Not that I don’t feel guilt. Over the years, I’ve been with my friend Dean to two Bills games at Ralph Wilson Stadium, a session at the Bills training camp at St. John Fisher College and shared innumerable wings at the Elmwood Inn back in the day when the Bills were good and the wings were twelve for a buck fifty. So I must live with charges that I am a traitor.
EXHIBIT A: The Patriots were once my secondary team.
In the 1970s, as Sunday afternoon football was not a ritual in our household, often I went around the corner to my friend Billy Swift’s house where every week the Minnesota Vikings were paid homage. Bill Swift Sr., better known as Swifty, manufactured and outfitted canoes and kayaks in Canada, driving back and forth between Rochester and Ontario, strapping the canoes to his truck like a hunter transporting freshly harvested game. After Swifty died relatively young from a heart attack, Billy inherited the family business and now lives in Algonquin National Park.
In his living room, Swifty installed two huge color televisions cradled inside fake wood panels. Back then, tv remote control did not exist, necessitating the duel monstrosities — antediluvian quality by today’s visual standards — capturing each moment of simultaneously broadcasted games. Sometimes, Swifty would blare Buffalo Bills games on the radio. On the occasions when three games might briefly be on at once, in reserve he had a black-white tv equipped with a funky antennae made from a clothes hanger and aluminum foil. Maybe because of his northern affinities, Swifty was a diehard Vikings fan, wearing his purple and yellow jersey as he channeled Tarkenton and Foreman and the Purple People Eaters.
Perhaps because of his calming time spent in nature, Swifty never raved or screamed at the television. A large but athletic man — today we might say obese — Swifty placidly but intently watched every play while munching on his wife Wendy’s delectable but fatty spaghetti and meatballs drenched in cheese while sipping a few Molsons with his dog Tippy at his side. Zen-like, when the games were over, Swifty switched off the tv’s, finished his greasy meatballs and carbohydrate-laden Molsons, never mentioning football until the ritual began the next Sunday.
At the time, I was most enamored with the great Steeler and Cowboys dynasties, but the Patriots were my secondary team. As the Patriots were in a different conference from the Vikings, the Swifts indulged my rooting interest.
In the five years I rooted, the Patriots were a tease team. Their overall record was solid at 50 -26, but won their division only once and never advanced beyond the Divisional playoffs.
On Patriots’ message boards, fans still relive the outrage of the dubious and infamous roughing the passer call in the 1976 Divisional playoff against the Raiders. The penalty allowed Ken Stabler to rally Oakland to victory in the 4th quarter. Many believe the football gods ruled in favor on the Patriots in the notorious 2002 tuck game as recompense for the bad call against Hamilton.
My favorite defensive player was Raymond Clayborn who today would be considered a premier “lock down” corner. In 1978, the NFL limited contact on receivers making it easier to break free in the open field. Despite the rule changes, utilizing a bump-and-run strategy, Clayborn became extremely proficient in man coverage, using his taller frame to throw receivers out of sync, demonstrating his aggressive nature by getting right in receiver’s faces causing them to lose their poise.
On offense, wide receiver Stanley Morgan took advantage of his exceptional speed and the new rule to become one of the league’s top deep threats. He and quarterback Steven Grogan were among the most prolific QB/WR duos of all time. From 1977 until 1989, Grogan and Morgan combined for over 530 receptions, 10,300 receiving yards while scoring nearly 70 touchdowns.EXHIBITS B -F: proof of my New England sports bona fides
For more proof, see: 30 years ago when Billy Buck broke Rhode Island’s heart