Column: Patriots, pain and passing the torch

If not the best, this is one of the best weekends of the year.

Not because we’re out of the deep freeze, and because it will be 60 degrees warmer Sunday and Monday than it was just about 100 hours ago. And that certainly doesn’t hurt.

But it’s also Super Bowl weekend.

And I’m rooting for the Patriots.

Yes, I want those low-down dirty cheaters from New England to beat the Rams. .

I like their coach, I like their owner, I like their QB and I love their tight end. There has never been a team like this, one able to change it’s style and game plan to suit (or defeat) an opponent.

And I root for the Patriots because I’ve been a Bill Belichick fan since the first time he angered sports reporters in Cleveland.

He and Tom Brady are playing in their 10th Super Bowl. My other team? Yes, the Browns, who fired the greatest coach in NFL history.

Belichick is the best coach of all time. There’s no argument.

Is Brady the quarterback of all time? Paraphrasing Bill Clinton, I guess it depends on your definition of best. Brady is definitely the most successful QB in NFL history. If that’s your definition of best, then he wins by a wide margin.

And Rob Gronkowski — in his prime — was the most dominant tight end in NFL history.

I’ll chat more about Gronk later.

It’s been a great run for the Patriots and I’ve enjoyed all of it.

And, with no real team in Cleveland the last 20 years, I’ve never had a conflict of football interests.

That could change in the future as Brady and Belichick will eventually have to go their separate ways and the Browns are determined to get better, no matter what their over-involved owner tries to do.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the Patriots’ present, and the Browns’ future.

There are lots of story lines attached to Sunday’s game with the Los Angeles Rams.

Will it be a changing of the guard with a victory by the Rams and upstart young quarterback Jared Goff and baby genius coach Sean McVey?

Or will it be one more masterpiece pulled off by the old guard of Brady, Belichick, Gronkowski and the casts of thousands that have gone through Foxborough in the past 20 years?

I haven’t a clue.

You know who I’m cheering for.

But I have one more wish.

After a New England win, I hope Gronkowski retires.

He’s fun. He’s a nut. And he’s a free spirit. But all accounts, he’s a great guy. He’s also so beat up it’s painful for me to watch him on the field anymore. For him, I wish for a win and a retirement announcement.

In recent years, I’ve become less of a fan of college and pro football. The questions and concerns about concussions are the main reason. But it’s more than that. Earl Campbell was one of my favorites and he is just one of hundreds so beat up by the NFL they can’t get around without canes, crutches or wheelchairs.

The concussion stuff is even more difficult to think about. Until recently, I never considered what damage these guys are doing to their bodies.

Sometimes I feel guilty for watching. I no longer applaud vicious hits. I cringe when I see them.

And the viciousness is getting worse. It’s simple physics. Bigger bodies are running and moving faster. That adds up t0 harder collisions and more serious injuries.

Perhaps it’s my aching, aging body that’s made me ponder my life as an NFL fan. And I only played football for three years in high school. I played with a bruised — not cracked, not broken — rib my junior year and it felt like a knife plunging into my side each time I got hit. And that was only a bruised rib.

That’s nothing compared to the pain pro players go through for up to 25 weeks each year.

An injured knee kept me from playing most of my senior year. Perhaps I should be thankful for that.

Gronk, at the Super Bowl this week, seemed like he was ready to hang it up after this game. Being serious, which I think is hard from him, Gronkowski shared these about pain:

“It’s tough, it’s difficult. To take hits to the thigh, take hits to your head. Abusing your body isn’t what your brain wants. When your body is abused, it can bring down your mood. You’ve got to be able to deal with that, too, throughout the season. You’ve got to be able to deal with that in the games.”

But he said the time between games are just as difficult.

“And no one realizes that, and everyone expects us players to be wide awake every single day, and it’s like, ‘Yo, I just took 50 hits to my head,’ or not to my head, but I’m saying I just took 50 collisions, and then like the next day everyone wants you to be up.”

“They want practice full speed. Next week they want the game to be full speed, but they don’t understand sometimes what players are going through with their bodies, with their minds. That’s why I’ve been saying you see a shift in players in games where people are down the whole game, and then you see, all of a sudden, the next week it’s like, ‘How did this team just go from one switch to the other?’ ”

I’ll be watching Sunday, and it won’t be the last game I watch. But I sometimes feel dirty and guilty for watching.

And I don’t know what to do about those mixed emotions.

Russ Kent

Galion Inquirer

Russ Kent is editor of the Galion Inquirer. Email him at