Learning to Win

A man cheers while celebrating the New England Patriots' Super Bowl victory against the Atlanta Falcons, Feb. 5, 2017 in the Boston Common, Boston, Mass. Photo by Alexandra Wimley/BU News Service

By Érico Lotufo
BU News Service

My sister, a huge Pats fan, always asks me before big games:

“Why can’t we just win easily?”

The Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl on Sunday and it was in a kind of game that my sister hates: the nail-biting epic that makes you regret ever deciding to dedicate time to sports. Why do we do this to ourselves, we ask?
But the tough wins, amazing comebacks and even tougher losses have become a staple in Boston for the past 17 years. It’s the price we pay for our success.

I came to Boston when I was five years old, in 1997. Quickly, I fell in love with the amazing sports environment and the four teams that sustain it. My ’99 Halloween costume was Nomar Garciaparra. And when I went back to my native Brazil, I put framed pictures of “No-mah” and Pedro Martinez in my room.

However, if Boston is now better known as Titletown, in the late 90’s it was the opposite. The Red Sox had an amazing pitcher, but were overshadowed by a Yankees dynasty; Bruins fans were bracing themselves to watch eternal captain Ray Bourque trading teams to win a Stanley Cup elsewhere; the Celtics (our only perennially successful franchise at the time) lived the bitter Rick Pitino era, with Paul Pierce being its sole silver lining. The Patriots? Not even a Super Bowl campaign in the ’96 season was enough to make people care.

I was attracted by that underdog mentality. Back home, I supported Santos FC, a soccer club that hadn’t won anything since 1984. The Boston sports teams captured my imagination the same way: we never win, but when we win, those will be the days.

Tom Brady came up soon afterwards and taught me the meaning of winning. He did that a couple of more times, with the Red Sox breaking the curse in a magical season soon after. Celtics and Bruins titles fell like dominoes the next years.

The titles, however, never came as easily as the streak suggests. Every championship campaign came with its own martyrdom, suffering and heartbreak. It was how the sports gods kept our spoiled minds in check.

On Sunday, they decided that a fifth championship ring for the Patriots (and tenth Boston Championship overall since 2001) wouldn’t come without sacrifice. Super Bowl LI united everything that made the past 17 years great for Boston fans – yet terrible for the faint of heart.

The 25-point comeback was an impossibility akin to the Red Sox’ amazing 2004 ALCS comeback. The fourth quarter mixed all the most gut-wrenching moments from every final quarter of the Brady’s previous six Super Bowls. The Deflategate revenge tour story stands only behind 2013’s heartwarming Boston Marathon recovery narrative that overtook the Red Sox’ and Bruins’ seasons.

After the Falcons opened 28-3, I even joked with fellow BUNS editor, Rob Carter, during the Big Game: “They’re just doing this to make the comeback even more exciting!”

And that they did. In the meantime, my sister sent me nervous text messages.

“I love the Pats,” she wrote. “But I don’t know if I can take it anymore.”

She wavered. After Gostkowski lost an extra point, she messaged me again saying she would stop watching.

She was exaggerating, of course. Because in the end, while we were never sure that the comeback would truly happen, we know better than to bet against our teams.

It’s that kind of trust that made us stay awake to watch Dave Robert’s seal, Nathan Horton’s overtime goal against the Canadiens and Big Papi’s game tying Grand Slam in 2013. It also pulled us through two Vinatieri Super Bowl winning kicks and, as of now, a second epic fourth quarter comeback from Tom Brady in the Big Game.

I’ve learned to win. I’m spoiled when compared to those that waited for decades to see the kind of success in Boston sports that I witnessed while still a child. But I think we all learned together that theses wins don’t come easily; we need to suffer – a lot, sometimes – to make it through.

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