The game seemed over. The Patriots dynasty seemed over, and maybe this magical golden age of Boston sports along with it.
The Super Bowl even happened on the same day of former Celtics Paul Pierce’s last game in the Garden, a couple months after David Ortiz retired. Fate and the Atlanta Falcons seemed to be putting a final stamp on an amazing unmatchable run.
Down 21-0 in the first quarter and 28-9 to open the fourth, the Patriots looked old and slow, overmatched by a younger Falcons team ready to take the mantle into the NFL’s next era. The Patriots Super Bowl T-shirts seemed destined to be shipped to an impoverished nation somewhere.
Super Bowl parties around New England were breaking up early. Mark Wahlberg left the stadium early and it’s a pretty good bet he wasn’t the only New England fan who thought the game was over and missed history. It would have been hard to be mad. There’s been so much success, so many memorable days for not only the Patriots, but all of Boston sports over the amazing 15 years. But missing the chance to get one more would have been disappointing.
Instead, it turned out to be the Patriots’ most memorable Super Bowl championship of the five they won, with a record comeback in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. There were new heroes and new moments that will be reminisced about forever. Years from now Patriots fans will say “Edelman’s catch” to one another and no further explanation will be required. Malcom Mitchell and James White will never have to pay for another drink in New England and they’ll get standing ovations in Gillette Stadium in Foxborough long after their careers are over.
Going into the postseason, the story line was the Patriots attempting to avenge “Deflategate.” Fans around New England and scientists around the world thought the Patriots had been accused and certainly punished unfairly for the lack of air in the balls during the 2015 AFC Championship. Winning this Super Bowl was supposed to be the franchise’s and its fans’ giant middle finger toward the NFL, Roger Goodell and everyone who’d attacked the franchise during the past two seasons.
But when the game ended, “Deflategate” felt more like a footnote. Sure, the fans showered Goodell with boos and Bob Kraft alluded to it in his acceptance speech. But it was far overshadowed by what had just happened on the field. The record comeback and another chapter in Tom Brady’s legacy eliminated the need to revel in revenge. It was more gratifying to watch Brady celebrate with his sick mother than care whether Goodell had to squirm uncomfortably for a moment sharing a stage with people who despised him.
“Deflategate” will go down as almost a fun chapter now. Sure, the draft picks and the million dollar fine will never come back, but for the fans in the region, it feels like the tension in the middle of the movie before the climactic happy ending. In the same way that Aaron Boone’s home run now feels like an event that set up the magic of 2004, “Deflategate” set up a memorable run in 2016-17, one that was capped by one of, if not, the greatest finish of all time.
There’ll be another caravan of duck boats this week, appearances on late night talk shows, souvenir T-shirts and commemorative magazines and books. Sports bars around the region are already planning where to hang the panoramic photos. The glow will last a while.
Tom Brady can’t play forever and Bill Belichick is getting old. The expiration date on this run is coming before long. But for a little longer, Boston’s golden age is still going. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage