This was a great team, with players like Vinatieri, Law, Bruschi, Brown, and others all of who would be a part of the team’s greater success during the next decade. Having had season tickets to the Patriots, I saw all of these players every time they set foot on the field at Foxboro, as they progressed from inexperienced rookies to Patriots legends.
I love the 1996 season for this reason. The Patriots had a rather uneventful decade before this, and Boston sports fans were thirsty for something meaningful. The team lost its first two games of the season and many had written it off as another disappointing season. Somehow, they then proceeded to win ten of their next 13 and everything changed.
During the team’s last regular season game against the Giants, I was forced into doing household chores for my father. Far from the ideal way to spend such a critical Sunday, but I was left with little choice. I dropped in on the game as much as I possibly could, and was disappointed to see the Giants leading 22-0 in the 2nd quarter. I checked back again and it was now 22-17.
After this, a few more plays put the Pats into scoring position, and miraculously, a Drew Bledsoe pass to Ben Coates resulted in a touchdown, giving the Patriots a one point win over the Giants.
The Patriots were playoff bound! My friends and I couldn’t believe it, and watched all of the games leading up to the Pats’ showdown with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags had upset the Broncos in a game that everyone thought Denver would easily win, so the Patriots would play Jacksonville.
They then played the Jaguars at Foxboro, and the memories of that game have a permanent place in my mind. It was colder than you could possibly imagine. Our food even froze. No one seemed to care though, the Pats had a shot at the Super Bowl.
The Patriots came out with a furious flurry. The game was over before the Jags even walked on the field. The Patriots built a 13-3 lead going into the 4th quarter. Everyone in New England was waiting for certain implosion. Gritting their teeth. Putting on their favorite Pats T-shirt. Sitting in their super bad spirit slaying chair. Praying. Otis Smith let everyone breathe easy. He scooped up a fumble and galloped 47 yards for the decisive touchdown. After 5 cups of hot chocolate, my lips thawed so I could finally scream SUPER BOWL!!!
My friends and I were beside ourselves. We were already scheduling days off after the Super Bowl to greet the Patriots at the airport. It was my 3rd year as a season ticket holder and my team was in the Bowl. How little I knew what was to come! Desmond Howard and the non holding call dashed our championship hopes, 35-21 to the then likable Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Parcells left the team due to spat with owner Bob Kraft and then bolted to the Jets with assistant, Bill Belichick. However, the other Bill came back in 2000 and the rest is Dyna-history!!