(photo from Boston.com)
I just put my coat on to run across the street for coffee. I came back in and took it off. Something fell out of the pocket. Confetti. Championship parade confetti. The best kind of confetti there is.
This is not the first time I’ve seen my heroes glide past slowly in Duck Boats. It’s not the first time I’ve screamed their names and clapped until my hands hurt. It’s not the first time they’ve mouthed “Thank you” to millions of people and yet made me feel like they were thanking me personally. But no matter how many times I do this, it never gets old. A little sweeter, perhaps, but never old.
In 2002, I watched the parade across the street from the building that housed the class I was currently skipping. At one point – because I dragged my roommate down to the corner of Boylston and Tremont some two hours before the parade was set to start – my professor spotted me and waved, knowing full well that the “sickness” I was suffering from was Patriots fever. I froze my ass off for nearly three hours before the boys came by. A gentleman directly in front of me held a sign that read “It’s a good thing John Madden’s not our coach” referencing Madden’s assertion that the Pats should just play for overtime against the heavily favored Rams. It got a lot of laughs, some from fellow fans but mostly from players. Tedy Bruschi saw it, laughed, tapped Willie McGinest on the shoulder and pointed it out to him. They laughed together. That’s my most enduring moment of that first Super Bowl parade, huge men laughing like kids and reveling in their good fortune.
Last year, Amy and I, slightly hungover and not in a work frame of mind, informed my bosses that we would be taking the afternoon off to go to the parade and the City Hall Rally and we did not intend to return until it was over. Because my bosses are cool people, they took one look around my obsessively decorated cube, said, “Sure, have fun,” and sent us on our way. We found a spot on the corner of Government Center, just before the Duck Boats turned onto City Hall Plaza. It was uncomfortable and crowded and people pushed for the entire three hours we stood there. But when the boats started rolling by, I forgot all about my sore feet and screamed “Thank you!” to my boys. Amy was wearing one of those ridiculous Pat Patriot hats from the Boston Globe. I was decked out in my #12 hat, as always. Bruschi laughed and waved. We cheered our hearts out.
This morning, I badgered Kerri into coming with me. Since there was to be no City Hall Rally because of snow and safety concerns and because the Red Sox Championship “Rolling Rally” had worked so well three months ago (two championship parades in three months, how lucky are we?), we decided to make the one-block trek from the office to the corner of Boylston and Arlington streets. We left at 11:00 and were standing no more than two feet back from the barrier five minutes later. Then the wait began.
The wait for your heroes to roll by is an interminable one. People watching is always fun and a running count of jersey numbers is a good way to pass the time. For those interested, Brady’s #12 is the runaway favorite but Tedy Bear has a strong following if the large number of #54s is to be believed. I even saw a Tully Banta-Cain, which I pointed out to Kerri and she replied, “Hey, he needs fans too.” Yes, yes he does. You get down with your bad self, Mr. Banta-Cain fan.
We discussed what jerseys we would like to get. I decided I’m in need of a Richard Seymour and Kerri is partial to Troy Brown. Though neither of us would turn down a Christian Fauria or a Mike Vrabel either. There were a fair number of Bledsoe jerseys in attendance too. My brother doesn’t like it when people wear jerseys of players no longer with the team. He feels they should move on and pony up the dough for a Harrison or a Vinatieri. Me? I think it’s kind of quaint. Like we’re remembering where this all started. And #11 was a big part of it. Don’t worry, Drew, we haven’t forgotten you.
I was struck by how many kids there were. Young kids, kids that most definitely should have been in school. There must be a lot of empty classrooms across New England today. Patriots Fever has taken hold. I looked at the boys directly across the street, maybe ten or eleven years old, lined up numerically, #4, #12, #54 and smiled. What a great time to be a ten-year-old sports fan in New England.
Some amount of eavesdropping is inevitable at things like these. As you stand around and wait, you can’t help hearing parts of other people’s conversations. A man behind me began speaking to his companion. “I didn’t let my kids go to the Sox parade.” “No?” his friend asked. “Nope. I told them we were watching it at home. Not dealing with crowds and all that business.” “How old are your kids again?” “Six and ten,” the guy replied. “Hmph,” said his friend, undoubtedly thinking what I was thinking which was, “Your children want to go to a championship parade, beg you even, and you deny them that?” I turned to Kerri, disbelief in my voice, “That guy back there wouldn’t let his kids go to the Sox parade.” Kerri shook her head, “That’s just wrong.” Damn near borders on child abuse if you ask me.
When and if I have children and when and if we are fortunate enough to have our teams continue this roll of dominance, you can damn well bet that I will drag them bodily to the parade route if need be. I am reminded of one of the best images from the Red Sox World Series DVD. A graying father stands along the parade route with two young children, all three of them decked out in World Series Champions hats. “I woke them up in the ninth inning,” he says, “and part of me thought, ‘what if they don’t win and I’ve scarred them for life?’ But they won, so it’s okay.” His children smile. That, my friends, is how you make your children sports fans.
