By Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and the Boston City Paper, 2/2016

A year ago, in 2015, before the AFC game, I wrote a column in this space saying thank you to the New England Patriots and their organization for a great season and for all they do for us.

I deliberately published the piece BEFORE the game – I wanted to emphasize that regardless of that outcome, we are so proud of our Patriots.

Happily, the Pats went on to win that AFC game and then the Super Bowl.

To call the 2015 – 2016 season DIFFICULT for the New England Patriots would be a colossal understatement. The story that just would not go away – the so-called “deflategate” – was the lead story on the news all year right into the preseason. I remember the day Tom Brady was vindicated from any wrongdoing – We were OVERJOYED!

But God help us all, that story is still not over, with the NFL and Roger Goodall seemingly determined to refuse to allow FACTS to get in the way of whispers and false accusations.

FACT: Tom Brady and the Patriots didn’t cheat and didn’t deflate footballs – can we please move on?

Speaking of moving on, after the 2016 AFC game, I was overwhelmed by not just the Monday morning quarterbacking across the media, I say to all those naysayers and so-called sports experts – YOU – get on that field and do what they do. You can’t. And you never will be able to. There has never been a team like the New England Patriots.

And the year started so well! The 2015-2016 season began, what some called the “Patriots revenge tour.” They won. They won again, they won again. Unstoppable! But then there were injuries, more injuries, and games were lost. And win or lose, every game, our team gave it their all, and then some. The New England Patriots do not “phone in” a game – ever.

The season progressed as statistics were compiled, wins and losses tallied, and players were injured, game footage reviewed, new playing strategies created.

When I heard the news that the Patriots would be playing the AFC game against the Broncos in Denver, my heart sank. Peyton Manning and the Broncos are a formidable force of nature. Speaking only for myself, New England vs. Denver isn’t like the rivalry/hatred Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees have – I don’t think we HATE the Broncos – BUT even if YOU do, I think we can certainly respect what a great team they have this year.

And don’t hate me – since the Patriots did not make it to the Super Bowl, I do hope that the Broncos will get the win – it seems likely that Peyton Manning will be retiring soon, what a glorious way to end his career with a Super Bowl ring. That said, it really annoys me that Manning keeps screaming OMAHA! Yes, Omaha steaks are delicious, or maybe he just likes Omaha Nebraska. It’s very confusing to me. But I digress.

While I don’t wish to single out any player, I would like to say to Stephen Gostkowski, who I have never met, you did not lose that game for the team. And as Gronk and all your teammates said, every game is a TEAM effort. Stop beating yourself up – you are an amazing player.

It was obvious that the entire New England Patriots team played their very best that day – as they do all games – their heart was certainly in the game but they were still fighting injuries, a seemingly unstoppable Broncos offense, and, in this case, the other team played a better game. It happens.

And enough of, “It’s just a game.” Football, like all sports, is big business, franchises, million-dollar deals, endorsements, and logistics that boggle the greatest minds.

But sports, especially football, and especially the New England Patriots, give us something more. As autumn arrives, the days grow shorter, darker and colder, especially after the holidays and the January snow and cold set in, so many of us – myself included – live vicariously through the New England Patriots.

We love this team. Doesn’t matter if you’re from Foxboro, Boston, Dorchester, North Conway, Providence, or anywhere in New England – [except for certain parts of Connecticut who seem to favor the New York teams a little more – what’s up with that?] – It doesn’t matter – we love the Patriots.

Of course, the team has a large population of haters – but that is to be expected – when a team is the best, everyone else is jealous, and since it’s not often I get to quote Taylor Swift in context: ‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate / Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake / I shake it off, I shake it off’

Let them hate. They hate the Patriots because they are the BEST.

I have such respect for coach Belichick – after every game he seeks out the opposing teams coach to speak with him. Same with Tom Brady – his first stop is always the opposing quarterback to speak a few words. These men have such class.

I also have such respect for the Kraft group – Not just for the good they do in my hometown as a taxpayer and the big business they bring to the area, but not only have they revitalized that section of Route 1, but they continue to make a difference with philanthropic acts – both public and private. It is very appreciated. As Pats fans, I would like to thank Bob Kraft for nurturing and growing a football team that we can all be so proud of and want to root for.

The Patriots are such a well oiled machine – manned with such incredibly talented players – legends, really – that we have come to expect nothing but winning. But losses are inevitable, injuries will occur, and the Patriots will play teams that for any of 100 reasons just played better that day. It is the way of the game. That said, I have every confidence that a fifth Super Bowl ring is in the very near future for the New England Patriots.

Super Bowl 50 was not meant to be for our team. The loss is heartbreaking. But our Patriots will be back next season, better than ever, ready to give it their best yet again. And win or lose, we will be there, cheering you on.

To the entire New England Patriots organization: We BELIEVE in you. You put heart and soul into this season as you always do – you give us excitement, something to cheer for, something to put a smile on our faces during these dark days of winter.

Take some well-earned rest, get healthy, rebuild. Come late next summer, we will be there, cheering you on once again. Win or lose, you make us so very proud. Thank you.

“We are all Patriots.”

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