In honor of the Patriots 18-0, one to go, season and Superbowl XLII, I thought I’d reminisce a bit. Tailgating at the AFC championship game last week, my dad and I were trying to come up with the top five, top ten, best Patriots games we’ve ever seen live. Really, when you’ve been a season ticket holder for 15 seasons, most of the games blur into one another. The one’s that actually stand out are the ones that are the best. Here’s my top ten, in ascending order, least favorite to favorite. Remember, these are games I was actually at. This list would be very different if it was a combined games I was at and watched on TV.
#10. September 9th, 2004. Patriots vs. Colts, regular season. 27-24
This was the season opener after the Pats 2nd Super Bowl victory. These games are cool because they have a big, Super Bowl like, ceremony before the game unveiling the banner. The game itself was a little ugly. The best was Vanderjerk missing the tieing field goal at the end of the game.
#9. October 14th, 2001. Patriots vs. Chargers, regular season. 29-26 in overtime
Flutie was San Diego’s starting quarterback. This was the game when you knew we had something special in Tom Brady. The Pats came back from I think a 10 point deficit in the 4th quarter to beat the Chargers in overtime. Adam Vinateri kicked the game ending kick. One of many that season.
#8. January 18th, 2004. Patriots vs. Colts, AFC championship. 24-14
This was the first playoff matchup between the Pats and Colts. Corey Dillon was a beast that day. Brady threw a late 4th quarter interception that made the game a lot closer than it really was. After this game Bill Polian, the Colts GM, complained to the rule committee in the offseason about the physical play of Patriot’s corners and got a rule change. Scumbag. If you can’t win, change the rules. What a putz. I’d much rather break rules that are stupid and be called a cheater than to use personal power to change the rules in my favor. In my mind, this action was far far worse than Cameragate.
#7. January 10th, 2004. Patriots vs. Titans, divisional playoff. 17-14
The game was kinda boring. What was memorable was the temperature. This was a night game in January. The temperature was 0 F degrees (that’s very negative for all you Celsius guys). We tailgated before the game in T-Shirts. What?!?! T-Shirts? Well, my dad brought a propane heater which we put under a canopy. We tied a hug plastic tarp around the canopy to keep the heat in. What was funny was that when you were standing it was incredibly toasty. I was wearing a T-shirt. But, if you sat down, you froze your ass off. During the game, I remember this guy sitting next to me bring 2 beers to his seat. Halfway through his first beer, it became frozen. The other one was frozen as well. What a waste of $15 for the dude. I stayed with hot chocolate that game. Stayed pretty warm until about the end of the 4th quarter. The lesson of this game, as a fan, was survival.
#6. November 13, 1994. Patriots vs. Vikings, regular season. 26-20 in overtime
The Patriots were 3-6 on that date and it looked like yet another year of no playoffs with a losing season. The Patriots, under Drew Bledsoe came back from a deficit to beat the Vikings at home in overtime. In this game, Bledsoe threw an NFL record for passes and completions. The Pats went on to win their next 6 games to launch themselves into the playoffs.
#5. September 9th, 2002. Patriots vs. Steelers, regular season. 30-14
This was the season opener after the Patriots 1st Super Bowl victory. This game was incredible for two reasons. One, they had a huge ceremony before the game showing a video made by the players on the big screen. When they unfurled the Pats 1st Superbowl banner, the place went nuts. I have never-ever heard Gillette stadium be that loud and this was *BEFORE* the game! You just knew there was no way the Patriots were going to lose that game. The second reason? Well, if you remember, the Pats had beaten the Steelers in the AFC championship game. The Steelers talked a lot of smack after that game saying that they lost to an inferior team, that the Pats were lucky, that if they played again, the Steelers would definitely win. (BTW, this is what half the teams said about the Pats all year long after they lost to them). The Pats absolutely destroyed the Steelers in that game. Throughout the game, to get the fans psyched up (like they needed it at all), the would put Kordell Stewart’s press conference on the big screen where he talked smack about the Pats. Kordell was heckled throughout the game. Cool stuff.