The kids lining the parade route made me smile. They were well-behaved and frankly, if you’re going to have a professional athlete, or rather, a group of them since you don’t get one Patriot without the others, as a role model, you could not pick a better team. I’ve written about this before but I’m constantly struck by how much this team genuinely seems to care about each other and cheer each other on. And just as I’m about to mention this to Kerri, a gleam in the distance catches my eye. And then another one. And another. Three Lombardi trophies, help aloft by Robert Kraft, his son Jonathan and Scott Pioli. Coach Bill Belichick, resplendent in what I termed his “Sunday go to meetin’” gray hoodie, smiles at all of us and waves. It’s becoming slightly more normal to see the Great Stone Face crack into a smile. I’ve watched the NFL Films presentation on Belichick on the “21” DVD and I’ve come to believe that the man is not humorless, not in the least, but is rather a consummate, selfless professional who makes sure that all his work is done before he’ll relax. With Lombardi trophy number three safely in hand, he was relaxed today.
Following Belichick was Brady and, though I could barely see him as he was on the other side of the boat, Deion Branch, decked out in what appeared to be Celtics gear. That’s a way to win your hometown crowd over just a bit more. This is what I mean about this team. If anyone deserves his own Duck Boat, it’s Brady, or, for that matter, Branch, reigning Super Bowl MVP that he is. But no. They share. If it’s possible, Tommy gets cuter every time I see him. A quick once-over fashion appraisal of his black leather jacket, black scarf and jeans left me pleased. And no stupid hat like last year. The white boy ‘fro is gone as well (much to Beth’s chagrin), and he looked good. Damn good. I had heard rumors that he had flown directly to California after the Super Bowl to be with his family and to attend his grandmother’s funeral, but he was there, present and accounted for, and smiling bigger than ever.
The boats were arranged by position, with the next holding the linebackers. Tedy Bruschi and Rosevelt Colvin leaned over the side in front of me and waved to the fans, the air thick with confetti. I screamed, my voice rising an octave or two to its most girly, “Tedy!” It does that sometimes. I can’t help it. Kerri nudged me, “Goddamn would you look at Christian Fauria.” I did. Wow. “Crazy Train” blared from the Duck Boat’s sound system.
I missed Big Sey and Ty Law, as they were standing on the other side of their boat. For a moment, I got wistful for the rally that wouldn’t be because one of the best things ever is watching Ty Law coax Robert Kraft to dance. Then again, Ty’s foot is in a cast and Robert Kraft dancing always leads to Tommy dancing which always leads to me shaking my head and going, “Wow, our QB is a dork.” So it’s probably for the best.
The parade seemed to speed up from there. Maybe I imagined it. Matt Light, Corey Dillon, Dan Koppen, Asante Samuel, Ted Johnson and Larry Izzo all whizzed by in quick succession. Then came Lonie Paxton and David Givens who looks more like he should be hanging with P. Diddy or modeling Calvin Klein underwear than catching touchdown passes for a football team. More confetti rained down.
Finally, just as soon as it had begun, it ended. People started to stream away, back to their offices where they had taken an early lunch or off to the T to get home. But some, like the younger kids, arched their necks and watched the very last Duck Boat disappear out of sight around the corner of Tremont Street. And good for them, who knows when they’ll see this again.
I walked back to my office to find it nearly deserted. Dare I say I’ve had an effect on this previously sports apathetic publishing crowd. People started to trickle in and I immediately logged on to Boston.com to pore over parade pictures. There were a few pictures trickling in from the crowds at Government Center where the parade was just arriving. A few “T.O. Sucks,” signs, a few “Freddie Who?” But overall, the negative was kept to a minimum. This is not about trash talking. This is about saying thank you to our team, with all the respect to their opponents. That is something we, as fans have learned from this group of men. Do not disrespect anyone. So, aside from a sign reading “Brady’s Mom Makes Better Soup” that made me giggle, we just wanted to say thank you to our boys.
I emailed various people to inform them that from a few yards away, Tom Brady has absolutely no visible flaws. And I got to thinking, when I moved to Boston for college six years ago, I hated the Duck Boats. I hated being quacked at by tourists when I was just trying to get to class and I hated those giant, brightly colored amphibious vehicles cruising along, their drivers loudly proclaiming the miracle of “Cheers.” But now, now that I’ve seen them carry my boys down the street and shower me with confetti four times, I’m starting to find a soft spot for them. I’ve started to look upon them fondly. They are the chariots of my heroes. I believe that it’s only a matter of time before Boylston Street – our own Canyon of Heroes – is renamed “Belichick Boulevard” and Government Center is re-christened “Brady Lane.”
This championship stuff can get addictive. Witness a sign I saw asking the Pats to “Go for 4.” I myself am counting down the minutes until pitchers and catchers report to camp, fully aware that the Red Sox have a title to defend. But I try not to get ahead of myself. Championships are like money, if you can’t enjoy them when they happen, hoarding them does you no good. You can’t celebrate when you’re dead. As my Dad never tires of telling me, “Just enjoy the ride. It may never be like this again.” So I am, I’m enjoying the ride.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some confetti to tack up on my wall.