Julian Edleman changes everything!

Each month my children each receive a free book from PJ Library, an organization that sends free books that celebrate Jewish values and culture to Jewish families across America and Canada.

Last week the newest books arrived. They tend not to be my favorite stories. Perhaps part of the problem is that I'm not Jewish, but while they do an excellent job teaching Jewish culture and values, they tend to be light on humor, antagonists, and conflict.

I find them a little boring.  

Elysha opened the latest books and began raving about one that she remembered reading at a child. "Yeah, yeah," I thought. "Another sweet little book with no stakes, no bad guy, no car chases, and no laughs."

A little while later I rose from my computer and took a peak at the book she had been holding. Just as I thought. No sword fights. No blood. No evil emperor. No underwear jokes. Blah.

Then I looked at the other book that had arrived. The one she didn't mention. My eyes immediately settled on the author of this book:

Julian Edelman.

"Julian Edelman!" I shouted. "This book is written by Julian Edelman!"

"Who's that?" Elysha asked.

"Who's Julian Edelman? Just the best receiver on the Patriots since the days of Randy Moss and Troy Brown! And apparently Jewish! Julian Edelman! I can't believe it!"

Flying High is the story of a squirrel named Jules who learns to overcome his physical limitations through hard work and the assistance of a goat named Tom.

If you know anything about the Patriots, you understand the genius of this plot. 

Julian Edelman is an undersized player - my height, in fact - who played quarterback in college and transformed himself into one of the finest receivers (and former two-way player) in the league.

Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. - an expression in sports that means Greatest of All Time.  

It's true. There wasn't much conflict in the story and very little humor, but still... Julian Edelman wrote the book. 

I couldn't wait to read it to the kids. It was truly the first PJ Library book that excited me in the same way Elysha, Clara, and Charlie are so often excited about these books.

I guess even a blind squirrel can find a nut every now and again.

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My favorite piece of paper

Elysha and I attended yesterday's Patriots game at Gillette Stadium. It was her first game in years, and she picked a good one.

With less than 2:30 on the clock and down 33-28, Tom Brady orchestrated an eight play, 75 yard touchdown drive that won the game for the Patriots. With less than 30 seconds left on the clock, he threw a touchdown pass to Brandon Cooks that caused the stadium to erupt in celebration.  

It was exciting. Thrilling. Supremely satisfying. 

Over the course of the last 17 years, Tom Brady has brought me enormous joy. Constant celebration. Countless memories. 

I've also been fortunate enough to begin attending games regularly at the very beginning of his career. Brady has played in 239 regular season games and 34 playoff games over the course of his NFL career, and I have been inside the stadium to witness many of them. 

Brady was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. Pick #199. A compensatory pick as a result of losing four players to free agency: Todd Collins, Tom Tupa, Mark Wheeler, and Dave Wohlabaugh.

Four forgotten players whose exit from the franchise changed it forever.  

This is the draft card, submitted by the Patriots organization, that gave them the rights to Tom Brady. It is my favorite piece of paper in the world. 

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This is more important than selling shoes and books.

I have a friend who approached me a couple weeks ago and said, "Do you know why Michael Jordan never endorses political candidates? Because Democrats and Republicans both buy shoes."

He went on to say that he was surprised that I was writing so many politically-minded posts when I have books to sell. "Everyone reads," he said. "Democrats and Republicans."

I understood his point. While I always stand on a platform of authenticity and extreme honestly, I have been more politically minded on my blog this year than any other year before, but I explained to my friend that this election cycle is different. These are not two serious-minded, highly qualified people with differing opinions about the direction of our country. Donald Trump is the first candidate in my lifetime who was not fit to hold the office of President (or any position in government). If I did not speak out against this ignorant, racist, misogynist in order to sell a few more books, I couldn't live with myself. 

This is why I am so disappointed in Tom Brady, who was asked by a reporter yesterday how he would respond if his children heard Donald Trump's version of "locker room talk."

Brady thanked the reporters and stepped away, dodging the question completely. 

My hope is that Brady refused to answer the question because it required him to speak about his children, and he often avoids questions related to his family. Perhaps today a reporter will simply ask, "What did you think of Donald Trump's version of locker room talk?" and he will answer.

I hope so. But I also know that Brady and Trump have been friendly over the years. My fear is that he dodged the question because of their previous and perhaps ongoing relationship.  

I hope not. I love Tom Brady and expect a hell of a lot more from him. 

I wish more athletes would speak out against Trump's attempt to excuse his claims of sexual assault as "locker room talk." I wish every athlete in the world would. 

I realize that they all have shoes to sell and games to win and fans to appease, but there are times in life when you must stop caring about the dollar and start caring about this country.
About the perception of how men behave in private.
About the way we want our sons to speak about girls and women.
About what constitutes sexual assault.

