Five sausages and a good story

The New England Patriots defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium. It was the eighth AFC championship game that I have attended in my lifetime.

Patriot fans have indeed been blessed over the last 16 years. 

Prior to the game, about ten of us gathered in the parking lot across the street from the stadium for our traditional tailgate. My friend, Tony, does this cooking. My friend and seat mate, Shep, brings tables, grill, and a TV. 

I hand over money and thank them for taking care of me.

After the game, the group gathered back in the parking lot for a post-game tailgate. Since we remained in the stadium to watch the championship festivities on the field, we knew it would be at least an hour before we could exit the parking lot, so burgers, dogs, and the first half of the Eagles-Vikings game was on tap. 

That is, until we realized that one of our friends decided to skip the post-game festivities, flee to the parking lot, and escape the traffic. This would have been fine except he took all the food with him, knowing full well that a post-game tailgate was planned.

Needless to say the eight remaining souls were not pleased to discover that all we had to eat were five sausages and a little cornbread. 

Not exactly a meal for eight people who had just spent five hours standing in the stadium, cheering on their team.

After speaking about our departed friend in the most vile of terms and declaring him dead to us now and forever, we decided to take the one item we had in abundance - alcohol - and attempt to barter for meat from our fellow tailgaters.  Before long we had traded hard liquor, beer, and space around our TV for a little bit of chicken, two pieces of steak, a small army of pigs in a blanket, potato chips, and more. A couple people came over with cooked food and brownies, offering us some of their food out of pity for our miserable condition. Our huddle mass of eight grew to as many as fourteen at one point, and I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with some fellow Patriots faithful.

Don't get me wrong. Burgers and hot dogs would have been fantastic, and they should've been there, damn it. You don't leave early with the food when you know that a large group of hungry football fans are expecting to eat. 

Leaving with the food was not cool. It will not be forgotten. 

But the result - bartering for food, the chance to meet new people, and the collective, creative resentment for a single individual - was kind of great. A otherwise ordinary post-game tailgate turned into something memorable and meaningful under the sodium lights of that dirt parking lot.

There's a phrase that my friend, Catherine, uses about storytelling:

"You have a good time, or you have a good story."

In this case, we were lucky. We got both. 

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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The essence of a New England Patriots fan and a Bostonian in 5 tweets.

This is a beautiful story. If you ever lived in Massachusetts, and especially in the greater Boston area, this will ring so true.

People in the Boston area are hardcore.  

It's Marathon Monday in Boston. As the runners make their way along the race route, a man stands on the side of the road, encouraging them with this sign that reminds them that in the third quarter of the Super Bowl, the Patriots were losing to the Falcons 28-3.

Keep going, marathoners. Don't give up. Anything is possible.

On Twitter, Addul Dremali, a biomechanical & data scientist and amateur photographer, posts a photo of the unidentified man and his sign.  

About an hour later, ESPN tweets at Dremali, asking if they can use the photo on all their platforms with a credit to him. 

This is where things get beautiful. With the opportunity to have his photo, name, and Twitter handle disseminated across ESPN's enormous and far reaching platforms, Dremail responds like a true and absolute Patriots fan.

This is a perfect reflection of what the people of Boston and its surrounding communities are like:

Fanatic, aggressive, perpetually angry, and so rarely self-serving. 

Forgive Dremali's language. It's also authentic to the Boston area.  

That is a thing of beauty. The perfect response by a man who had an opportunity to gain a little notoriety (in a culture where people will do almost anything to gain notoriety), and he decided to be a fan instead. 

About 30 minutes later, Dremail is contacted via Twitter by another news agency, requesting to use the photo. Their tweet is hilarious. 

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One minute later, Dremali responds perfectly.

Victory brownies and the definition of fandom and friendship

Our tailgate meal prior to a New England Patriots game has many glorious traditions.

One of these traditions are "victory brownies." Tony and his wife, Erin, bake brownies for dessert after an enormous meal of meat and meat and meat and potato, but we don't eat the brownies until the Patriots win.

Yesterday I received a package from Tony. When I opened the box, this is what I found:

Victory brownies. "Victory brownies of all time."

THIS, my friends, is what friendship and fandom look like. 

It's so much more than just a game.

I know it's only a game.

It's a game played by men who I have never met and never will.

Still, I feel sorry for those who don't have the opportunity to experience the sense of collective purpose and love that being a sport fan can bring. I can't imagine missing out on the unmitigated euphoria that a victory like last night can offer.

