View from the Sideline: The end of a season, but the start of a journey
And so it ended in Kansas City.
Perhaps that much was symbolic. A slow-burning season that erupted in a fiery fury of do-or-death victories and a first playoff appearance for too long finally cooked in a barbecue capital.
“Put a fork in 'em,” you can imagine them saying, “I can't believe they're done.”
But the boys in (navy) blue are done – for now. For Jay Heaps, it's time to look ahead. For me, it's a chance to look back on a fascinating nine months over which I learned more than a Lansdowne Street cop.
First of all – New Englanders know how to create an atmosphere.
When I heard that the Revs employed a capo I cringed. For us snooty Brits anything that can be seen as artificial when it comes to creating an atmosphere is frowned upon.
It shouldn't be. The noise created by the Fort IS organic, regardless of where it begins because all of those roaring themselves hoarse want to do so. An acknowledgement that all-seat stadiums are environments in which atmospheres need a little encouragement is now belatedly making its way across the Pond.
At Manchester United, no less, they recently trialled a singing section. It was an unprecedented success and there are plans to try it again – and make it bigger. The club, sick of a deathly silent Cold Trafford (unless they are playing big opposition), are backing this all the way.
Across town, City are regarding their grand expansion plans for the Etihad as a chance for those who want to make a racket to be sat together. Sound familiar? It should.
Secondly, I learned that when it comes to media access we can learn a lot from you guys.
Every halftime I interviewed a player before he went into the locker room. Without fail. Even after the Montreal debacle the immensely likeable Scott Caldwell stepped to the plate. Jay Heaps always had a couple of minutes for me as he walked out to the stadium before matches and after halftime, no matter how severe his rollicking had been.
Once he even apologized for keeping me waiting.
To put that into context if I tried even getting close to the dressing room at United or City on matchdays, let alone speaking to anyone, there would be a white van on its way within seconds and I'd soon be on my way to a padded cell at Manchester Royal Infirmary.
I like to think I learned a lot about New England people. Fortunately when the bombs detonated on that senseless April afternoon my fiancée, who works on Boylston Street, was on the sofa with me in the UK.
We both watched as those shocking, sickening images made their way onto the TV screen. Moments into the madness her cell rang – it was an automated emergency message from her employers warning staff to stay away. Surreal stuff.
As we saw it unfold in front of us and worried about friends, we had no idea that Matt Reis was in the thick of the mayhem.
His reaction – not to think about why or how but to deal with the situation in front of him – was replicated dozens of times over in the bloody yards nearby by ferociously brave Bostonians.
I was fortunate enough to be in the Gillette Stadium press room weeks after when Matt gave his graphic version of events to the assembled media.
His defiance not to let them win (whomever they may be) and his humble acknowledgement that he was just doing his job was something we would later see on the pitch as well as off it, and a vivid and yet heartening tale that would become familiar as we heard from others in similar positions.
The presence of so many first-responders at the stadium as the Revs opened their arms to their own was another eye-opener.
We Brits sometimes poke fun at you guys for a perception that you wallow in false displays of affection. This was anything but. It was done well and it was done right.
On a lighter note away from football I also learned a lot about the airline with which I often travelled, or, more accurately, about its entertainment system and menu.
I know every film on that plane. I watched The Departed five times (Wahlberg you're a legend), closely followed by the Shawshank Redemption (oh, Brooks) and All the President's Men (ends too quickly).
I know the international terminal at Logan like the back of my hand. I've watched 100 advertisements to get free WiFi, I've bemoaned the lack of decent food (a town known for its pizza has only a Sbarro in its airport?) and I've run across that fishy walkway dozens of times.
To sum it all up, I awoke on Thursday morning and immediately looked at my emails on my cell for news from Kansas City.
When I saw it my heart sunk. But despite the sadness it still felt like the start of a journey rather than the end.