IN THE FAMILY WAY 


Can you feel it? Right about now, the 2004-2005 NFL season is a Janet Jackson nipple-slip away from kicking off. While this year's off-the-field entertainment will assuredly be sanitized for your family's protection, the action on the gridiron looks to be exceptional yet again. My hometown heroes, the New England Patriots, are gunning for their third Super Bowl title in four years. That's about as close to a dynasty as you're going to see in the NFL these days, and with the addition of a running game in the form of ex-disgruntled-Bengal Corey Dillon, the Pats actually improved on last year's squad. This forces me into quite a quandary: Which NFL team will be fortunate enough to win the loyalty of my 15-month-old son?

Unfortunately, his vocabulary isn't sufficiently developed to give me a hint – or to tell me anything other than his versions of "bottle", "kitty" or "plane" (my parents live near the airport) – but I don't think it's fair to set him on the path to Patriots fandom just yet.

Growing up in Framingham, Mass., there was no such option for me. You either rooted for the Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots and Bruins or you got your ass kicked at the bus stop. My force-fed idols growing up were Yastrzemski, Orr, Grogan and Bird. My dad wasn't much of a Boston fan, due to the fact that he spent most of his teenage and adult life in New York City, but geography won out over family loyalty for me. With the exception of trading in the Celtics for the Magic when Orlando finally got an NBA franchise (and yes, we do still have one), I still count myself a fan of all teams Boston. So, what to do about my young Xander? He was about seven months old when the Patriots won the Super Bowl on an Adam Vinatieri field goal, but he has no ties to the Northeast. Allowing him to jump right on the Patriots' train without suffering through years of ineptitude seems unfair. I wouldn't appreciate the current success of the Pats had I not watched them suck so badly each of my adolescent years. To quote the timeless Steve Miller Band: You've got to go through hell before you get to heaven.

Geography is my enemy here. As a Patriots fan, I would rather take a punch in the face from Henry Rollins than have my son root for the hated Miami Dolphins. Orlando is designated a home market for the Jacksonville Jaguars by our CBS affiliate, but Jacksonville smells bad, the traffic sucks and the Jacksonvillians I've encountered are mouth-breathing idiots. So, by process of elimination, that leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. No thanks. They still employ the wife-beating Michael Pittman, and I just can't get my arms around that. Plus, if young Xander roots for the Bucs then we'll likely find ourselves braving the deathtrap known as I-4 to take in a few "home" games. So in the name of safety I must veto the Buccaneers as well. It's for our own good.

The choice is much easier when it comes to baseball. Just like having superpowers or being gay, rooting for the Red Sox isn't something one chooses. It chooses you. Xander may not remember it, but I'll always be able to tell him that he was watching television with Daddy when Aaron Boone hit an 11th-inning home run that allowed the Yankees to go to the World Series instead of our beloved Red Sox. It's up to my son to help me and the Red Sox overcome the curse of the Bambino and make things right in the universe once again. Being a lifelong Red Sox fan has taught me patience, perseverance, pain and acceptance more than anything else I've encountered (including a failed first marriage). Hopefully the Sox won't blow it by winning a World Series before Xander is old enough to appreciate it Ã? oh, who am I kidding? They're never going to win the big one.

Back to football. Perhaps it would be more helpful to eliminate the teams I find unsavory. I can't let him root for the Raiders – there's just such an element of "gangsta" to that team. Kansas City Chiefs? Insulting to our Native American heritage. (OK, I'm Italian, but it sure sounded good.) Cleveland Browns? Not in this lifetime. (What a disgusting team name, though admittedly it does describe Cleveland perfectly.) All teams from New York are out of the question. Houston Texans? Sure, and I'll vote for W. in this election! The Dallas Cowboys were once considered "America's Team", but that was before Michael Irvin got caught with coke and hookers. Philadelphia Eagles? Sure, I'll let him root for a Philly team just as soon as I'm ready to let him embark on a life of breaking the law and being a general assbag. This is much harder than I thought it would be.

Looks like the Patriots win by default. There is something to be said for the fact that they won the Super Bowl during Xander's first year on the planet. They're well-coached, they're led by a stud of a quarterback in Tom Brady and they proved last year that a team doesn't need a superstar to win a championship. When a team functions as cohesively as the Pats did last year, there's a lesson to be learned. Last year's Patriots didn't win by showboating, by whipping out imaginary cell phones (or real Sharpies) during ridiculous post-touchdown celebrations or by hitting their opponents with cheap shots. They won by the same method I hope they'll employ this season: They believe in the value of teamwork. Tune in this Thursday night to watch them kick off their season against the always-tough Indianapolis Colts, and keep me and my son in your thoughts as the Patriots roll to victory yet again.

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