Rugged good looks. Beautiful wives. No java.

I used to think that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and I only had our rugged good looks and coincidentally beautiful wives in common.

Not true. 

According to Yahoo sports:  

Don’t expect to see Tom Brady at his local coffee shop anytime soon.

The 38-year-old star quarterback for the New England Patriots told radio station WEEI’s “The Dennis and Callahan Show” in Boston that he has never drank coffee in his life. Never even tasted it.

”I never had any coffee or anything like that,” Brady said. “I just never tried it.”

Brady admitted to indulging in “burgers or ice cream” when asked about his food weaknesses.
— https://gma.yahoo.com/tom-brady-claims-never-tried-coffee-203649743--abc-news-celebrities.html

Not only are burgers and ice cream two of my favorite foods, but as you may know, I have also never tried coffee or anything like it. 

Great minds think alike. 

ESPN's Jason Whitlock asked a bunch of stupid questions about Robert Kraft, so I answered them. It's a good strategy when faced with dumb, rhetorical questions.

In his press conference following the announcement that the NFL plans to uphold Tom Brady's four game suspension, team owner Robert Kraft said: 

"The decision handed down by the league yesterday is unfathomable to me." 

Really? Unfathomable?

What country has Kraft been living in? What he and Brady and Patriots fans have experienced during the past six months — a rigged system of investigation and punishment — is what poor people, particularly those of color, endure daily.

When faced with stupid questions, I like to answer them. So, in order of appearance:

Really? - Yes, Mr. Whitlock. Really. While the plight of poor people in this country, particularly those of color, is unspeakably tragic and must be corrected, even wealthy football team owners can sometimes feel like they are being treated unfairly and be surprised by the treatment.

Unfathomable? - Yes, again, Mr. Whitlock. Even when one is wealthy, it is perfectly acceptable to expect one thing and experience complete disbelief when the opposite occurs. 

What country has Kraft been living in? - This one is easy. It's the United States, Mr. Whitlock. While Robert Kraft certainly travels quite a bit, he resides in the United States.

Massachusetts to be exact.

And even though it may surprise Mr. Whitlock, I suspect that Kraft is fully aware of the recent events in our country as they pertain to the criminal justice system's deplorable treatment of the poor and those of color.

Here's a question of my own:

How did you expect Robert Kraft to respond? Did you expect him to receive the news of the upholding of the suspension from the commissioner of the NFL and think:

"This is not unfathomable at all. Yes, I fully expected the suspension to be lifted or at least reduced. but in light of the recent events in places like Ferguson and the tragedy of Sandra Bland and others, I should've expected to be treated unfairly, even though this ruling has no relation whatsoever to the American criminal justice system and is a matter of private business."

Whitlock's heart is in the right place and his concern for poor Americans trapped in an unfair judicial system are more than justified.

And I should know. I was once one of those poor kids, arrested and facing trial for a crime I did not commit and denied legal representation even though I was living well below the poverty line. I lost almost two years of my life defending myself against false accusations and had no way of recovering damages from the years lost and money spent.

The criminal justice system can be anything but fair and oftentimes devastating to the most at-risk populations in this country. 

But using Robert Kraft for his reaction to the continued suspension of his quarterback as a means of illustrating the problems of the criminal justice system and suggesting a certain tone-deafness from Kraft is nonsense. 

The man was fully expecting a different decision from the commissioner. When that decision failed to materialize, he was stunned. Shocked. He found the ruling to be unfathomable. And when compared to the results of recent appeals by NFL players to disciplinary measures, Kraft's reaction was not without merit.

Agree with the commissioner's decision or not, almost all appeals result in a reduced suspension or the elimination of the suspension entirely.   

Unfathomable was at least in the realm of possible human emotions when you consider the facts.

Your future self wants you to be daring and adventurous. Don’t let the current version of yourself screw things up because it’s cold.

I went to the Patriots-Ravens playoff game on Saturday. Though I love attending Patriots games at Gillette Stadium, it’s not always easy.

I left my house at 10:45 AM and returned home around 10:45 PM. It’s a long day. 

Prior to leaving the house, while I was dressed in my long underwear, my cat vomited on me. This might have happened regardless of my plans for the day, but it happened. It was a thing.

In a sad twist of fate, my friend received word that his cat was dying while we were on the way to the game. On Sunday, his cat was put to sleep.

It was about 15 degrees during our tailgate. We cooked steaks, beans, and loaded potato skins on a propane-powered grill. Less than 10 minutes after food came off the grill, it was cold.

