I’m sitting in my apartment this Super Bowl Sunday morning watching a light snow fall outside my window. I’m listening to Jethro Tull’s Live – Bursting Out, a two-CD set that faithfully recreates the original two-LP set I remember buying decades ago at King’s department store in Dedham, Massachusetts. King’s became Zayre, which became Ames, which left about 10 years ago. I don’t know what’s there now.
For me, purchasing music at a department store was an unusual occurrence. I preferred to patronize record stores, new or used, where immersing in the culture and camaraderie was half the fun of shopping. I did once buy another two-LP set at Bradlee’s (another long since defunct department store), Focus 3, but I recall that being a happy accident; I wasn’t there to buy music but curiosity motioned me towards the paltry record department where I found the treasured record with the lenticular cover.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with the Super Bowl, but it does serve to demonstrate that nine days shy of my 50th birthday my hippocampus still retains some memories.
As a kid I was fervent fan of the Boston, then New England, Patriots. I had a t-shirt with the old Pat Patriot logo on the front and the legend, “I gave the Pats a pat on the back” on the reverse. They were never a great team but their uniforms featured my favorite color, red, and they were, after all, the hometown team. When they moved into their own stadium for the first time in 1971, my father bought season tickets and I went to most home games for most of the decade. I still have two commemorative plastic coins from the inaugural regular season game at Schaefer Stadium, which was held on September 19, 1971, a contest between the Patriots and the Oakland Raiders, which the good guys, led by first-round draft pick Jim Plunkett, the previous year’s Heisman Trophy winner from Stanford, won, 20-6.
Despite their lack of success most year, I loved the team. The idea that they might one day be a model franchise and annual powerhouse in the NFL couldn’t have been further from reality back then. I went to the one and only home playoff game that Stadium hosted, against the Houston Oilers in 1978, which they lost badly. I recall the ticket for the game had on it a picture of tight end Russ Francis, my favorite player at the time.
In 1985, the Patriots went on an improbable run through the playoffs, finding themselves horribly overmatched in Super Bowl XX against the Chicago Bears. The score at halftime was 23-3 and seemed worse than that. My friends and I stopped watching at that point. The Patriots ended up losing what I assumed would be their only Super Bowl appearance 46-10.
Amazingly, the Patriots made it back to the Super Bowl in 1997, although again their unlikely rise to the AFC championship made the loss to the Green Bay Packers also inevitable as of halftime, though the Patriots were a bit more competitive.
Then came the Bill Belichick era and the ascendancy to football’s Mt. Olympus of Tom Brady. Still, that first Super Bowl victory over the St. Louis Rams on February 3, 2002, 11 years ago to the day, was a real shocker and remains the best Super Bowl victory of the Patriots’ trifecta. Since then, any Patriots season that doesn’t end with a ring and a Duck Boat parade is treated in these parts as a crushing disappointment. I don’t share that view. Having endured mediocrity for so long, I thrill at every great play and every great game throughout the regular season, and there have been many over the last decade. Sure, I regret the two Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants in 2008 and 2012, but my cherished team has been to the big show seven times and that means I’ve been lucky enough to see a shitload of great football.
Tonight, the San Francisco 49ers will be playing the Baltimore Ravens. While I obviously wish the Patriots were vying for another championship, I have been so relaxed the last two weeks and will have a good time tonight no matter what the result. If the Patriots were playing, I would have been an anxiety-ridden mess and would have watched the game tonight standing up and pacing as I have for the Patriots’ last four Super Bowl appearances.
I remember back in college days and shortly thereafter, the Super Bowl was the second order of business of the day. The undercard was the Boston Celtics game. A couple of years, my friends and I went to a restaurant called the Ground Round and set up shop at the bar all day long, enjoying pitchers of Bloody Marys and plates of nachos while watching the Larry Bird Celtics annihilate their opponent, moving on to pitchers of beers and burgers during the Super Bowl, each of us taking turns to go out to the car and take a few hits of a communal joint.
Today, the .500 Celtics will be playing the first-place Los Angeles Clippers, a reversal of fortune that doesn’t much excite me. But at night, I will again be in the company of friends for a game that even non-football fans tune in for. I have no dog in this race, but the fact that I’m still hanging with my old school friends and listening to Jethro Tull is in its own way a meaningful victory in and of itself.