The Patriots won the Super Bowl in the most dramatic fashion possible, capping off a season of obstacles and hardships. Their quarterback was (in the mind of every physicist) unfairly suspended for four games, and they were stripped of a first round draft pick. Their backup quarterback was injured in his second game, requiring their rookie, third string quarterback to play. Their second best player - one of the greatest tight ends of all time - was injured and could not play for most of the season.

They overcame each obstacle and remained mentally tough on the biggest, brightest stage in the world. They won glory last night. Eternal, unforgettable glory.

I stood with these men who I have never met and never will all season long. I stood in the sun and freezing rain and snow at Gillette Stadium, cheering them on. I rearranged every Sunday afternoon during the season so I could watch them perform. I stood in muddy parking lots with friends before the games eating meat and talking about the game. I was not a member of the 2016 New England Patriots, but I'll be damned if I didn't feel like one.

Just as important, this team has brought me closer and closer to the people I love most. With each play, each game, and each football season, I take a step closer and closer into the hearts and minds of these friends.

It is a collective joining of spirit and soul that is so rarely found in today's world. It's a mutual understanding of who we are and who we can be through our hope, our pain, our sorrow, and our joy. It's an opening of hearts and a baring of souls. We learn about our frailties. Our strengths. The way we handle pressure. The way we manage disappointment. The way we accept defeat. We learn about who we can poke. Where we can prod. When we must be gentle.

The Patriots won the Super Bowl last night. It was a historic victory. An unforgettable football game. A moment of a lifetime.

It was also a night when many of the people who I love most joined in sprit and soul and took one collective step forward into a ever-closing circle of friendship and love.

I know. It's only a game. Except it's so much more.

One person is listening. Perhaps more, but at least one. I'm so pleased.

I was asked by many people on Monday morning about the AFC championship game that I attended on Sunday night. One of the most frequently asked questions was:

"What time did you get home?"

I arrived home on Sunday night around 1:00 AM, but I explained that it was fairly early given the fact that I often arrive home from night games well after 3:00 AM.

Most people have a hard time understanding how I manage this. They also question my sanity when they learn that I will drive to a Moth StorySLAM in Brooklyn, downtown Manhattan, or Boston on a weeknight to maybe tell a five minute story and arrive back home after 1:00 AM.

I have always been a proponent of saying yes when opportunities present themselves, regardless of the sacrifice required.

I am also a proponent of living your life with the perspective of the 100 year old version of yourself.

I know that this advice is good. I know it would make people considerably happier if they followed it. I know that I'm right.

So often, I wonder if anyone is ever listening.

A couple years ago I met a teacher while speaking at her school. Over the past year, she's begun to listen to my advice and take it to heart.

She began by saying yes to taking the stage and telling of a story for Speak Up. This was not an easy thing for her to do, but since then, she's become a Speak Up regular and fan favorite.  

Shortly thereafter, she went to New York and told her first story in a Moth StorySLAM. The next day, she wrote to me about my philosophy of saying yes regardless of the sacrifices required:

"It's the greatest lesson you ever taught me. I'm trying so hard to fight my natural instincts to say no and just say yes. It's annoying how right you always are."

Needless to say I enjoyed that email a lot. 

Last weekend she traveled to Washington, DC to participate in the Woman's March. 

On her way home, she wrote:  

"Learning to live life the Matthew Dicks way. Man, your way is exhausting."

It's true. It can be exhausting. It's not always easy. And it doesn't always work out. Sometimes I drive to Brooklyn for a Moth StorySLAM and never take the stage. Sometimes the Patriots lose a big game, and the long, late night drives home become much more difficult. Sometimes I say yes to something that I must later change to a no when I realize how much I hate it.  

But the willingness to take risks, step outside your comfort zone, brave the elements, forgo sleep, face uncertainty, and suffer possible failure are all superior to a lifetime of regret.

One of the most common regrets expressed by people at the end of their lives, recorded by hospice workers, is this:

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

From Business Insider:

"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

The question people didn't ask me about the AFC championship game (but should've asked me) was this:

What will you remember most about the game?

The list is long. Tom Brady's flea flicker, the way Legarrette Blount carried half of the Steelers team to the goal line, and the huge goal line stand by the Patriots defense will always remain in my mind.

But my favorite part?

