Saturday, 02 February 2019 20:32

"MATTer of Opinion" Sports Column: These are the golden years for Boston fans

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Sports columnist Matt Harrelson. Sports columnist Matt Harrelson.

There is a meme going around that there are children in the New England area born after Oct. 28, 2018, who have never seen a Boston sports franchise win a world title.

It's a joke, of course, and the punchline is that it has been mere months since New Englanders gathered for a championship parade through the streets of Boston. At this point, it might be wise to check the tire treads on the floats.

Since the Patriots won their first Super Bowl in 2002, Bostonians have seen the locals hoist the trophy in 2004 (the Pats and the Red Sox), 2005 (the Pats), 2007 (Red Sox), 2008 (the Celtics), 2011 (the Bruins), 2013 (Red Sox), 2015 (Patriots -- and they can thank Malcolm Butler for that one), 2017 (Patriots) and last fall (the Red Sox).

It's a run of success unparalleled in major American sports. That streak can be extended Sunday night in Atlanta when the Patriots face the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

These are the good old days, and New England fans can perhaps be forgiven if they've come to see a spot in the Super Bowl as a birthright rather than a rarity. A few weeks ago, a jokester changed the Wikipedia entry for the AFC Championship game to read "The AFC Championship Game is the annual championship game of the American Football Conference where one team gets to play the New England Patriots for a chance to play in the Super Bowl."

It's no wonder the rest of the country finds New England fans tough to take.

But it could all change in a second. Had Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford not lined up offside during the final minutes of the AFC title game two weeks ago, it would likely have been Kansas City making an appearance in the Super Bowl. On the play in question, Tom Brady threw what would have been his third interception of the game.

The Chiefs would have had the ball and the AFC title, and Patriots fans would have spent the next several months wondering if Brady was washed up at 41, if Rob Gronkowski was going to retire and if coach Bill Belichick's strategic wizardry had finally left him.

Thinking about this leads to thinking about other Boston sports moments of the past few decades and how things could have turned out differently. What if Dave Roberts was thrown out trying to steal second against the Yankees in 2004? What if Seattle coach Pete Carroll decided to run the ball on the goal line against the Pats in 2015, instead of being cute with a pass? What if running back James White was stuffed at the one-yard line in 2017 and the Patriots' historic comeback against the Atlanta Falcons fell short? For that matter, what if Bill Buckner fielded the ball in 1986?

Nothing is guaranteed when the Pats line up Sunday against the Rams. New England is a 3-point favorite, but the Rams have bright, young offensive stars in quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley to go along with a fearsome front four on defense. My guess (and prediction on ROSS Rundown) is that Belichick figures out a way to neutralize the Rams' best weapons and Brady finds Gronk in the end zone at least once, giving the Patriots their sixth Super Bowl victory and ending the region's 98-day championship drought.

Should the opposite occur and the Patriots lose, their fans can take comfort -- The Red Sox equipment truck leaves Fenway Park for Spring Training on Monday.