Finally, Boston gets its moment of glory

Harvard historians will debate for years which Americans were more silent. Tories loyal to the Crown as cannons atop Dorchester Heights blasted the British fleet from Boston harbor. Or citizens of St. Louis after the New England Patriots defense shot down the aerial attack of the Rams and won Super Bowl XXXVI.

Massachusetts celebrates a state holiday each March to commemorate the defeat of the British. For the rest of the 21st century, Boston fans will tip tri-cornered hats to the underdogs who pulled off the biggest Super Bowl win since Joe Namath and that silly fur coat.

How fitting that in a football season almost lost by attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, with serious talk, however brief, of canceling the Super Bowl, destiny called for victory to go to a team named the Patriots, not the Rams. Is it just regional hubris to remind the nation that a ragtag army of citizen-soldiers once defeated the largest empire the world had ever known?

Not since a bunch of US college kids (most of whom played hockey in New England) beat a veteran Soviet team for the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics has there been a bigger upset in a contact sport.

But if all politics is local, as Boston's famous son, Tip O'Neill, once said, sports is even more local - and personal. From the salons of the Back Bay to the gritty streets of Roxbury, from upscale towns like Wellesley and Dover to blue-collar enclaves like Revere and Dorchester, this Super Bowl win was intensely felt.

After all, it's been 42 years since the local team - a.k.a. Patriot Nation - owned the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy. It's been 15 years since the Celtics hung a championship banner in the Garden, back when it used to be the Garden, and 30 years since the Bruins brought home the Stanley Cup (other than those who lived vicariously through Ray Bourque's conquest in Colorado last year). And the Red Sox? No need to go there at all.

It's perhaps fitting that it would be the Pats who broke Boston's recent string of athletic ingloriousness. Although the youngest professional franchise in the region, it is the only locally owned team of the Big Four.

Images of this season's improbable playoff run start with a child shaking a snow globe. Only inside the swirling bubble served up on television were 60,000 fans roaring their team to victory at Foxboro Stadium in a blizzard. It's late January in New England. The wind chill is in the teens. Not a single fan leaves until a field goal in overtime by Adam Vinateri 15 minutes before the clock strikes midnight. The perennial NFL bad-boy Oakland Raiders return to their snow-free redoubt on the West Coast. The Pats celebrate their win with snow angels on the frozen field.

(It is the last game that will be played at Foxboro as owner Robert Kraft puts the finishing touches on a new stadium adjacent to the old one. In Massachusetts, public money doesn't go for privately owned sports complexes. It goes for projects like the Big Dig, defying, at least in this sense, the region's Calvinistic heritage of thrift.)

A week later it's on to Pittsburgh where the Steelers are so sure of victory that their travel agents are busy booking rooms for family and friends in New Orleans. The "get no respect" Patriots manhandle them, scoring easily against the "best" defense in football, setting the scene for the big dance in "N'awrlins." The Patriots go in 14-point underdogs.

They're a no-name team. They have no prime-time players.

What the numbers don't reveal is that intangible force called teamwork. Throughout a Cinderella season, the Patriots were that rare phenomenon in modern professional sports - a team without an ego. On this matter, John Calvin's spirit can rest easy. In fact, some think he came back in the sideline visage of coach Bill Belichick.

The sine qua non of victory - in football as in war - is respect your foe. A lot of football teams "dissed" the Pats this season. They ended up watching the game on TV.

In the Big Easy, the Patriots hold the highest scoring team in the history of the NFL, in the biggest game played all year, to two touchdowns and a field goal. The locals, we'll never call them "America's team" in Boston, again win with a walk-off field, goal 20-17.

Patriot Nation fans will nod knowingly at the local Ken and Barbie TV newscasters who speak as if they shared a "cuppa chowda" and Boston cremes on Route 1 with the Pats all these years. Winning always gets you fans. Patriot Nation knows it was there, silent, anguished, even sometimes euphoric all those years, as ego-less as this team.

New Englanders usually date the start of spring when the Red Sox throw out the first pitch. This year it started last Sunday. The Sox haven't won a World Series since the Russian Revolution. Maybe the Pats can inspire them.

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