Midway through the third period, with the Patriots in the lead, Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" began booming through the stadium during a timeout. The entire stadium became to sing. A second later, the big screens showed Jon Bon Jovi in one of Gillette Stadium's luxury suites, singing along with us. The crowd roared. Bon Jovi raised his hands and began conducting the crowd as if we were his orchestra. When the music stopped as the Steelers broke the huddle, 60,000 people continued to sing a cappella, finishing the song as Pittsburgh ran a play. 

It was a joyous moment. One of the happiest moments I've experienced in a stadium where I have watched games for more than a decade.

Had I been sitting on my couch at home, warm and dry instead of wet and cold, I would've missed that moment, and what a tragedy that would have been.

Perhaps others have tried to adopt the "Matthew Dicks way" over the years. Maybe they've listened to me speak or watched my TED Talks and changed the way they approach life. 

At least one person has, and for today at least, that is enough for me. 

Unfair assumption #29: Football fans are more effective in emergencies

As we left the house last night, our 19 year-old babysitter was settling in to watch the end of the Atlanta Falcons - Seattle Seahawks playoff game.

She'd been watching the first half of the game at home before coming over.   

When I arrived home from the show five hours later, she was sitting in the living room, watching the Patriots - Texans playoff game. She was kind enough to turn the game off as I entered the house so I could watch it on tape delay (after ensuring that her father was recording it at home as well), but still, she was watching intently when I walked in the door.

Just so we are clear: She watched NFL football on her own for almost the entire time that I was gone.

I know it's entirely unfair to assume anything based upon her viewing preferences, but if the house suddenly caught fire, a bear clawed its way into our home, or the Russians invaded our town Red Dawn style, I can't help but think that this 19 year-old woman would handle the situation with ease.

Or at least more competently than the babysitter who spends the evening watching the Kardashians or The Family Feud.  

An unfair assumption to be sure, but it's a gut feeling that I can't help but think is at least a little bit true.  

When I explained my assumption to Elysha, she informed me that our babysitter is also attending Harvard University and is home on break.

Perhaps my gut instincts are more accurate than previously thought. 

One of the best comebacks I've heard in a while

I love the perfect comeback. In fact, I wrote a whole novel about the desire of a woman to deliver a perfect one. 

I'm also famous amongst my friends and colleagues for having the perfect comeback at my fingertips at all times. It's not uncommon for someone to ask for a comeback for a situation that they recently experienced or expect to experience soon.

"What would you say...? is a question I get a lot.

I suspect that this ability is partly the result of having grown up in a home where I was constantly verbally sparring with a less-than-ideal stepfather.

It may also be the result of my desire to win at all costs and my willingness to step beyond what is often considered reasonable or appropriate in order to secure a victory.  

But I also prepare comebacks whenever I can so I am ready when one is needed. I see or hear a frequently-made argument and prepare myself for the moment that the argument is presented to me. These prepared comebacks are often in response to political talking points, common complaints and refrains, and the like. 

I also listen for outstanding comebacks and incorporate them into my own repertoire whenever possible.

Last week I heard a brilliant one at the Patriots game.

A few seats over from me, a man was apparently flirting with a woman seated in front of him. At one point she turned around and said, "Look, I'm married. And I already had sex today!"

There's nothing better than a comeback that utilizes facts, courage, and humor to eviscerate an opponent. 

Confessions of a Patriots Season Ticket Holder: Seasons Fall 2016

My latest humor column in the fall edition of Seasons magazine published this weekend. You can read it online here if you're not lucky enough to receive home delivery.

Scroll to the back page of the magazine.

Very apropos subject as Tom Brady returns to the field today to take on the Cleveland Browns.

For the first time in one of these humor columns, my friends Matt and Tony make an appearance.

I'm sure they're thrilled.

It's true. I hate strangers because of what they love most.

I'm a reluctant atheist (I wish I had faith in a higher power but haven't managed to find it yet), but I can certainly get behind the belief that hate is never a good thing and should be avoided whenever possible.

I also agree with this church sign when it comes to football season. Football makes it very hard to avoid hate.

Particularly when dealing with the fans of the Jets, Ravens, and any team coached by Rex Ryan.

Today I'll be watching the Patriots battle the Buffalo Bills, a team coached by Rex Ryan. I'll try not to say anything too terrible.

Twenty-five years spent standing in a parking lot

I'll be tailgating in the parking lot at the Patriots game on Sunday. I have seen many things in the decades I have spent tailgating at Gillette Stadium.

