By Alan Burke
---- — Are you sitting back? Snacks at hand? Relaxed for the return of the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon?
Well, maybe you shouldn’t be.
That’s the message from the streets of the North Shore where football fans are optimistic but by no means blase about the upcoming playoff game.
Yes, the Patriots easily handled Houston when the two teams played in early December, beating them by a convincing 42 - 14. Nor have the Texans had much success since. So, on paper it looks like another easy win for one of the most successful teams in sports. But every fan knows that they play the game on the field for a reason.
Deidre Thomas, originally a native of Boxford, has come all the way from Clayton, N.C., to attend Sunday’s game. And her friend Adrianne Wyatt, a former Salem resident, came all the way from San Diego. Bronwyn Kane, Thomas’ sister and a season ticket holder from Lynn, is helping both ladies get inside Gillette Stadium.
“I come back for the opening game every year,” says Thomas as the three gather at Sports Collectibles in Peabody Square.
“And I’ve started coming back for one game each December,” nods Wyatt.
“We have awesome husbands,” grins Thomas. “Mine is at home with three kids.” She has a simple explanation for her love of the game, laughing, “I am the son my father never had. My dog’s name is Grogan.” (Steve Grogan was a Patriots quarterback from 1975 to 1990.) She idolizes lineman Vince Wilfork, the rock of the Pats’ defense.
All three admit that distance cannot diminish their devotion to the Patriots. When Kane called to say she could get tickets for Sunday’s game, Wyatt shot back, “I’ll be on the next flight.”
The pair are optimistic — but cautiously so. “When we played the last time we didn’t have (super tight end and pass catcher Rob) Gronkowski,” Thomas points out. Gronk, as he is known, is now off the injured list. On the other hand, the Texans were yet to be humiliated. “I’m sure a lot of the Texans are remembering that game.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be as much of a blow-out as the last time,” says Wyatt. “But I’m very optimistic.
“I never say it’s a sure thing,” winces Thomas.
“On any given day,” nods Wyatt, leaving unsaid the end of the maxim that on any given day any NFL team might beat any other.
“You never relax,” agrees fan Linda Corbett, who runs Nautical Traders on Bridge Street in Salem. A single loss will send the loser home until next season, she warns. “You never relax if it’s a one and out game.”
A fan who learned football from her brothers, Corbett says, “The Patriots will win if they play mistake free football.” But, she holds finger and thumb close together, “The difference between the worst team in the league and the best team is positively this much.”
She cites the sobering statistic that quarterback Brady has lost six of his last 12 playoff games. “I think Brady’s great. Don’t get me wrong.” But the Texans, “are going to want blood. They got killed on ‘Monday Night Football.’ Don’t forget that. They’re going to be really looking for blood. I wish we had won by less.”
If anyone can understand the plight of the Texans, it ought to be John Moresco, who manages the Texas Roadhouse off Route 1 in Danvers. But not only is he a Patriots fan, so are nearly all of his customers. He’s just put in a 72-inch TV to help them watch Sunday’s contest.
Now and then, a real Texan comes to the Roadhouse, says Moresco, “They love my Texas food.” But by game time, they’re inevitably drowned out by the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick devotees. Moresco makes clear that he’s one of those.
“Texas Roadhouse,” he points out, “is just the name of the chain.”
Moresco is braced for a tougher game this time. But he has faith in Belichick’s genius as a coach. Moreover, he invokes the name of a Patriot nemesis, explaining that New York Giants quarterback “Eli Manning is not playing.” (Manning was the victor over the Patriots in their last two Superbowl appearances.)
“Another Superbowl ring for Tom Brady would be great,” Moresco says.
For his part, Moresco won’t be in Foxboro or Danvers on Sunday — he’s looking forward to watching the game while on vacation in Key West, Fl. He’ll be warm, but if the Pats lose, he says, “I’ll be devastated.”
Spotted outside the Texas Roadhouse, Derrick Hauenstein of Ipswich sees the Patriots following one of two paths on Sunday. “It’s going to be a close Patriots loss or they’ll blow them out,” he says. “If it’s a close game it means (Texas running back) Arian Foster has really got his game going. And that the Texas defense showed up.”
They were not a factor last time, says Hauenstein.
Either way, he expresses gratitude for the Patriots and the way the team has been run in recent years. “It’s hard not to be positive,” he says. “They haven’t lost many games in the last 10 years.”