I am the 9.16 percent. I am the Edward Snowden of the pigskin community. I am the 12th football.
This is my first public statement.
Jan. 18, 2015, started like any other Sunday between preseason and postseason. I awoke in my gunmetal cage to the sounds of Vince Wilfork tap-dancing. The man can shuffle-hop-step like nobody’s business.
I stretched from tip to tip, exhaling through my laces. I could smell the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee blending with the smell of snow-dampened pom-pom hats drying in the heat. Game day was dawning.
I heard thumping behind me, and peered out my back seam. My 11 colleagues were rolling their way to the far right corner of the cage. None of them invited me to join.
I had been ostracized ever since I refused to wear a press-on tattoo as a sign of solidarity with Aaron Hernandez. Long ago, I resolved never to sacrifice my principles, even if it meant I’d be lonely. I was the ambassador of Dick’s Aisle 13.
I am getting ahead of myself. I sometimes do. Just watch the game tape from September’s Kansas City game.
I started on a shelf at Dick’s Sporting Goods on Route 1 in Saugus. My early days were all innocence and fun, getting tickled by dusters and playing “roll, slide, freeze” with the hockey pucks. We lived alongside the soccer balls and the baseballs, immune to the disparities of size, shape and color.
Then my father was sold to a large woman carrying a fence made out of neon blue poster board. Three days later, my mother was toted off under the arm of a 3-year-old wearing Harry the Helmet from two aisles down. The world as I knew it was over.
Every night, I was besieged by taunts about what sorry fate awaited me. The golf balls shanked me with terrible stories about flag football leagues. The tennis balls slammed me about sandy beaches. The yoga gear hummed about pocket books and wallets.
I became bitter that some accident of manufacturing meant I was destined for a bucket in a garage. I started dreaming about straps and buckles. I became foolishly aggressive around backpacks.
Then, my day came.
A stocky man in an over-sized sweatshirt dropped me into a large shopping cart. About 53 minutes later, I was being palmed by large but perfumed hands. I soon learned those hands were attached to arms that lead to the broad shoulders that supported the neck that held the head of The Brady.
I had become a Patriots football.
I thought about my parents, choking on the fumes of gas grills and being left in a toy chest full of action figures. I knew I had to use my platform as an elite football to make them proud. Yes, I spiraled better than most, but I also recited passages from the NFL rulebook as I sailed The Brady into the record books.
To play with the best, I demanded the best of myself. I arced like a rainbow after an end-zone spike. I slipped as if covered with butter after a fumble. I let go and let Gronk.
Coach Belichick once confessed through clenched teeth that he drew inspiration from my mindset. I am the football behind Julian’s decision to dismantle his Wes Welker prayer bench. Do I know what air pressure I’m supposed to maintain? Between 12.5 and 13.5 PSI. Ask me a tough one.
Now, back to Jan. 18. I knew the 11 hooligans I had to share an equipment manager with were up to something. All day long, I heard chatter about the cold and grips and “Doing It For Patriots Nation.” I caught a breeze from all the hissing.
I refused to join that confederacy of dunces. We are the vessels not of a game, but of a noble tussle on turf. We inspire touchdowns and commercially sanctioned brain trauma. To self-deflate is to self-defeat.
I stand before you both proud and disgusted. I am a patriot and a Patriot. The other 90.84 percent are a disgrace.
Poor The Brady. I love you, and I’m sorry for what they did.