PHOENIX - The scariest thing the New England Patriots will face heading into today's Super Bowl might not be the New York Giants' quick defense or their suddenly efficient offense. It could be a state of mind that Boston sports fans, by their very nature, have avoided for decades: overconfidence.
"I would not be surprised to see a score like 52-21," said Amherst native Dan Morris, who now lives in San Diego and came to Arizona for the game. "I think the Patriots are going to blow them out. No question."
"I think we've got a pretty decent-sized win on our hands," agreed Matt Silverman, a 22-year-old Holden construction worker who flew out West for the game but has no tickets. "New England's definitely going to cover the spread. I'd say 34-10."
And even those Pats fans predicting a closer game, like Sean Hersey, still think their team will win big and certainly don't believe the Giants have a shot at derailing the Patriots' pursuit of the perfect 19-0 season.
"I'll say 38-21," said Hersey, a Pats fan, Worcester native and Phoenix resident, who acknowledged yesterday that some fans have become a bit overconfident. "It's easy to be overconfident when you're 18-0."
Indeed, it is.
These are heady times in Boston. The Red Sox are the reigning World Series champions and fans long ago stopped talking of curses. The Celtics have the best record in the NBA. And the Patriots aren't just poised to win their fourth Super Bowl in seven seasons; they are looking to make history by becoming the first NFL team to ever go 19-0.
For this reason, even New Yorkers in Phoenix for the Super Bowl concede that Pats fans have a right to be a little cocky. But there is a fine line between believing your team will win and taunting the football gods, and some Patriots fans in Arizona for the game today have toed that line recently.
They wear 19-0 stickers and they paint 19-0 on their face, even though the perfect record has yet to be attained. And they scramble to be photographed with the large, white homemade banner that Allan and Jean Rieser brought to Arizona from their home in Charlton. "Making history," it says on one side. "Perfection, 19-0," it says on the other.
"I think we're expressing confidence," said Jean Rieser one night last week, holding the banner in a popular Patriots bar in Phoenix, the Vine Tavern and Eatery. "Hopefully we're not doing any taunting of possible history. We just can't imagine they're not going to do it."
Neither can most fans.
"We don't want to be cocky by any means," said Adam Byron, a Pats fan from Falmouth who's in Arizona for the game. But still, there was Byron yesterday predicting a 40-24 Patriots victory and taunting Giants fans on the sunny streets of Scottsdale by rehashing the Pats' 38-35 victory over the Giants on Dec. 29.
"We already beat you, pal. We already beat you."
Perhaps that's why Boston city officials were talking last week of planning the Pats' victory parade, days before the game itself - an egregious foul that should put a scare into any Boston sports fan with memories of Bill Buckner and terrible 2-14 Pats seasons.
"Keep your mouth shut," pleaded Joe Croteau, a 61-year-old Lynn retiree who made the trip last week to Phoenix for the Super Bowl
"Bad luck here, an interception there - you never know," agreed Croteau's friend, Gary Trentsch, another Lynn retiree going to the game today.
This was more like it. Croteau and Trentsch, talking sports over beers at the Vine Tavern last Friday, were bringing everyone back down to earth. But it didn't last long. Soon, Pats fans were saying "One . . . two . . . three, 19-0!" before snapping pictures of each other and yelling "Yeah, 19-0!" from a karaoke microphone. Even the most cautious fan - wary of jinxing the Patriots on the eve of perfection - couldn't help but get caught up in the moment.
"You know, in New York, what they're calling the Patriots? The 'New England Hate-triots,' " Croteau said. "Say, hey? We're the champions. We will be champions.
"Oh, wait," he said, catching himself. "I shouldn't say 'will.' "
Keith O'Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.