January 20, 2013

Remembrances of things Pats

Thanks in part to the diabolical genius at the helm, some of the NFL team's youngest fans just expect New England to make the playoffs every year, while older enthusiasts still recall those lean times – before Coach Belichick.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

There's a sharp divide among New England Patriots fans.

click image to enlarge

The Clement family of South Portland – 17-year-old Bert and his parents, Cathy and Bill – gets suited up for a big day of championship football. Father and son are both New England fans, but Bill remembers the team’s lean years and Bert does not. The Patriots play the Baltimore Ravens tonight for a chance to appear in their sixth Super Bowl since 2001.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Bert Clement, 17, and his parents, Cathy and Bill Clement of South Portland, love their football and will have plenty to root for in Sunday’s games, as the San Francisco 49ers take on the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship and the Baltimore Ravens visit the New England Patriots in the AFC title matchup.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below


It's no wonder young fans of the New England Patriots expect the team to make the playoffs each year, since they've gone all the way to the Super Bowl five times in the last 12 years. Here's a look at the team's history in the NFL's big game: 

1985: Super Bowl XX Lost to the Chicago Bears, 46-10

1996: Super Bowl XXXI Lost to the Green Bay Packers, 35-21

2001: Super Bowl XXXVI Beat the St. Louis Rams, 20-17

2003: Super Bowl XXXVIII Beat the Carolina Panthers, 32-29

2004: Super Bowl XXXIX Beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21

2007: Super Bowl XLII Lost to the New York Giants, 17-14

2011: Super Bowl XLVI Lost to the New York Giants, 21-17

No, not between those who say that Coach Bill Belichick is a genius and those who maintain just as emphatically that he's a freaking genius.

It's a generational gap between those who believe an annual trip to the Super Bowl is a birthright and those who can remember when the Patriots weren't a playoff cinch every year -- heck, some years they didn't even rise to the level of bad, like in 1990, when they went 1-15.

Nowadays, "I expect at least the playoffs" every year, said Bert Clement, 17, of South Portland.

Clement claims he "goes way back" with the Pats, but when asked if he remembers the 2001 team's first Super Bowl victory, he admits: "Not that far."

But Bert's father, Bill Clement, 57, remembers. And he can also recall a much different era.

"They played like a college team more than a pro team," he said. "They were an easy win for the other teams."

Bill Clement also remembers when the team, now a model of a professional organization, was a sports franchise in search of a home. Before a stadium was built in Foxborough in the early 1970s, the then-Boston Patriots, an original member of the American Football League, played its games at Boston University, Fenway Park, Harvard Stadium and Boston College's Alumni Field, among other locales. They even played "home" games in Birmingham, Ala., and San Diego.

"I remember them not being good -- so bad I don't remember watching them," said Erin Maguire of Portland, who calls herself a lifelong fan and, at 31, a bridge between the generational divide.

There was a time when the Patriots played so poorly that people found other things to do on autumn Sunday afternoons than to watch them line up. The team made the playoffs so infrequently that choosing between watching a game and engaging in some other activity on winter Sundays didn't even merit a discussion.

"We were the generation of 'maybe next year,' " said Claire Barclay, 58, of Auburn.

Ask an older Patriots fan about the years before Bill Belichick became coach and Tom Brady started putting up record numbers at the quarterback position, and a few names come up again and again.

"Steve Grogan, Tony Eason and that other guy, the one they traded," recites Barclay's son, Marc Robicheau, 36, of Auburn, who leaves no question about whom he roots for. Robicheau and Barclay were at the Maine Mall on Friday, Robicheau decked out in a Patriots T-shirt, jacket and hat.

The name he's searching for is Jim Plunkett, the Pats' quarterback before they drafted Steve Grogan in 1975. The next year, the Pats decided to go with Grogan as the starter and traded Plunkett to the Oakland Raiders, where he proceeded to help them win two Super Bowls.

Grogan had an injury-plagued 15-year career with the Pats, some of it spent embroiled in a quarterback controversy over whether he or Tony Eason should be the starter.

But mention quarterback controversy to younger fans and they're likely to think it's about whether UGG boots are really a good look for Tom Brady.

Since Brady became the starting quarterback in 2001, even non-Patriot fans figure the team will still be on the field when the calendar turns to January and February.

"I expect them to be in the playoffs every year and I expect them to have a first-round bye every year," said Kris King of South Portland, who works at a kiosk at the mall selling Boston sports memorabilia, even though he's a fan of the NFC's Washington Redskins. "Every year, going into the season, I expect them to dominate."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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PATRIOTS PAST: Quarterback Steve Grogan, left, gets a pointer from Coach Chuck Fairbanks at Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., in December 1976.

File photo/The Associated Press

Bill Belichick, Tom Brady
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PATRIOTS PRESENT: Quarterback Tom Brady confers with Coach Bill Belichick before last week’s AFC divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium.

File photo/The Associated Press


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