The walk from the parking lot to our seats takes about 30-45 minutes depending upon the size of the crowd at the gates. It’s a battle through hordes of fans, and for a large portion of the walk, it’s uphill. Up about seven ramps to the upper deck and about 75 steps to our seats. By the time we finally sit down, we are stripping off our coats and hats because we are so warm.

The temperature dropped at game time. Factoring in the wind chill, it was about 5 degrees by the second quarter. Beers were freezing. I looked more like the Michelin Man than myself with the layers of clothing affixed to my body.

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As soon as the game ended, we ran for the car. Beat the traffic out of the parking lot. Stopped at McDonald's to strip down to civilian clothing, I discovered that my face was seriously wind burned. Then we began the 75 minute drive to my friend’s house and the 45 minute drive on my own to my house.

It’s a sacrifice, particularly when the game can be watched in the comfort of my home.

But I sitting in the stands for the 2015 Patriots-Ravens playoff game, and I will never forget it. I saw and heard things that I have never seen before in a footfall game.

I saw Tom Brady throw a pass to wide receiver Julian Edleman, who threw a pass to Danny Amendola for a touchdown. Strangers embraced me as Amendola crossed into the end zone. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard the stadium so loud. 

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I heard referees announce that Patriots running backs and tight ends were “ineligible receivers.” “Do not cover number 34” a referee announced. It may have been the strangest in-stadium announcement in the history of the NFL.

I saw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on the Baltimore bench. Though I’m sure this has happened in NFL games before, I had never seen it. 

I watched a team come back from two 14 point deficits to win the game, the first time it’s ever happened in the playoffs.

I watched Tom Brady set the NFL record for passing yards and touchdowns in the playoffs.

I watched Bill Belichick tie Don Shula for the most wins by a coach in the playoffs. Next week, I hope to see him break that record.

Sure, I could’ve watched the game from my couch and been warm. Yes, I could’ve eaten a meal that did not go cold in minutes. It’s true, the hours spent traveling by car and foot to and from the game could’ve been better spent (though spending that time with one of my best friends wasn’t exactly a poor use of my day).

But I’m warm now. My belly is full. My face has returned to it’s normal color. And I have memories of time spent with a friend, watching history be made, that I will carry with me forever.

For about half a second, I had two extra tickets for Saturday’s game. My friend, who owns the tickets but was suffering from the flu, sold them quickly. But I had time to fire off some emails and text messages to friends to see if anyone wanted to join us.

Some already had plans. Some were out of state. One was anchoring SportsCenter in Dallas. But a few declined because of the cold. The travel. The effort required. The allure of the stupid box and the couch.

I feel bad for those who stay home for reasons like the cold.

You can always be warm tomorrow. You can take a nap and enjoy a warm meal the next day.  But you can’t make memories like the ones I did on Monday. Sometimes sacrifice is required to witness greatness.

Maybe it’s crazy, but the 99 year-old version of myself wanted me at that game. My future self wanted me sitting in section 323, row 24, seat 5, alongside my friend, cheering on my team as the temperatures approached zero.

I try to listen to my future self whenever possible. You should, too.

Future you is always smarter than current you.

Why it’s glorious to be a Patriots fan

Since 1993, the New England Patriots have had two starting quarterbacks: Perennial Pro Bowler Drew Bledsoe and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.

There was a season when backup quarterback Matt Cassel was forced to play when Tom Brady was injured, but there was no question that Brady would be the starting quarterback once he was healthy.

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For 21 years, or the majority of my adult life, this franchise has been in the capable hands of just two quarterbacks.

By comparison the Cleveland Browns have had 18 starting quarterbacks since 1993, and that includes three years when they weren’t even a team. The Washington Redskins have had three starting quarterbacks this season.

In that same 21 year period of time, the Patriots have had just three head coaches: Future Hall of Fame inductees Pete Carroll, Bill Parcells, and Bill Belichick.

By comparison, the Cleveland Browns have had nine head coaches in that same period of time, beginning with Bill Belichick. The Raiders have had an even dozen.

Parcells took the Patriots to the playoffs during every year of his tenure with the team, including a Super Bowl in 1996, where they lost to the Green Bay Packers.

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I put a shoe through my friend’s living room wall that night.

Carroll was the least successful of the three coaches, but still, he won the AFC East in his first year as head coach and took the team to the playoffs in two of his three seasons. Carroll has gone on to win a Super Bowl and a national championship at the college level.

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Under Belichick, the Patriots have gone to five Super Bowls, winning three and coming damn close on two others. The Patriots have been to the playoffs in 12 of his 14 seasons, missing during his first year as head coach and in 2008 when Tom Brady missed all but one game due to injury. Still, the team went 11-5 that year.  

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The leadership and stability of the New England Patriots has been astounding. It’s no wonder that since 1993, they have the most wins of any NFL franchise. They have also been to the playoffs more often than any other team, made it to more Super Bowls than any other team, and won more championships than any other team.

