Kicking and Screaming

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I’m not going to miss those Papa Gino’s commercials. As clutch a kicker as New England has ever had – Adam Vinatieri was not exactly a world-class thespian – although, with his boyish charisma, he did hold his own well enough to field invitations from Letterman, Leno and Lipton (that’s all it takes – one Meineke ad and your Inside the Actor’s Studio.) But those Papa Gino’s commercials. To paraphrase, “IT’S NOT GOOD!!!” – (must repress urge to shoot TV. No TV means no 360.)

I assume most all of New England has learned by now that Vinatieri had elected to leave the Patriots in favor of a better payday and potential for career longevity elsewhere. Tossing off this glib exterior, I must confess, it was with a heavy-heart that I greeted the news that Adam Vinatieri had signed with the Indianapolis Colts. The COLTS!?!?!?

Like most people, my knee-jerk reaction was – “He’s sleeping with the enemy!” The Colts are to the Pats what the Yanks are to the Sox – well, technically, roles may be reversed here as the Yanks beat upon the Sox for far too many years until the blessed reversal of fortune, while it is the Pats who have laid the proverbial smackdown upon the Colts come playoff time ad nauseum. If we must slap the Evil Empire stamp on the Colts – perhaps it has more to do with the exhaustive media coverage of golden goat Peyton Manning – currently tied with Prince Henry for ‘longest delayed coronation.’

Still, the Colts do represent that great villain to our beloved heroes, so seeing Vinatieri shuffle off to the comfy confines of the RCA Dome – where the stale air and Chia Turf will do wonders for Adam’s success ratios – is a tad bittersweet. Much like I do with Johnny Damon bounding to the Bronx, I bid both guys a fond adieu and wish them well. They never did anything to hurt me, they’re both leaving Boston with a good deal of grace intact, and they provided some key clutch performances over the years.

Still, this news got me thinking of a common conversation I’ve had with friends – your typical barroom banter – over which Boston sports athletes hold carte blanch for life. In other words, which players’ jerseys could you wear for life – regardless of which team they played for. For perspective, I own a #5 Red Sox Jersey that to this day makes a fine chamois. Thanks Beautiful!!!

Nomar is surrounded by a gaggle of goats. I wouldn’t be caught dead with a Lawyer Milloy, a Ty Law or the grand pantheon of plebes, that aged redwood Drew Bozo err… Bledsoe. Terry Glenn can thank her lucky stars that she never donned a Buckner. And then there’s that punk Petey, good ol’ Pedro Martinez, who poured the rest of the gas left in his tank upon the Fenway Faithful, taking potshots at everyone who ever loved and adored him on his way out of town. Hell, I think he even fired off an obligatory Mookie joke on his way out (referring to his signing with perennial cellar dwellers, the NY Mets, as “moving my mango tree to Mookieville” – All right, so maybe he was referring to Mr. Wilson, but this is my Blog and I’ll lie if I want to.)

As for the Rocket, Clemens is firmly on the bubble. #21 may have tarnished through the nineties, but over the past few years – particularly this miraculous sunset surge he’s been on – I’m inclined to believe that he’s been body snatched by that ‘rookie’ Dennis Quaid. The years and Clemens’ longevity have done much to restore the luster to his profile, and I think that as much as they may begrudge him, there are quite a few people who will dust off the ole’ 21 when Roger completes his career in Cooperstown.

So Vinatieri, with his two Super-Bowl winning kicks and his Snow Bowl boots ‘for the ages’, joins the elite group of guys who write their own check in this town for infinity. No matter where Adam ends up (even the dreaded Colts) – Pats fans should be proud to don his ‘throwback’ jersey.

It’s a rare breed of guys that garner that respect. The short list features Ray Bourque (although his painful TD Banknorth ads are in serious danger of eroding some of that goodwill), Tedy Bruschi (the embodiment of Boston blue collar), Tom Brady (3 Super Bowls in 4 Years and the good sense to dump Tara Reid assures him deity status), Big Papi (the beaming face of our franchise) and of course, the much-maligned of late, “Red Light” a.k.a. Curt Schilling.

