bought the team in 1994, and things started to look better.

Still, the Patriots were the team that made it back to the Super Bowl only to have the world ask where will head coach Bill Parcells coach when the game is over. Although the Patriots lost to the juggernaut Green Bay Packers, there should have been more hope toward a bright future, even if that future did not include Parcells. Pete Carroll took over a team full of young talent and potential, and let it gradually go bad, like a banana. The bruises started to appear late in Carroll’s first season. First 10-6, then 9-7, then the most deceptive 8-8 record in NFL history (the Patriots started 1999 with six wins in eight games, then fell apart in the second half of the season).

This is the New England Patriots team my generation grew up watching. An inept bunch that occasionally pulled it together. Even when the team was successful, it felt like an illusion, a mirage.

The last 18 years have not been a mirage. They have been a complete reset for the franchise. Even so, each time the Patriots win a Super Bowl, heck, each time they play a Super Bowl, I’m reminded of what they were. There’s no doubt this will all end. Everything ends. At some point the Patriots will limp through a one or two-win season. They may become a laughingstock on the field, but the Patriots will never be a disgrace off it again.

The rest of the football world can go blind with jealousy and rage. Keep the Lombardi Trophies and duck boat parades coming. There’s an 8-year old boy inside my brain who remembers the bad times, and he’s not ready to go back.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

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