The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Sustained Excellence

I don’t talk much about sports around here. Truth is, I don’t watch much any more. My boys and I will catch some hockey and basketball highlights in the spring. And we play and/or coach basketball in the winter months. But apart from that, I do not play or watch sports at all. With one exception.

NFL football and my Patriots.

Like most Canadians, I grew up watching hockey and cheering on my local team. I’d spend evenings shooting a tennis ball against the wall in our basement while listening to the Canucks game on the radio. This was long before season subscriptions and every game of every major sport being televised. I’d stay up until the 11:40 Late News hoping for a couple of clips from the latest west coast game.

But that all changed in 1994.

I had been running a hockey pool (that’s like fantasy football, but calling it “fantasy” would get you a raised eyebrow or two) with my pals for 3–4 years when a new friend convinced us to try the same thing with the NFL. He’d grown up in Windsor, Ontario and spent his youth watching the Detroit Lions. Our crew had spent our younger years watching the occasional CFL game, but had no exposure to the NFL.

And so I headed into our first fantasy football draft with no clue that sports in my life would change forever.

I spent most of a 7 hour road trip reading a fantasy football magazine. I didn’t know any players, and barely knew the team names. But I ended up drafting Drew Bledsoe and Ben Coates from the New England Patriots. I came in first or second in the league, I can’t quite recall. But I knew one thing for sure: the Patriots were my team!

Three years later, they played in the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance, losing to the Brett Favre led Green Bay Packers. But other than that, it wasn’t easy being a Patriots fan. There were some so-so seasons, and some terrible seasons (especially the Pete Carrol years, long before his time with USC and the Seahawks). But that too changed, thanks to the fateful Mo Lewis hit on Bledsoe that put Tom Brady into the role of our starting QB.

And, as the saying goes, the rest was history.

I tell you all that for one reason: although I don’t watch a lot of sports anymore, I can appreciate excellency. And we have the privilege of witnessing the greatest stretch of sustained excellence the world of professional sports has ever known. Sound superfluous? Perhaps, but I believe it to be true.

There have been other dynasties (the Yankees, the Bulls, the Oilers, plus the 49ers, Browns, Steelers, and Cowboys in the NFL), but none have been as consistent as the Patriots. Their run over the last 16 years is unprecedented. 12 division titles, 7 Super Bowl appearances (5 of them wins), 6 straight trips to the AFC championship, and a win/loss record that exceeds all dynasties before them.

That excellence is of course due in large part to two men: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. If you follow the NFL at all, you’re familiar with all of this. And I can understand that many people do not like them. Despise them even. But you cannot deny their excellence.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are some other people’s thoughts on this topic.

I don’t even watch a lot of actual games any more. This year I took in one full regular season Pats game, as well as the playoffs. But the love for my team hasn’t diminished at all. It’s easy to hate on sports … there’s a lot that’s wrong with them, especially at the professional level.

But there’s also a lot that’s right. As I’ve been coaching my son’s grade 4/5 boys basketball team, I’ve been reminded of the good. It’s been a privilege to get to know 10 young guys just getting comfortable with their bodies and what they can do. Their different personalities and how they come to work together. We’ve got a really solid group with natural ability, but it’s their sportsmanship and willingness to dish out the pass as often as drive to the hoop that has impressed me most.

And that’s part of what has impressed me about the Patriots over the years. Their culture starts at the top and everyone buys in. The group works together, even when it means less for themselves (the Patriots are well known for not paying the mega dollars to players, to the point where players from other franchises who desire to win will take a smaller salary to play in New England).

Anyway, as I’ve savored the latest Super Bowl victory, it caused me to ponder how I’ve enjoyed something most sports fans can only imagine. Year after year after year of consistent excellence.

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