This criticism of Schilling rankles me to no end. Last year, as Schilling rushed to rejoin our World Series winning champs, we sat and suffered through a never-ending series of setbacks – beginning with Boomer Wells being handed the Game 1 ball. Talk radio was flooded with listeners complaining about Schilling’s love of the limelight – appearing and pontificating in front of every camera and microphone that would have him – as he discussed and dissected everything from ‘roid rage to his newly anointed Level 47 Druid Mage. When Keith Foulke threw a mid-season hissy fit and announced that he was going home and taking his ball with him, Schill stepped up and said he would take on closing duties. Immediately, people accused Schilling of being selfish – he was just hogging the spotlight – anything to grab another few moments on the soapbox and another bullet point on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption.

How quickly we forget.

The 2004 ALCS Championship. There are indelible images tattooed  upon my brain. Raw, cold rainy nights. Steinbrenner’s stormtrooper squad of riot police summoned from the bowels of Yankee Stadium in a moment’s notice to combat imminent fan Armageddon. A blinding white sock with scarlet ribbons spreading their sickly tendrils across its surface – the red badge of courage come to visceral life.

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During those few precious weeks in hometown history, Boston bore witness to the birth of our own Six Million Dollar Man. We had the technology. We could rebuild him. Over the airwaves, we heard freak Frankensteinian tales of tendons fused to bones, pistons being inserted in arms, cats being attached to dogs.

I heard, they dug up Cy Young, Tommy John and Randy Johnson and spliced their genes together to make one uber tendon. What do you mean Randy Johnson’s not dead? Looks dead to me.”

Looking back now, it is apparent how closely the fairy tale followed the script, on its way to the dream denouement. Schilling stumbled early in the Yankee series, his first start marred by poor control (as a result of an injury suffered in the Angels series) – a poor start magnified by Schilling’s poor choice of words “I can’t think of anything more satisfying than shutting up 60,000 Yankee fans!” – which only served to conduct the chorus.

Thus the scene was set for our own private Cinderella Man story, assuming Schilling could make the drive to work.

Through his next start – the start of legends – Curt Schilling became that mythic fiery phoenix; greatness risen from the ashes.

Yet, Boston fans dare ask, “Hey Curt, what have you done for me lately?” As far as I’m concerned, on a cool, chilly Autumn evening in Beantown, Schilling sacrificed himself for all those poor souls that prematurely departed this world a frustrated Sox fan. He exorcised our demons and brought joy to Mudville. For one magical night, he became greater than any athlete that ever came before – he became mythical – a Superman among mere mortals. What went down in that magical October is the tale for the ages. Yes, I know, I haven’t left a cliché unturned – but it’s events like this that demand cliché – for what is a cliché but a tale told often; a common truth. Schilling became that baseball god that we all genuflect before as we travel the long, winding road from April to October. Very rarely do we get proof of their existence. In October 2004, we received the message loud and clear. The Baseball God does exist… and he’s hooked on Everquest.

I feel Vinatieri joins Schill, and the others that rise above. Whatever he does, wherever his road takes him, his lifelines tie back to New England.

I’m proud to wear his jersey. Now, I just have to go buy one. They gotta’ be like half off by now, right?

Comments now closed (10)

  • We’re losing all our players. Not a good week for New England sports. Looks like I may have to suit up and save the day.

    And by save the day, I mean, go and get coffee…..

  • Hey, when did Johnny Damon “leave with a good deal of grace in tact”? Did I miss something. He has taken more swings at the Sox than Julian Tavarez did in today’s game. He made it sound like the team let the actual Jesus go. I wouldn’t call his exit a graceful one.

  • My bad. It was Michelle Damon that left with her dignity (both of them) intact.

  • Hindsight really is 20/20. I wish I could erase all the Rocket boosting I engaged in back when I wrote this piece. Of course, bare in mind, this was published two years ahead of the Mitchell report and 1 year before Susan Waldman had what Meg Ryan was having.

  • Too much Schilling boosting for my taste. 😉

    As for Adam, I still appreciate what he did for the Pats. Then, I don’t miss him either. Gostkowski has done a good enough job, but then, he hasn’t really had any of those huge-game-on-line kicks either, right?