Public intoxication. Nudity. Fist fights. Fender benders. Lobster shell distance throws. A Christmas tree labeled "Trebow" that was set afire and nearly burned several dummies to death in the process. 

I've bribed parking attendants. Trudged through snow up to my waist. Sent a soon-to-be-exgirlfriend back to the car at halftime when she could no longer endure the freezing rain and demanded to be brought home. Pushed my pregnant wife up the ramps to our seats with the help of my friend, Shep.   

Even after a quarter century of attending New England Patriots football games, I still see things while tailgating that surprise me.

Like this: 

A comfortable place to sit prior to the game and perhaps an efficient way to get rid of an old piece of furniture at the same time. 

Killing two birds and such.

Policing the national anthem makes you a self-righteous jerk

This isn't a post about the athletes who are kneeling or sitting during the singing of the national anthem. When it comes to that particular form of protest, I would personally prefer that they find a different way to draw attention to a very important issue, but I also recognize and respect their right to protest in the way they choose. 

No, this is about the jackass who was four rows behind me at the Patriots game on Sunday and all the jackasses like him who I have seen and listened to over the years. As the national anthem began to play, this man began shouting at several fans in the seats below us who had forgotten to remove their caps, ordering them to do so in a harsh, arrogant, and unforgiving fashion. 

During the singing of the anthem, mind you.

Most of these fans sheepishly removed their caps, some motioning apologies to the jackass for their mistake, but one man left his hat atop his head. Instead of removing it, he slowly turned and smiled at the jackass behind me, who was still shouting even though the world famous opera singer who was singing the anthem was at least 16 bars into the song by now. 

I don't think the smiling man's refusal to remove his cap was a genuine protest. I don't think he decided to leave his cap on during the singing of the national anthem to make a statement.

I think he just forgot to take it off.  

I also suspect that he was annoyed by the jackass a dozen rows up who had declared himself to be the cap police. I suspect that he - like me - thought that the decision to interrupt the national anthem by barking out orders was more disrespectful to our nation's flag than any failure to remove a head covering. 

I admired the smiling man who chose to leave his hat on. I loved that guy. His was not a protest against police violence or racial disparity or economic inequality. His was a protest against the idea that the guy with the loudest voice and the thickest neck gets to tell anyone what to do, regardless of location or circumstances. His was a protest against the idea that conformity cannot be dictated by some self-righteous, self-assigned arbiter of what is right and wrong.

That smiling man's decision to leave his cap on his head and grin at the jackass was both courageous and admirable. In almost every other circumstance, I would have preferred for the smiling man to remove his cap. But when faced with a barking jackass who thinks he can dictate the behavior of others through volume and aggression, I think he did the right thing. 

Honestly, I almost put my cap back on. Had I been farther away from the jackass and slightly more courageous, I might have done exactly that.

Respect for the nation's flag means removing your cap during the national anthem, but it also means shutting the hell up while the anthem is being sung and allowing people to leave their caps on if they so choose.

There's nothing more enjoyable than watching a beefy, loud-mouthed jerk be neutered by a hat and a smile.     

A Giants fan enacts a random and nonsensical act of football hatred upon a Patriots fan

I found this in my classroom on Monday morning following the Patriots loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game. 

The balloons, the orange soda, and the poorly sprayed silly string on my chair are the work of a New York Giants fan who cares absolutely nothing for the Broncos.

This person also wore Broncos colors to work that day, which left me wondering:

How self-loathing must a person be to embrace the colors of a football team for which he feels no allegiance and would be rooting against in any other circumstance?

How oddly fixated on the football allegiance of others must a person be in order to spend time and money do something that is completely unrelated to his own team?

How disturbingly affectionate must a person feel about the suffering and disappointment of others to engage in this kind of mean-spirited behavior?

Just imagine how psychologically broken a person must be to go through all this effort when his team had been home for more than three weeks after failing to post a winning record in the regular season.  

It's slightly reminiscent of Red Sox fans chanting "Yankees suck!" when their team is playing the Minnesota Twins or the Baltimore Orioles.

If you're directing your chants at a team playing hundreds of miles away while ignoring the opponent in front of you, you have problems.

Perhaps not as unfortunate and odd as the person who filled my room with orange and blue, but close. 

My 13 New Year's resolutions for the NFL

On the heels of my own list of New Year's resolutions comes my proposed resolutions for the National Football League.

