Not so this year. This morning my first thought was of the game tonight. I proudly wore my new Brady jersey around the office, and annoyed almost everyone I came across with an enthusiastic "Are you ready for some football?!" For a few special people, I also turned around and pointed to Brady's name on the back of my jersey.
While the years 2001 through 2005 were a peroid of insane, nuclear, all-consuming sports miracles in New England, the last few years have slowed down a bit for the Patriots. Heading into their first preseason action against the Eagles tonight in Philadelphia, the team opens a season that may just make or break how they go down in history for this decade.
As a franchise and a fan base, this is a new kind of pressure. Prior to the first Super Bowl win, the Patriots were historically a sad-sack franchise that had only rarely gotten a chance at a championship. They opened each season with pressure to reach the Promised Land. Fast foward a decade, and the same team, now routinely compared to the New York Yankees, is faced with pressure to follow up and cement its legacy as the dominant team of the 21st century's first decade.
In the grand scheme of things, I believe the Patriots will always represent this decade as a cultural touchstone and a lightning rod. They will still have the iconic quarterback of the decade, a crossover star, and the iconic coach. They will remain undoubtedly the most hated franchise among the national audience, and the most likely to generate a flame war on the Internet.
However, on a purely statistical basis, the Pittsburgh Steelers could rival the Patriots' record in the postseason if they win the Super Bowl this year. If the Patriots win the Super Bowl this year, on the other hand, they could end the between-the-lines debate once and for all. That's a big swing.
The Patriots have now failed in the postseason as many times as they've won. Brady dismantled the record books in 2008, only to lose last year's entire season to injury. As for the rest of the personnel, the Patriots begin this season with as many question marks on the roster--as well as among their coaching ranks--as any during the Belichick era.
This is a year that will make or break the Patriots dynasty. Tonight is the night we get our first taste of what is to come. I don't know about you, but I can't wait.