It’s been a good 20 years. I’ve rarely missed a game and have spent many afternoons and evening in the stadium, watching them from the nosebleeds.

It’s good to be a Patriots fan.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

The Patriots beat the Lions, 34-9 on Sunday, which marked fourteenth anniversary of quarterback Tom Brady’s debut in the NFL.

On that same day in 2000, the Lions beat Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Final score: 34-9.

Coincidence? No way.

Glitch in the matrix. Bug in the program. Virus in the machine.

A sign that we are all living in one enormous computer simulation.

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I experienced genuine euphoria yesterday. Unabashed joy. Pure, unbridled happiness. When was the last time you felt that way?

The New England Patriots won an incredible game yesterday. It was one of the most amazing comeback victories that I have ever seen, but what will be lost to the casual observer was how the comeback began when the Patriots lost the ball on a controversial fourth down play with 2 minutes and 50 seconds remaining in the game.

But all accounts, the New Orleans Saints should have been able to win the game right there and then.

Instead of running out the clock or scoring a touchdown, the Saints settled for a field goal, putting them ahead by 4. Then the Patriots got the ball back, and Tom Brady promptly threw an interception on the first play with 2 minutes and 24 seconds remaining on the clock.

Without any timeouts to stop the clock, the game should’ve been over. Again.

But the Patriots defense held, and Brady got the ball back one more time with just over a minute on the clock. That’s three possessions in a span of just under three minutes.

Then, with 10 seconds left in the game, Brady threw the game winning touchdown pass to undrafted rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins.

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The moments leading up to the touchdown were an emotional roller coaster for me. The ball is dropped on the fourth down play, and I shout at the receiver for his stupidity. I hang my head in disgust. All hope is lost.

Then the defense holds the Saints to a field goal, and hope dares to rise in my belly. My eyes widen. My fists clench.

Then Brady throws a terrible interception and all hope is lost again. I drop to my knees and shout an unintelligible mix of groans and wails. “That’s it,” I declare. “Game over.”

But despite my despair, I keep watching, and the defense holds again. A glimmer of hope returns. A tiny flicker. I want to believe.  

With less than a minute on the clock and no timeouts, the team drives down the field with precision. Receivers run routes and make catches. Brady puts the ball in their hands in stride.

Then comes the touchdown.

When Thompkins caught that ball in the corner of the end zone, I leapt to my feet in euphoria. I shouted. I screamed. I jumped up and down. I pumped my fists. I scooped my daughter from the couch and swung her through the air. We danced. We cheered. My phone began dinging with messages from equally euphoric friends who were watching the game. I was out of breath by the time I sat back down on the couch, and even this morning, more than twelve hours after the victory, my heart beats a little quicker and there is joy in my soul.

I can’t help but wonder:

If you aren’t a sports fan, and if you don’t live and die with the success and failures of a particular team, do you ever have the opportunity to experience the kind of blinding euphoria that I experienced yesterday?

Are there other moments in your life that cause you to scream and cry and leap in the air and joyously embrace strangers wearing the same colors as you?

If these moments exist for the non-sports fan, when do they happen, and do they happen nearly as much as they do for someone like me?

I don’t think so.

My wife, for example, celebrated the Patriots victory with me. She was happy for the team’s success. She was pleased with the result. But when the touchdown was scored, there was only one crazy person in the house. I was the only lunatic who couldn’t stop pumping his fists and jumping up and down and shouting.   

When does someone like my wife get to experience the level of genuine euphoria that I felt yesterday afternoon?

I’m not sure that they ever do.

I’m the first to acknowledge that my love for the New England Patriots is irrational. It is a geographically-based adoration for a group of a men who I don’t really know who play a sport that I don’t play myself. I cheer for these men as they attempt to win a game against a different group of men who I despise for no good reason.

It’s crazy.

But it also brings the diehard sports fan a level of joy that can be experienced in so few other ways.

I get that chance every Sunday during football season.

It’s crazy. It’s irrational. But I pity those who don’t get to experience it for themselves.

The Patriots are proof-positive that perspective is hard, if not impossible

A friend and fellow Patriots season ticket holder sent this to me yesterday in one of the weekly email exchanges that we have prior to every game.

I thought it summed things up perfectly:

Tom Brady’s career record as a starting QB now stands at 139-39, making him the first quarterback in NFL history to be 100 games over .500.

In fact only twelve quarterbacks in NFL history have even won as many as 100 games. Pretty amazing – it’s the equivalent of going 13-3 for 10 straight seasons.

Think about all the wins we’ve witnessed, many firsthand, and yet the losses are burned into our memories like they only happened yesterday.

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