Here at The Sports Fan Journal, we hope to evolve and deliver something not found in any other corner of this here internet. We bring you Mark Trible and Dillon Friday's NFL Countdown project. A fan from each NFL team will be featured as we anxiously await the season's kickoff.
Someone needs to tell the fans' stories. What better place than their trusty Journal?
Without further ado, meet New England Patriots Fan Erica Skinner.
The New England Patriots fan walked to class garbed in a New York Giants jersey. She was a senior at Hamilton College, where she majored in biology and minored in psychology. Her Pats had lost to New York 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI the night before, which created the bizarre scene.
“Our room was split, two Giants fans, two Patriots fans so it was big deal,” Erica Skinner, now 24, recalls. “I made a bet that if the Pats lost, I'd have to wear Giants gear the next day.”
“It was terrible,” says Skinner about her walk of shame, “because everyone was congratulating me.”
Few franchises in football history have enjoyed a period of success as long as the New England Patriots from 2001 to the present. The Pats have won at least 10 games in 12 of the last 13 seasons. They've made the playoffs 11 times in that span, gone to eight AFC Championships and five Super Bowls. They've lifted three Lombardi Trophies. In the process, New England became the NFL's model organization as well as its greatest source of schadenfreude.
A little humiliation, which Skinner surely felt on her morning stroll two and a half years ago, would do the Pats fans some good. Then again, most fan bases are more envious of the Patriots than hateful towards them.
The Boxford, Massachusetts, native was 11 when New England's dynasty began in earnest.
“The Raiders,” she says simply. “The tuck rule. It's one of my first memories. I mean, I was young so I never really talked football with people, but I was watching that game at a big get-together. I remember all the dads going crazy about it.”
Tom Brady's incomplete pass kicked off a series of good fortune for the Pats and Skinner. New England upset the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl that year. She won $50 on the game when the final score matched the square her two quarters covered.
The Patriots would win two more Super Bowls in the next three seasons. Their fans championed the “The Patriot Way” like Foxborough was a modern Camelot. Skinner bought in.
“I do believe in the Patriot Way,” she admits. “I can see how it could be perceived as cockiness, but what Bill Belichick does and how he trains his players to act in public — I think they put a lot of work and effort and intelligence into what they practice. They're not about the silly things. They're about football. They're not about the publicity and gaining attention. I don't really know how people outside of Boston feel about it, but I'm a believer.”
The Patriot Way gave us humble pie. It revitalized the careers of Rodney Harrison, Corey Dillon and most famously Randy Moss.
But to outsiders, Belichick, with his perpetual scowl and drab hoodies, resembles Emperor Palpatine more than King Arthur. Spygate confirmed that all was not as it appeared in New England.
Aaron Hernandez, in a much more serious and harrowing way, shattered the pristine image when details of his alleged murderous ways emerged a summer ago.
“It actually really creeped me out to know that had happened and then he played a whole season,” Skinner says. “And he seemed respectable at the time. He had the Patriots mentality of being professional. So to know he had [allegedly] murdered people and had everyone fooled was pretty creepy.”
It's an episode that both New England and the NFL as a whole would like to forget. Or rather, they wish it never happened at all. Hernandez's allegedly monstrous actions shouldn't, and don't, define the Patriots though. They've been too good for so long. Even the most ardent detractor would admit that.
“I feel privileged,” Skinner says.
She felt a dose of nostalgia recently when she helped her parents move out of her childhood home.
“I miss the older players,” Skinner, who teaches children with autism at a Boston-area school, explains. “I just found my old Patriots collection, which I had gone two seasons cutting out articles and stuff. I had my entire wall filled. The clock-killing Corey Dillon, Ty Law — he might be my favorite Patriot of all time.”
Skinner is quick to recognize that the present is nearly as good as the past. Her Patriots fell at the penultimate hurdle in each of the last two seasons. Now, with some good luck and health, she believes they can end the nine-year Super Bowl drought.
“If Gronk can remain healthy, I doubt it, but if he remains healthy I think we'll do pretty well,” she says as she stares out into the Atlantic Ocean. She's spending the last weekend in July at her friend's beach house, a getaway that features a ground-floor pool and a rooftop hot tub. Tom Brady is still her quarterback.
“I'll say 13-3,” she predicts without a hint of irony.
It must be nice.
>> Be sure to catch the rest of the "Meet the Fan" series:
Philadelphia born. Raised in God's country aka Duluth, Minnesota. Give me a frozen pond and an open pitch and I'll be happy. Follow me on twitter @noclassfriday