There are many serious issues that the NFL needs to address. This list does not touch upon the more complex and serious issues facing the NFL but seeks only to increase a fan's enjoyment of the game.

Most of these proposals are relatively simple to adopt and should be implemented immediately.   

  1. Digitize NFL tickets. The fact that NFL ticket holders must possess a physical ticket on game day in order to gain access to the stadium is ridiculous. 
  2. Play at least one NFL game on Christmas Day regardless of the day of the week. 
  3. Play at least one NFL game on New Year's Day regardless of the day of the week.
  4. Broadcast two 1:00 games and two 4:00 games every Sunday without exception. Why this isn't happening already is beyond me. 
  5. Increase the height of the goal post by at least 20 feet. Someday soon, an important playoff game will be decided by a questionable field goal that is kicked higher than the current goal posts and will be misjudged by the referees. Field goal kicks above the posts are also not reviewable. 
  6. Expand NFL rosters by at least 10 players. Injuries play too important a role in the fates of NFL teams. Mitigate this impact as much as possible with expanded rosters.  
  7. Build a tunnel under Route 1 or a foot bridge over Route 1 adjacent to Gillette Stadium in at least three locations so pedestrians from the parking lots can cross the road without having to stop traffic. (Apologies. I know this is very New England Patriots specific).
  8. Allow NFL fans to vote out one NFL commentator per year if he or she receives at least 25% of the vote.
  9. Cease all mention of the preempting of 60 Minutes during the 4:00 CBS telecast. NO ONE IS EVER WONDERING WHY 60 MINUTES HASN'T STARTED.
  10. Cease all commercial breaks immediately following a kickoff.  
  11. Cease all indoor football games. Football is meant to be played outdoors. If they can play football outdoors in Green Bay, Wisconsin, it can play it anywhere. 
  12. Modify the pass interference penalty. Pass interference penalties shall no longer be spot fouls. The subjective nature of this penalty too often flips the field and completely changes the game based upon the opinion of a referee. Pass interference should be penalized as half the distance of the intended pass with a minimum of 10 yards and an automatic first down.
  13. Offer Super Bowl tickets to the fans of the Super Bowl teams first.

The Patriots lost yesterday. I'm a happy Patriots fan today. You should be, too.

As a Patriots fan who spent yesterday evening in Gillette Stadium, watching his beloved team blunder their way to a second straight loss, you might think that I would be upset today. Depressed. Annoyed. Outraged. Discouraged. Disheartened. Even angry. Enraged. 

You might think that the flood of messages that I received from joyous Giants, Jets, and Philly fans just after the game would have set me on edge. Primed me for sadness or rage.

These would all be reasonable expectations, But you would be wrong.

Perhaps it's because of the way the Patriots lost the game yesterday. They were not dominated on offense or defense. They were not pushed around and overmatched. They may not even have been the worst team on the field yesterday. 

Three plays caused The Patriots to lose yesterday. 

  • A blocked punt returned for a touchdown. 
  • A punt return for a touchdown. 
  • A 100 yard interception return for a touchdown. 

Take away one of these plays - unusual plays which you almost never see and truly never see in one game - and the Patriots win easily. Two of the plays resulted in 10 and 14 point swings respectively, and the third play put seven points on the board for the Eagles. 

When your team makes dumb mistakes and loses, it's perhaps easier to feel okay about the loss. It's not a sign that my favorite team is physically inferior or less talented. It's not a signal of things to come. It's simple stupidity. The inability to execute. 

In short, dumb mistakes. 

And perhaps it's easier to accept the loss when your team's record is still 10-2. Had the loss ruined my team's chances to make the playoffs (like the Giant's loss did yesterday), perhaps I would not be feeling as good as I do today.

And perhaps the fact that the Patriots' best receiver, the other best receiver (and one of the best players in all of football), the best running back, the best offensive lineman, and the best linebacker are injured (with three of the five expected back by the playoffs) helps to dampen the pain of the loss. While it's universally acknowledged that all football teams suffer injuries by December, it's also been universally acknowledged that the Patriots rash of injuries this year has been extreme. 

We've lost without some of our best players on the field. Of course we struggled. Just wait until they are back.

All of these reasons may help me to feel better this morning, but here is what I think is the real reason:

I enjoyed the game yesterday. I did not enjoy the final play or the final score, but the game was exciting. The final score was not 35-7 or even 35-14. It was 35-28, and with a minute to go, my team had roared back and was threatening to tie and maybe win. 

