Championship Sunday has been the Patriots personal playground since 2011. Until now, they’d been an automatic in the NFL’s Final Four for eight seasons running. That’s 56 dog years or two presidential cycles.
If you walked non-stop for eight years at a clip of 3.5 mph, you would walk 245,248 miles. The moon is 238,000 miles away. So you could have walked to the moon then walked/floated around up there for another 7,000 miles in the same time it took for somebody to dislodge the Patriots.
The Patriots went to their first AFC Championship Game under the BB-TB Regime back in January 2002. And then they went to 12 more over the ensuing 18 years. The only times they haven’t played this weekend? 2002. 2005. 2008. 2009. 2010.
As Bill Belichick pointed out a couple weeks ago, it hasn’t been “all that thin around here".
Maybe you’re feeling a little empty? A little left out? You want to consume the games but you didn’t wake up this morning with the same mix of anticipation, anxiety and agitation.
The cellular-level hate you harvest all week for whoever the Patriots happen to be playing on Sunday? The revulsion you feel for every coach, player, executive and fan of whichever sorry-ass, corny, whiny, goofy franchise the Patriots are about to decapitate?
The satisfaction you’ll take tonight when you can swan dive onto social media and dance under the head the Patriots left on a stake as a warning to everyone who pledged less than 100 percent belief?
It’s absent. And you miss it.
Look, it’s unfamiliar to me too. I’ve followed the team since 1976. I’ve covered it since 1997. This week has been an interesting re-introduction to preparing for high-stakes NFL games in which the results have no impact on me, my neighbors or the people I cover for a living. Who wins, who loses? Who cares?
But we know that’s not how it works. You like football, the need to “root” is an instinct. Sometimes it’s active. Sometimes it seeps in as the game kicks off. Sometimes your head tells you your preference but as the game unfolds, your heart tells you different. Sometimes, it’s all based on who you bet on.
All of which brings us to the confusing case of James Richard Garoppolo. You’re inclined to hope he does well today. He has all that New England DNA in his system. You got to know him. Dreamy eyes, a smile that would melt the ice caps, one of four boys, his parents first-generation Italian-Americans, his father a union electrician for 40 years in Chicago, overlooked coming out of high school, underrated going into the draft, plucked by the Patriots who fed, nurtured, loved and taught him then reluctantly pushed him from the nest.
Patriots are out? Niners are in? You root for Jimmy G.
BUT! But … But you know what his success today means. Exhuming early November 2017. Revisiting the debate of whether the Patriots made a “mistake” in trading Jimmy G. and keeping the greatest quarterback in NFL history who – after Garoppolo was dealt – took the Patriots to Super Bowl 52 and 53.
And you don’t want to hear it. Because you know that, in the 2017 season, the Patriots wouldn’t have beaten the Jaguars in the AFC Championship without Brady at quarterback or been competitive in the Super Bowl against Philly without Brady putting the offense on his back and throwing for 505.
And you know Brady’s microchip mind is why the 2018 Patriots were able to survive the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game to even get to the Super Bowl. And you suspect that, if Garoppolo were the Patriots quarterback in 2019, he would have been on IR sometime in November, such was the punishment Brady took.
You know the Patriots had no recourse with Garoppolo. They couldn’t trade Brady in the midst of an MVP season in 2017. They couldn’t even come up with an offer to present to Garoppolo’s agent, Don Yee, that would keep Jimmy in Foxboro beyond the expiration of his contract in early 2018.
Garoppolo as an absurdly expensive backup, still just hanging out waiting for his career to begin? There was no way he was doing that. Yee, who represents Brady, knew the landscape. Brady wasn’t retiring. Brady was too good to trade, too important to consider trading. Franchising Garoppolo would have meant he’d make more to watch Brady play than Brady actually made while playing.
My understanding is that there was no “hand-forcing” by Robert Kraft when it came to trading Garoppolo. Just irritated resignation by Bill Belichick that he’d waited as long as he could for a solution to reveal itself and that he was out of time.
And when Belichick’s succession plan was blown up, he didn’t have it in him to auction off his prince so he sent him to a different kingdom entirely where he’d be well cared for.
He has been. He’s got a terrific coach. He’s got a shutdown defense. He’s got one of the best tight ends in the NFL at his disposal, a far, far cry from what he would have been dealing with at that position this season if he stayed a Patriot.
I still don’t believe trading Garoppolo to San Fran for a second-round pick without shopping him was, “best for the football team…” Nearly two decades of hearing “value, value, value” and being under the impression collecting draft picks was a smart practice makes it hard for me to back off of that.
If you experience any “seller’s remorse” as a Patriots fan regarding Garoppolo, that’s where it should begin and end. The return on investment.
That’s the only mistake the Patriots made when it comes to Garoppolo. He shouldn’t be here. So you have a choice today and your heart will probably make it for you as the Niners play Green Bay.
Root for Jimmy even if it means listening to half-assed, low-information opinions about what the Patriots should have done? Root for Aaron Rodgers.