The Salem News
---- — A professional sports team is always far more interesting when there is a lively cast of characters, and we’re getting a sense that one of those times is once again upon us.
Here in Massachusetts, we’ve had our fair share of those kinds of casts in the past — the Celtics “Big Three” of the glory days of the 1980s, the Red Sox “Idiots” of the magical 2004 World Series and the “Big Bad Bruins” teams of the 1960s through early 1980s.
For more than a decade, we’ve been fortunate to have the best franchise in the National Football League, a team that has brought us a remarkable trio of Super Bowl trophies, and nearly brought us two more ... if it weren’t for a disastrous final two minutes of play.
The Patriots are again poised to have an interesting finale to the season, and this team seems like one of those groups of players destined to go down in Boston sports history as a colorful and successful cast of characters, worthy of a name.
There’s the dependable and talented leader Tom Brady, the fun-loving mountain of a man Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski, the diminutive spark plug Danny Woodhead, the speedy and tough Wes Welker, the enormous run-stopper Vince Wilfork ... the number of notable and fun-to-watch players extends deep into the Patriots 53-man roster.
And of course, there’s the stone-faced coach, Bill Belichick, perhaps destined someday to be remembered on par with Vince Lombardi.
This past decade has been a fortunate one for Patriots fans. From 1960 to 2000, we watched underachieving teams barely live up to their potential, sometimes bitterly so. Our first foray into the Super Bowl, in 1986, was burned into our psyche as the most mismatched championship game played up to that time. Humiliation and “wait till next year” was our place in life.
Today, it’s different. This is a team that has toughness, smart play, occasional heroics and a cast of interesting characters. But they don’t yet have a name. Maybe that will change.
The Patriots still have a trek to go before the Super Bowl. This weekend, they need to beat the sputtering but still dangerous Houston Texans — who by the way, have their own “named” player, running back Arian Foster. He was recently named “The Most Interesting Man in Football” due to his impressive ball-carrying skills and his unusual outside interests, which include philosophy, writing poetry and aspiring to be a children’s book author.
If the Patriots can overcome Houston, their next likely opponent is a stellar matchup against the Denver Broncos, a team that has been hauled up by its bootstraps by Tom Brady’s rival Peyton Manning. No doubt, most of NFL nation is hoping that this showdown will occur.
Then, it’s on to the Super Bowl for the winner, and hopefully we’ll see our Patriots again compete for the Lombardi Trophy.
Whatever happens, we think this crop of players deserves some celebrity in the pantheon of Boston sports.