It was a thrilling fourth quarter. 

The Patriots scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes.
They recovered an onside kick. 
They forced a fumble with under a minute to play to get the ball back.

They also ran a double reverse which led to stone-footed Tom Brady catching a 36 yard pass. 

This was not a team that laid down and died. They fought. They fought like hell.  

When the Patriots scored on a Tom Brady one yard run with 3:00 minutes to go, the faithful who had not already fled the stadium erupted in cheers. The concrete and steel beneath my feet began to shake. I was jumping in the air, pumping my fist, offering high-fives to anyone I could find. Still down by a touchdown with three minutes to play and only two timeouts, the chances of tying or winning were still slim. The Patriots needed the ball back.

A recovered onside kick. 
A defensive stop.
A turnover.

They got the turnover, but they could not manage to drive the field.

We lost.

But those final five minutes... the joy, the hope, the possibility. It was amazing. It was a feeling that can only be experienced if you have been in the depths of despair. It was like watching a phoenix rising from the ashes. It was hope where there was once none.

These are not everyday feelings. These are momentous emotions.  

When the Patriots scored with three minutes to go, I turned to my friend - a man who once told me that I live in the moment more than anyone he has ever known - and said, "Listen. We probably aren't going to win this game. But please, don't forget this moment. This moment of joy and possibility. Don't let the depression of a loss steal this moment of happiness from you."

I was actually screaming these words to him over the roar of the crowd and the music, and I was holding onto him. Squeezing his shoulders and chest. Trying to force my words into his body.

My friend - who was also attending his first professional football game ever - did not heed my advice. He was not able to hold that moment of joy and hope in his heart. He grumbled on the way home. Told me that it's the end result that matters. That moments of possibility are meaningless when they don't result in a win.

I suspect that many Patriots fans will be feeling similarly today. They will be angry or annoyed or depressed today and perhaps tomorrow and maybe all week. 

I understand that, too. Had the Patriots lost 35-7 in a game that offered nothing by way of excitement and joy, I would be feeling the same way. 

But that's not what I watched yesterday. I felt joy in that stadium yesterday. Hope filled my heart. I witnessed an almost remarkable comeback by a team of determined football players.

For a short time, I was as happy as a person can be. 

And I got to see a crazy double reserve pass to the quarterback, too.  

Too often we forget the small moments of happiness and hope when the end result is less than we expected or desired.

Perhaps my friend is right. Maybe I am able to live in the moment more than most, but even more important than living in the moment is remembering those moments long after they have passed. It's honoring them. Recognizing them as important and blessed events in our lives. Acknowledging the great fortune to be able to exist in that moment, experiencing the kind of hope and joy that can be so elusive for so many.

I'm okay today. I didn't like the final score, and I wish that the Patriots comeback would have been complete, but the moments along the way were magical. Unforgettable. I'll keep them close to my heart and leave the final score for someone else to wallow over. 

My book launch party was filled with many surprise guests and references to Dungeons & Dragons

My most recent novel, The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, published ten days ago on September 8. Originally my book launch party was slated for September 10, but that was the date of the Patriots home opener at Gillette Stadium, and I have my priorities.

My publicist understood completely, so the launch was moved to September 14.

A few weeks later, I had to point out that September 14 was Rosh Hashanah, and given the fact that my wife and many of my friends are Jewish, this date would also not work.

Please not that it wasn’t my wife or my in-laws or any of my many Jewish friends who noted the conflict, even though the date was made public and added to calendars for more than a month. It was me, a former Gentile turned reluctant atheist, who first realized the problem.

After I realized the conflict with Rosh Hashanah, we moved my launch again to September 17, which was last night. It meant that I needed to leave Colebrook, CT in the midst of a weeklong trip with my students to a YMCA camp to return home for a few hours, but that was fine.

Better than missing the Patriots game or disrespecting my wife’s holiday.

