By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Lots of Patriots fans are expecting victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday’s American Football Conference championship game.
At Brooksby Village, a large contingent of those fans are expecting victory because they’ve earned it.
Of course, they have their New England Patriots heroes.
“My favorite player is Jerod Mayo,” says John Murphy, 73, citing the hard-hitting linebacker. “I guess defense has always been one of my favorite parts of the game.”
But Murphy and his fellow fans in this retirement community can also hearken back to an era roughly half a century ago when professional football came back to the area with a ragtag, sure-to-fail organization called the Boston Patriots, part of the thrown-together American Football League.
The people who remember that first team also knew in subsequent years the frustration of a team that always seemed to try hard but fall short. Sometimes far short.
Like Mickey Ratte, 77, they remember the aimless management, kooky coaches and freezing aluminum benches that passed for seating at Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro.
“Oh, they were awful,” she shudders.
Peg Perkins, 94, grew up in Maine. Even up there, she says, those early Patriots players — people like Gino Cappelletti, Jim Nance and Nick Buoniconti — began to build a loyal following (one that took a blow in 1969 when the latter was traded to the Miami Dolphins).
“I had brothers who played football,” she says. “It was all football all the time.” Her late husband, Howard “Duke” Perkins, also grew to be a Patriot fan. “He would have to be to live with me,” Perkins laughs.
Before the arrival of the Boston Patriots in 1960 Murphy was a fan of the Cleveland Browns. “They were on TV. I liked the Browns because Jim Brown was a spectacular runner.”
It took a number of years to wean him away from televised football to the team that played live in Boston, sometimes in Harvard Stadium, sometimes at what remained of Braves Field, and even at Fenway Park.
For Perkins, there was always a commitment to football, although she’s only ever watched on television. “Everyone thinks I’m crazy,” she says. “They ask, ‘How can you watch that?’” But she sat through dismal seasons in the 1980s and 1990s and isn’t about to miss her heroes now.
Her favorite, Rob Gronkowski, won’t be playing on Sunday after re-injuring a broken arm last week. “I guess he came back too soon.” She’ll still watch. “I even go without dinner. You have to have dinner here at a certain time. If the game’s on, I say to hell with that.”
For Ratte one of the big attractions is Vince Wilfork, the massive defensive lineman who seems capable of dancing catlike in front of running backs. “He seems so dedicated. Nobody gets past Vince Wilfork. ... And (wide receiver) Wes Welker is everywhere.”
Ratte traces her love of football back to Peabody, where girlhood friends, many of them Greek, were agog at Lynn Classical and Boston University quarterback Harry Agganis of Lynn. She admits to driving her current circle to distraction with her devotion to the Patriots.
“I try not to just watch the quarterback,” she says, explaining that much of the game hinges on the play of the linemen. Friends complain, “If you’re so smart, why don’t you go down and help them win?”
Ratte is juggling two offers to come watch Sunday’s game. “I’ll probably be at my son’s house.”
Perkins expects to be at her son’s house or in her apartment. “That (quarterback Tom) Brady,” she enthuses. “He’s won everything.” And she might be speaking for the whole of Brooksby Village when she adds, “Some people think he’s getting too old. He’s not getting old. He’s getting better.”
Murphy expects to watch the game at Brooksby, at his girlfriend Joan Pappalardo’s apartment, before the 52-inch, flat-screen, high-definition television he bought her just for moments like this.
A former basketball player at Boston University, Murphy was once given the task of guarding future pro basketball great Jerry West. He finds his interest in football peaking at just the right time. He isn’t running a company anymore, and he doesn’t have the responsibility of a young family.
Thus, he has the leisure to enjoy the New England Patriots at precisely the moment when they are yet again very near the top of the football world. On Sunday he hopes to see them one step closer.