#4. December 21st, 1996. Patriots at Giants,. 23-22
This game was not at Foxboro, but in NYC at the Meadowlands. It was the last game of the 1996 season. The Patriots needed a win to clinche a 1st round bye. IIRC, the Pats were down 22-3 (or something) going into the 4th quarter of that game. Dave Megget ran back a punt return. The pivotal play was the Pats last score to go ahead. Ben Coates received a Drew Bledsoe pass at about the 2-3 yard line of the Giants. Coates was met by 2-3 Giants defenders, but would not go down. Pushing, driving a mass of players came together like a Rugby scrum until Coates was pushed into the endzone. I went nuts. I had endzone seats that game in the same endzone Coates scored. I was wearing my old Pats jacket and was receiving constant flack from Giants fans the entire game. When Coates I was jumping, screaming and yelling with joy with tears in my eyes, hugging one of my friends. When I finally stopped rejoicing I looked around me to see the whole section staring at me angrily. It was a special moment.
#3. January 5th, 1997. Patriots vs. Steelers, divisional playoff game. 28-3
This game was the year the Pats went to Superbowl XXXI. It was a very very strange day. We had gotten a bunch of snow the week before. That day, however, the temperature was very warm. 50′s or 60′s or something, IIRC? It was very cloudy, and intensely foggy. In the opening game ceremonies, they had fireworks to go along with the national anthem. It was so foggy that combined with the smoke from the fireworks, you could see nothing. I have endzone seats and the fog was so bad you couldn’t see past mid-field. There were two plays that were memorable to me. The 1st was the 1st offensive snap by the Pats. Drew Bledsoe threw a bomb to Terry Glenn and the route was on. The 2nd play was a 70 yard touchdown run by Curtis Martin. I remember him breaking threw the defensive line and sprinting down the field. He disappeared into the fog at about the 50 yard line. My dad and I didn’t know he scored until we heard the cheers of the fans and the scoreboard change.
#2. January 16h, 2005. Patriots vs. Colts, divisional playoff game. 20-3
Another game where the national media picked the Colts to defeat the Patriots. With less than one minute to go in the game, the Colts were driving down the field to try to salvage some dignity after being held to 3 points the entire game. Not one person in the stands had left on this cold January day. Gillete was actually the 2nd loudest I have ever heard it. Bruschi was going crazy. Usually, linebackers are lined up in position before the snap. Bruschi was running sideline to sideline jumping and flapping his arms to get the fans even more riled up. Nobody wanted the Colts to score even one more point. They didn’t. Rodney Harrison intercepted a Manning pass in the endzone to really finish the game.
#1. January 19th, 2002. Patriots vs. Raiders, divisional playoff game. 16-13 in overtime
This is a classic I wish they would replay in its entirety on NFL Network. This game was at night in the Patriots Superbowl XXXVI run during a N’oreaster. (Severe New England blizzard). This was the most intense tailgating experience we had ever had. This guy Jason we tailgated with brought lobster and fried up an entire turkey. Delicious! The snow was coming down hard the entire game. When the famous Tuck Rule happened where it looked like Brady had fumbled, but really didn’t, my whole section had gathered up their things and starting walking up the stairs to leave the stadium. We couldn’t believe it could end like that. But wait! It didn’t. Review from the booth! The rest was history. Much like the fog game, (but not even as close as bad), it was hard to see things past the 50 yard line. Vinateri’s 45 yard tieing field goal to send the game into overtime was a kick I did not see. The snow was coming down too hard. Had to listen for the roar of the fans to know had scored. I was lucky enough to have the game winning kick in our endzone. Took us forever to get out of the parking lots that night, but nobody cared.
What? No Superbowls in this list? Yeah, unfortunately I’ve never been to a Superbowl. You are not guaranteed seats as a season ticket holder. Instead you are placed in a lottery. In the 5 Superbowls the Pats have been to in the last 15 years, I have yet to win it (including this year). What? I didn’t scalp tickets? Go to stubhub.com or a similar site and see how much they cost. Anyways, I’m not bitter. I have a lot of great memories. I hope to see the Pats set NFL history with the first perfect 19-0 season.