The 2011 season was a great time to be a New England Patriots fan. When they won the AFC Championship and were headed to the Super Bowl, I entered every contest known to man trying to win a trip to Indianapolis. I canceled my biweekly date nights with my husband so I could spend the money on raffle tickets. I got on every email list and signed up for every advertiser's sweepstakes. (I still have more than 3,000 unread emails in my inbox to prove it—it's hard to get off those lists once you get on them.)
A couple days before the Super Bowl, the last name was drawn from the last raffle, and I wasn't going. Are there bigger problems in life than not making it to the Super Bowl? Of course. But I was dejected, nonetheless. This dream team of Belichick and Brady has had a good run, but time's running out. When they retire, the team will have to be rebuilt, redesigned, and that will take time.
When the next training camp came around, I pulled out my notebook, my pen, and my NFL gear, and was excited for a new chapter in Patriots football. Stevan Ridley was looking even better, I thought. I called my favorite sports radio program and asked, "What are your thoughts on Ridley this year? Could he be the key to our running game?" They replied, "He's got to stop dropping the ball."
Give him time, fellas, give him time, I thought.
I watched the season unfold, spent many a Monday night and Sunday afternoon yelling at the TV, watching some other great second-years and rookies, but particularly watching Ridley's performance. I would occasionally boast, "I knew it. I knew that kid could fit into this system."* * *
I watched the AFC championship last week, discouraged that my team seemed to be totally off their game in the second half, but giving props to Baltimore's enthusiasm and fight. Things were looking grim for Patriots fans by the fourth quarter when Ridley took a hand-off from Brady. As Ridley found an opening and was gaining yards, he was blindsided by Baltimore Safety Bernard Pollard.
Pollard hit Ridley head to head. You could hear the crack of the helmets colliding, and I cringed. Ridley collapsed, exhibiting the "fencing" response that medical experts agree indicates brain injury.
I held my breath as Ridley remained on the ground, barely moving. His teammate, Brandon Lloyd, was hovering over him, clearly concerned. Several players from both sides were stacked up next to them—when Ridley went down, he dropped the ball, and the referees were trying to determine who had recovered it. It was taking too long. "Get them out of there!" I was screaming at the TV.
The trainers had run onto the field with Coach Belichick not far behind. The argument over whose ball it was seemed to be encroaching on Ridley, and I now began directing my pleas toward the players, as if they could hear me, "Get out of the way! Give him room!"