It was a terrific evening, and I thank each and every person who attended for making it a fantastic night. One of my friends counted well over 100 people in attendance, and I had many surprise guests, including:

  • My aunt Paulette from South Carolina, who I haven’t seen in almost ten years and have only seen a handful of times in the last 30 years. She and her husband were traveling to Niagara Falls to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and made a detour in order to attend the event.
  • Sarah, a high school student in Rhode Island who I have been corresponding with for almost two years about writing and publishing. I visited Sarah’s high school last year – where my former high school vice principal and nemesis is now principal – and she returned the favor by making the almost two hour trek to Connecticut to join us for the event.
  • Sara, my friend and author from Vermont, who has now driven more than two hours to attend my last two book launch events.  
  • My superintendent, who told me that he would try to attend the event, but knowing the schedule of someone in his position must keep, I hardly expected him to make it. His willingness to give up an evening to support my work meant a lot. 
  • Many of my fellow teachers and colleagues, including one who had just returned from our YMCA trip hours earlier and was sitting in the front row.
  • Maybe best of all, dozens of my former students, many all grown up and some who left my classroom just last year, all sitting or standing (there was a large standing-room-only contingent) in support.

Rather than reading from my latest novel, I spoke about how a high school teacher and an assignment on satire turned me into a writer and launched my first business, and how 20 years later a friend's request that I play Dungeons & Dragons with him and some buddies saved my writing career. I also recommended some books (including The Boy Scout handbook), took some questions, handed out some prizes, and signed many books. 

It was an incredibly fun night and well worth the wait.  

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.

My wife’s text message in the closing seconds of the Super Bowl said it all.

My wife and I watched the Super Bowl in separate locations last night.

One of my favorite moments of the night was the text that she sent after Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass to secure the Patriots’ victory.

I’m confused by what just happened but I know it was good.

Yes, honey. It was good indeed.

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The best moment that I have ever spent at a football game. Maybe one of the best moments of my life. And it happened during a timeout.

My love of the New England Patriots doesn’t make a lot of sense.

A collection of men who I have never met take the field to play a game that I have never played professionally, and even though I have no tangible connection to a single person associated with the Patriots organization, my heart hangs on every play.  

And it doesn’t matter who is playing in the game. Last night, in Gillette Stadium, I cheered on running back LaGarrette Blount, who just weeks ago was playing for the Pittsburg Steelers before being released for disciplinary reasons. 

Had he returned to Foxboro in the brown and gold of the Steelers, I would’ve prayed for abject failure. Fumbles and missteps and bone crushing tackles to the ground.

But last night he wore the red, white, and blue of my team, so I cheered him on as he ran over the Indianapolis Colts and helped to bring the Patriots – my team – to another Super Bowl.

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As fan, we root for laundry. We are loyal to the uniform. Villains become heroes and heroes are made villains depending on the colors that they wear.

It’s almost religious. It makes no sense.

And yet I was standing in section 331, row 24, seat 5 last night, as the rain came down in sheets, euphoric as my team dismantled the Indianapolis Colts and punched their ticket to the Super Bowl.

Last week I watched the Patriots defeat the Baltimore Ravens in one of the best playoff games I have ever seen. In the end, the Patriots defeated the Ravens 38-34, but not before having to make up two 14 point deficits and pulling of some of the best and most unusual plays that I have ever seen. It was a frigid, dry night in Foxboro last week, but we forgot about the arctic temperatures. Ignored cold hands and frozen feet. There was too much  drama unfolding before us.

Yesterday was a different kind of game. Temperatures were near 50 for most of the night. Torrential downpours soaked is. The game was essentially over by midway through the third quarter. We were able to relax. Laugh. Celebrate. In my 10+ years as a season ticket holder, I have rarely laughed more than last night.

My favorite moment of the night, and perhaps one of my favorite moments ever spent in Gillette Stadium, was as the Patriots were driving to make the score 38-7. The rain was falling harder than it had all night. The wind was carrying it across the field in sheets. A timeout was called. The telecast went to commercial. Music began playing in the stadium:

Creedence Clearwater Revival's Have You Ever Seen the Rain.

In a downpour, almost 70,000 people rose and began to sing together. Our team was on the precipice of another Super Bowl, and we were fortunate enough to be there to watch it happen. In the driving rainstorm. On a dark and windy night. 

When the timeout ended and play resumed, the stadium stopped playing the music. Tom Brady stood under center, waiting for the ball to be snapped. Two teams were poised to resume battle. But the fans continued to sing.

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I have never felt such a collective feeling of joy as I did in that moment. Men and women of all ages, from all walks of life, sang a song that almost seemed to have been written for this moment. It was as if we had spent our lives listening to this song and learning the words by heart so that we could come together on this one night, in this singular moment, to sing in unison.