I was a bit embarrassed #61 had never happened before, considering I identify myself as a pretty big Patriot's fan. I was actually thinking about why this was something I had never experienced, and the excuses began to line up: distance, opportunity, prioritization, etc. Thankfully, with apparent good reason, this was the year of lighting those on fire and finally taking control of what experiences contribute to my life's story.
I hadn't begun to think through this items time frame, but blindly assumed it would be in the fall. January 1st when the list was complete and my bucket-list season beginning, the NFL's regular season had just ended. Playoffs meant tickets were more expensive and more robust to attain. Insert my (superhero) best friend: Trevor Morin. Trev and I met in 1st grade and have been pretty inseparable since. He lives in Boston and acquired season tickets to the Patriots last year and would go see a game or two and then sell the rest of the tickets to friends for face value. He had continuously said he wanted to treat me to a game, but we were never able to coordinate schedules between the two cities we call home. When the list came out, and Trev being one of my biggest crazy-idea supporters, jumped on the opportunity to make #61 as epic as possible. He initially gave me the option to go see their guaranteed first playoff game, but unfortunately, once again, my schedule wouldn't allow. We committed to the game the following week, but the Patriot's had to be victorious in round 1 first.
January 13th, 2018, the Patriots first playoff game against the Tennessee Titans. It was an 8:15 kick-off and the reason I couldn't make the game was that I had soul-friends visiting the city for a wedding. These were plans we had made months prior, and I had been looking forward to. Halfway through the day, I was getting anxious about the idea of blowing a fantastic opportunity at crossing off #61. Everything was riding on the game that evening. Lose and figure it out in the fall, win and get to experience an event a week later I had been longing for, and one of significance, the AFC Championship.
My friends were off to their wedding, and I was off to Brooklyn to watch the game. 8:15 came, kick-off and the following 3 hours was a Patriot ass-whooping. I was going to the AFC Championship. I was going to cross off #61 this season.
A week later I was on a train to Boston. I realized a few things traveling up the east coast. The last time I made this trip was the day my grandmother passed away, and my parents were waiting for me at South Station, Boston. I also realized the only Patriot's related thing I had ever previously attended was a practice during pre-season when I was 9. I was visiting my grandmother, who lived her whole life right outside of Boston, and we made the hour trip to Foxboro so I could see my hero, Tom Brady. We got there and immediately went to the pro-shop, and she bought me my first Brady jersey. #61 was beginning heavier than I expected.
By mid-evening Friday, January 19th, I had arrived in Boston, Trev waiting for me in his usual spot on the street. We were both bursting to see each other and our weekends' agenda. It was a reposeful two days catching up, drinking, hanging with friends, and excited for the weekends grand finale. Saturday we went to the mall, and I bought an adult-sized Brady jersey, seemed fitting for my first game and for my Grandma.
Sunday morning arrived, and around 11 am headed to Gillette Stadium to tailgate before the 3:05 pm kickoff. To make this day even more special, we were meeting up with one of my all-time favorite families and consistent epic-event attendees, the Hancock Family. They were, classically, going to be there and with a full-blown one-stop-tailgate-shop set up with friends and ready for our participation. The Hancock's are a family like I've never met before. From them to grandma (G), to cousins, every branch of that family tree is just filled with goodness. I see them randomly throughout life, and not nearly as much as I would like, but they're always on my mind inspiring me to squeeze every ounce out of life and to share love wherever I go. Lucky, lucky me.
We spent the next two hours grilling, playing drinking games (which I was a perpetual loser of), and just, simply, laughing. I started to notice a trend accompanying the list, something I had felt during #86 Ride in a Gondola in Venice. The looming outcome of these experiences held little weight when I was doing them with people I adored. The experience wasn't dictated by the gondola ride going smoothly or the Patriots winning. It was about being lost in the moment with people I loved that was bringing me the most joy.
It was 2:30 pm, we crushed the last of our drinks, everyone feeling very good and it was time to go inside the stadium. The Hancock's and friends headed to their seats, and Trev and I were headed north up the bleachers to ours. It was such a great view from center field.
Earlier that day on our drive over to the stadium, Trev asked, if I could choose, would I prefer a close game or a blowout? A question I had to think about. A close game, Brady in the clutch, hanging at the end of my seat sounded exciting, but ultimately I wished for a Patriots win and would happily sitting through a blowout of the Jaguars. Well, the universe had other plans and delivered me the former, we had ourselves a ballgame.
Blake Bortles, the young stud Quarterback for Jacksonville, came out firing early. Through three quarters the Jaguars were proving their legitimacy and 15 minutes away from upsetting my team and writing their own destiny at the Super Bowl. Growing up a Patriot's fan I am spoiled. They're always good, they're always in contention, and a lot of that comes down to them never believing they're out of a game. Tom Brady deserves a lot of the credit behind that. He's considered one of the all-time great football players, and it's because he repeatedly shows up when the games on the line. This comeback was going to have to be without our second best player, Rob Gronkowski, who had gotten injured in the first half and wouldn't return.
The 4th quarter began, and it was crunch time for Brady and the Patriots. At 13:52 left in the game the Patriots ran a trick play fooling everyone, I included; at the end of it though, the Jaguars linebacker stripped the ball from our running back and the comeback, felt like it may have just become out of reach. Who am I to ever doubt the Patriot's though? The rally needed to start on defense. Both sides of the ball stepped up and the Patriot's erased a 20-10 4th quarter Jaguars lead with back-to-back touchdowns from Brady to 'Playoff Danny Amendola.' They regained the lead 24-20 and never looked back. I was buzzed, with my best friend, having just witnessed my first Patriots football game, which was the AFC Championship, and it was capped off by Tom Brady lead comeback - I couldn't have written it better.
That 4th quarter with Trevor was one of the most electrifying, heart-wrenching, adrenaline-pumping experiences I've ever been a part of and it turned out to be the game of the year. It's funny how things work out sometimes. #61 Go to a Patriot's Game: CHECK and what a game it was! Onward...
All my love,