---- — Last month we remarked on this page at how fortunate we New England sports fans are to live in this golden age of professional sports. Those comments were made shortly after the Red Sox secured their third World Series title in a decade.
But Sunday night’s performance by the New England Patriots gives us cause to say it’s not just the championships that have made this such a phenomenal time. Sometimes, it’s the pure drama of a seesawing, near miraculous game that demonstrates this golden age of Boston sports.
All over the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire yesterday morning, the lines at the coffee counters were unusually long. But the tired faces had a wrinkle of a smile on them, no doubt a reflection on the four-hour sports soap opera that finally and dramatically concluded a little after midnight.
This game was the kind of top-contender match-up that we New Englanders always look forward to -- a face-off between quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, two of the best ever to play the sport. It was expected to be a close, back-and-forth “shoot out.”
It wasn’t. It started badly. In fact, the first half of the game was the worst performance by the Patriots during the Belichick coaching era. The Denver Broncos managed to score 24 points, mostly on Patriots’ fumbles, while the Pats could muster nothing. We’ve spoken to plenty of people who went to bed at that point, assuming that this would be a long and humiliating defeat. They were intent on not dragging themselves into work the next day rank, exhausted and depressed.
A comeback from a 24-point deficit in miserably cold and windy conditions seemed impossible, particularly with the Pats so lifeless in the first half. But those who mustered enough energy to watch the second half were rewarded. Steadily, the Pats clawed their way back, and even managed to get ahead by a touchdown. Denver had almost no answer, but did manage to tie the score in the waning moments. By then, anyone who had braved their way past the halftime score was utterly absorbed.
It was on to overtime. Ironically, the Patriots’ final victory was precipitated by an error by Wes Welker, the former star Patriot receiver who now plays for the Broncos. As so often happens in sports, and particularly football, in an instant a simple mistake can turn into a monumental game changer. Welker, back to receive a Patriots’ punt, opted to let it bounce but failed to warn one of his fellow Broncos defenders of his intent. The ball struck the defender and so was up for grabs by either team. The Pats recovered and a game-winning field goal followed.
The game was big news across the nation, and is already being talked about as one of the greatest football games of the modern era. We lucky New Englanders have enjoyed more than our fair share of these kinds of games.
Sports Illustrated columnist Don Banks put it best. “We saw. And most of what we saw, we had never seen anything quite like it before. Even by Brady-Manning standards, it was a show that will be difficult to ever repeat, or top.”