Reflections on the end of another football season

Every year, especially if I’m lucky enough to be at the Super Bowl, I start to really think about how fortunate I’ve been. And I just wanted to get it all down before Super Bowl LI on Sunday. If you think of the Patriots 2016 season as an album, consider this my contribution to the liner notes.

Call it fate. Call it luck. Call it happenstance. It’s a little remarkable that Sunday will mark my seventh Super Bowl. It’s hard to believe that I’ve managed to trick the powers-that-be into allowing me to cover so many of them. I started covering the team in 2001 on a total lark. I was sports editor at the Boston Metro, and because the Patriots had availability during the day, I figured I could go to Foxboro during the day, get quotes and find a story, and then come back to the office and write and lay the pages out at night. That summer, there was very little buzz around the team. “I’ll just go down to Foxboro, like, once a week,” I told my girlfriend at the time — who would later become my wife. “It’s not going to be a big thing. They’re probably not going to be all that good. It’ll be something different and fun.” And yeah, my first game was the one where Tom Brady came in in relief for Drew Bledsoe.

Flash forward 15-plus years, and my work as a football writer has come to define my professional life. I’ve written two books on the Patriots, won awards for my work, and gone places and met people I would have only dreamed of meeting if I had never gotten on this roller coaster. My life has been enriched, both literally and figuratively, because I cover the team. It’s been remarkable. I think of that every time I roll into the parking lot in Foxboro.

At the same time, I haven’t gotten here on my own. I mean, I’m a good writer and I work hard and I would have done something worthwhile over the last 15 years. But to get here? That takes a lot. It takes a lot of people doing a lot of sacrificing to put me in the best possible professional situation. And they all deserve a big thank you.

First and foremost, it takes a partner sacrificing and planning and helping figure out how it’s all going to work. My first Super Bowl, while we were planning our wedding and my job would only agree to reimburse me $250 for the whole trip, my wife gave me her frequent flier miles to make sure I could get to New Orleans and back. She keeps the trains rolling all football season. We find a way to make it work. That’s sacrifice. That’s partnership. She’s the best.

It takes a son who is patient and kind and sweet and understanding that Dad has to travel and work on weekends and doesn’t have a 9 to 5 job like all the other Dads. But every year, he gets to come to training camp and meet the players and have lunch at Five Guys and drink free Pepsi and check out the view from the press box and the media tent. (And catch Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal attempts.) And every time Dad goes to the Super Bowl, he brings home some cool swag. But I know it’s not easy not having me around. Mostly because I’m an awesome Dad. Hey – sometimes, you don’t want Dad the Sportswriter. You just want Good Old Dad.

It takes the wisdom of parents like the ones I was blessed with. My Mom and Dad encouraged me to become a writer — a sportswriter — and they kept me in pads and pens. They made sure I joined the school paper, got me into a college with a good journalism program and helped chip in when there were unpaid internships and bills due. And later, that meant figuring out a way to get me a Powerbook so I could write my first book and become a real writer. They are the best.

It takes amazing colleagues like Mike Petraglia and Ryan Hannable. They are hardworking, dedicated colleagues who are tremendous partners. They understand the process, and how sometimes it all comes together at weird hours in strange places like Oneida, where you are operating on no sleep in the middle of the night and still have a six-hour drive ahead of you back to Boston and the Tim Horton’s isn’t taking your credit card and all you want is a goddamn grilled chicken sandwich. It’s a weird lifestyle that doesn’t always really make sense. But God bless the both of them. And it takes a boss like Rob Bradford, who makes you a better writer and reporter.

It takes a mentor like Leigh Montville. I wanted to become a sportswriter when I started reading him, and getting the chance to develop a relationship with him later in life is a gift. We should all get a chance to meet our heroes, and we should all hope that they’d be as nice and kind and helpful as Leigh was to me if that happens.

It takes readers and listeners. I find it hard to believe I would be doing this without anyone reading, and so to anyone who has read my stuff along the way or listened to something I said or watched me talk on TV, just know it’s meant the world to me. For those of you guys who follow me on Twitter, Facebook, listen to me on the radio, whatever, it’s a blast. Even when we disagree, I think the fact that we can manage to be civil to each other says something. Always remember: Just because we don’t agree on something doesn’t make either one of us bad people.

And so, I am here at the Super Bowl, seven flights up in a luxury hotel in downtown Houston. I’m listening to the faint sounds of ZZ Top off in the distance somewhere as I write and marveling at how all of this good fortune continues to fall into my lap. As my colleague Bob Socci said, he’s “no worse than tied for first among the world’s luckiest guys.” That pretty much sums up what I’m feeling right now. The bottom line? If luck is the residue of design, someone was really looking out for me when it came to my blueprint. Thank you all for everything.