A must-watch

I was 25 years old and in love with the New England Patriots in 1986. I watched every second of that glorious run to the Super Bowl with my grandfather, a deep-rooted New York Football Giants and New York Yankees fan. By then, I believe, he was tiring of all those years of gloating at my expense.

The Yankees always beat the Red Sox, the Patriots were irrelevant, and he didn’t care for hockey or basketball, so they didn’t count much in our universe. He lived in Millbury, Mass., about 45 minutes from us, and we would talk sports for hours on the phone. I was so desperate to gloat that I’d call him up during the Major League All-Star Game — a big deal back then — and needle him about a Carl Yastrzemski double. It’s all a sports-crazed little kid had.

My despair culminated in 1978, of course, when Bucky Dent hit that three-run homer in a one-game playoff at Fenway. I was a college freshman and our entire dorm floor shared two pay phones. Naturally, one of them was ringing before I returned to my room.

As always, I’ll think of him Sunday when the Patriots make their 10th appearance in the Super Bowl. He’d be bemused. Who knew that skiing at Okemo in the morning and watching the Patriots in evening would become habitual on the first Sunday of February.

Not one for Super Bowl parties, I’ll take my place on my couch and recall those long-ago days, shared time between grandson and grandfather. I close my eyes and see my 12-year-old self with him at Yankee Stadium — the old one, before the mid-’70s renovations — sitting in the mezzanine for bygone baseball traditions, like a double-header or an old-timers’ game.

I keep many of our traditions alive, as an ode. Every New Year’s Day we would watch 12 hours’ worth of college football bowl games at his house, preceded by bacon and eggs cooked by my grandmother. And she would thoughtfully arrange dinner around halftime of the Rose Bowl. Today, I cook bacon every New Year’s morning in their memory. He took me to Holy Cross football games on autumn Saturday afternoons; today, I sit in those same seats at Fitton Field. And I still love walking the railroad tracks in my hometown, where he took me to see the trains every weekend as a little kid.

It seemed 1986 would be the year all curses were buried. The Patriots roared through the playoffs, upsetting the New York Jets, Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins on the road. We watched all three playoff games at his house, seamlessly slipping into our usual roles, my grandfather rooting against all things Boston.

It all ended badly, of course. The Patriots got mauled by the Bears in the Super Bowl. Later that year, the Red Sox made a run into the World Series with Dave Henderson hitting a home run for the ages in the playoffs, vaulting them into the World Series against the New York Mets.

And then — on my wedding night — Mookie Wilson hit a ground ball down the first-base line to Bill Buckner ...

My grandfather didn’t call that night. I wouldn’t have minded if he had.

Steve Gilbert is a columnist for The Sentinel.

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