I was sitting on a sofa in our bedroom, the TV providing the only light in the room, watching as this young quarterback, battling snow in Foxboro that was as relentless as the Oakland Raiders defense, attempted to bring his team back from a 13-10 deficit in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs.
In the other room, my 11-month-old son, Tommy, began to stir.
“Hold on, Tommy,” I said quietly. My exhausted wife, the working mother of two kids under 3, slept just a few feet away. “I’m coming.”
Just under two minutes remained in the game, and fledgling quarterback Tom Brady dropped back to pass. His arm cocked as Raider defensive back Charles Woodson bore down on him. Brady, with no open receivers, attempted to tuck the ball before he was hit, and lost the ball to the ground.
Sack. Fumble. Game over. Season done.
It was a good season, I thought. More than I ever could have hoped.
In the other room, Tommy was crying now. We were “Ferber parents,” but letting him cry would wake my wife, who as a new mom was already sleeping with one eye open most nights. If I didn’t get there quickly, he’d also roust his nearly 3-year-old sister.
For the next few minutes, I shuffled between my bedroom and the nursery trying to comfort Tommy, even as I was hoping against hope that this wasn’t the end of an improbable season.
Brady had taken over in week three after star quarterback Drew Bledsoe, the franchise, suffered a crushing blow against the New York Jets. Bledsoe had started 0-2, and Brady would lead the team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth, touching off an endless debate in New England — Bledsoe vs. Brady. It all seems so silly now, doesn’t it? (And, full disclosure, I was a Bledsoe guy. He had brought winning to a team I always knew as a lovable loser.)
Back to that game and that moment. When I returned from comforting my Tommy, referee Walt Coleman appeared and told the crowd and TV audience the crazy news. After further review, Brady was in the act of tucking the ball and lost control, so he ruled it an incomplete pass.
The rest is the story of legends. Brady marched the team into field goal range. Well, it is typically field goal range, but it was no chip shot for Adam Vinatieri, who had to contend with a mix of snow and late-game pressure.
The 45-yard field goal was good. I stifled a scream of joy.
There was more stirring in the other room, so I went to get Tommy and snuggled him close as I watched overtime. The Patriots would go on to win on another Vinatieri field goal in OT.
Here we are 16 years later.
On Sunday, Tom Brady will lead the Patriots onto the field for their eighth Super Bowl with him at quarterback. He’s won five. Lost two. We’ll see what happens on Sunday.
This season the Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo, the heir apparent, setting off some debate about the team’s future. Should they have traded him, given Brady’s age? When Brady had some un-Brady-like games late in the season, there were whispers about him falling off the cliff. Father Time was catching up, the talking heads opined.
During the AFC Championship game, it looked bad. I was watching with family and some of them had given up. I was getting texts with expletives. I peeked at social media, and there were similar comments there. No Gronkowski. No Edelman.
Game over. Season done.
I sat quietly and watched. Disappointed with the way things were going, but not ready to give up.
This is Tom Brady, I thought.
And, sure enough, Brady, injured hand, added to his legend. Another comeback victory against all odds.
In the years since my son was born, we’ve seen an incredible period in Boston sports history. Five Super Bowl wins, three Red Sox World Series victories, one Bruins Stanley Cup, and one more Celtics banner in the rafters.
Anyone under 17 in New England is spoiled. We are all spoiled.
Things are changing all around me. My daughter is now in college, and Tommy is a high school junior with a license and car keys.
For now, I’m taking comfort that the constant is Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft. Someday this triumvirate will end. But I’m going to enjoy every moment while it lasts.