From that wonderful land that gave you statesmanship, rusted anchors, America, intellectuals, banking, town houses, landscape painting, Ted Williams, Bill Russell and Bobby Orr, there now comes football. A new kind of madness is sweeping New England. Four weeks deep into the season some guys known as Patriots instead of your basic Celtics or Bruins or Red Sox or Political Activists or Scrods just happen to be undefeated and untied and unafraid, and if this sort of thing continues much longer there is the possibility that someone sitting around Harvard Square discussing Sanskrit poetry as it applies to the works of Joan Didion may even look up from the water pipe and ask who Chuck Fairbanks and Jim Plunkett are.
It all started way back there on Sept. 15 when the Patriots, those funny people who used to play football wherever they could find an empty parking lot, whipped up on the Miami Dolphins. It continued when the Patriots, those hilarious comedians who once played a home game in Birmingham, Ala., defeated the New York Giants. It kept up when the Patriots, those laugh-a-minute clowns who once used to view their game films on bed sheets, startled the Los Angeles Rams. And last Sunday the excitement held at a peak when the Patriots, those howling vaudevillians who once almost had to elect John Quincy Adams their most valuable player, went out and utterly destroyed the Baltimore Colts by 42-3.
Heretofore, the Patriots had been doing what they were not supposed to do. They had been scoring upsets. This time, as heavy favorites, they were confronted with the task of having to look good against a group of mystery folks, the Colts, who were in the midst of a strange emotional trauma. And all the Patriots did was come roaring into their stadium out there in an obscure forest halfway between Boston and Providence and look as though they could pile up about a million points if they needed to.
In a way, their performance against the Colts did more to make them believable than any of those past wonders. If they were any good, they would win big. If they weren't, they might have problems with a Baltimore team that suddenly had a new head coach out of the business office because it had a relatively new owner out of heating & ventilating and a lot of players who were still wondering whatever happened to Johnny Unitas.
Well, what the Patriots did, of course, with all of this new confidence and collegiate kind of spirit that has been given to them by Head Coach Chuck Fairbanks, was once again unleash the throwing arm and savvy of Quarterback Jim Plunkett; the unnerving speed and psssst of Running Back Micro-Mini-Marvy-Mack Herron; the good hands and stimulating antics of Reggie Rucker, the pass catcher; and the swarming gnat-like defense of a bunch of unknown gypsies culled from waiver lists, the 14th round of drafts and the exotic world of free agents. The Patriots were so certain of what they could do against Baltimore that they hopped up and down, clapping their hands, before the pregame introductions. Then, one by one, led by Rucker, they aroused the crowd by trotting out with their fists raised in the air. College kids, right?
"I like to get 'em stirred up," said Rucker later. "If you get yourself stirred up, the other team might get the idea you're ready to pounce on 'em early."
But pros don't act like that, he was told.
"Maybe that's wrong," he said. "Maybe that's something that needs to change. We're playing with enthusiasm and we're having fun."
It was particularly fun on the game's third play from scrimmage. Plunkett, who read the Colt defense like the funny papers all day long, called a beautiful pass pattern known intimately to the Patriots as "142 DIG," whatever that means. Plunkett read the Colt blitz, which told him Rucker had some poor soul one-on-one and would beat him deep. Center Bill Lenkaitis and Fullback Sam Cunningham picked up the blitz, the way centers and fullbacks should. Plunkett pitched one of those nifty bombs of his, and as it hung in the clear autumn air everybody knew it was going to find the hands of Reggie Rucker, who had outdistanced Colt Cornerback Doug Nettles and was streaking for the town commons of Foxboro, and that this was going to be a 69-yard touchdown play.
Poor Baltimore was doomed.