How long did it take you to get over it? Or perhaps I should put it this way: Did you get over it?
The Patriots were 35 seconds from athletic immortality. If Asante Samuel makes the interception . . . If Eli Manning doesn't make an escape play he never made before and may never make again . . . If on that same down, David Tyree doesn't make the catch of his life . . .
The Patriots would have beaten the New York Giants on the evening of Feb. 3 and would have been proclaimed in song and story as the Greatest Team Ever.
It hoits, as they say down there in The Apple. It hoits, and it will always hoit, but the thing about sports is that there is always a new season. There is always another chance. You lose the 1910 World Series to the Philadelphia A's and if you're a Chicago Cubs fan you say, "That's OK; we'll get 'em next year." (OK, sometimes it takes a while.)
You fail to achieve your goal? That's tough, sure, but you just saddle up and try again. And if you're the New England Patriots, you ignore all you're going to hear about a so-called "Super Bowl Hangover." You pay no attention to the people who point out, some gleefully, that of the last 10 Super Bowl runners-up, seven have not made the playoffs the following year and seven did not break .500. You will assure yourself that this business has nothing to do with your particular situation, and you will, in fact, be right.
Ask yourself. Was Bill Belichick coaching any of those other teams? Did you happen to see Tom Brady taking snaps for any of those other teams? No. So: next question.
The 2008 Patriots do have a unique situation. Only the 1972 Miami Dolphins had anything close to a regular season to compare with the one experienced by the Patriots in 2007, and when you look closer you see there was very little honest comparison. The Dolphins had a cupcakey schedule. The one big thing you can say for them is that they won the majority of their games with a backup quarterback, Earl Morrall, as opposed to their starter, Bob Griese. We know Matt Cassell and we know he's no Earl Morrall, so we must give the Dolphins their due on that matter.
The 2008 Patriots will start the season as motivated as any team in NFL history. Belichick will be as dedicated as any coach in NFL history, his prior selves included. The team and the coach are fully aware of something far too many of their blindly adoring fans refuse to grasp, which is that they are perceived by great swaths of sports-loving Americans as outlaws. Note I did not say they are outlaws, only that they are perceived as such.
Any doubters should conduct their own Internet surveys this fall. See how oft their beloved football team is referred to as the "Cheatriots," or some derivative thereof. See how often someone refers to the coach as "Belicheat," or some derivative thereof. The Spygate taint, as overblown and irrelevant and downright silly as it may have been, will never go away. That's the reality.
Simply put, for the Patriots, their coach, and their fans, it's Us vs. Them, baby, now and forever (or until Bill Belichick leaves). They will play not to vindicate themselves, but to satisfy and amuse themselves. They will play to hoist a fourth championship flag, and when and if they do, they will enjoy it immensely, knowing how many people they had just frustrated and annoyed.
There is no question where most New Englanders stand. The loudest roars and most prolonged cheers during Celtics home playoff games came when Belichick's beaming countenance was flashed on the Jumbotron. And he was beaming. That was unconditional love and approval. That was a signal to anyone who dared to suggest that the best coach in the National Football League was anything less than 100 percent virtuous, as well.
Can they win? Of course. They have Tom Brady. They have Randy Moss. They have Wes Welker. They have Vince Wilfork. They have Rodney Harrison. They have Mike Vrabel. They have Adalius Thomas. They have Dan Koppen. They have Benjamin Watson. They have Richard Seymour. They have Laurence Maroney. They have Kevin Faulk. They have Larry Izzo.
They have a 12-4, 13-3 schedule.
They have Bill Belichick.
They do have a serious issue at cornerback. There are not likely to be any Pro Bowl appearances by the likes of Ellis Hobbs, Fernando Bryant, Lewis Sanders, Jason Webster, Antwain Spann, Terrence Wheatley, and Jonathan Wilhite. But this group will perform better than many people think because Belichick has hired Dom Capers to coach up his secondary. Capers is a renowned master at the 3-4. He could turn out to be the Patriots' not-so-secret weapon.
What they need is a good early-season loss (not an agonizingly close game, either, but one in which everyone comes away saying, "Boy, we just stunk. Glad we got that out of our system."). Then they can settle down and go about their business.
If you're the worrying sort, you can start by asking if Moss will choose to play as hard as he did for most of last season, or you can fret over those cornerbacks, or perhaps the right side of that offensive line. And you can worry about your quarterback getting hurt because this is, after all, football, and quarterbacks get hurt.
It's football, all right, and no football team survives without luck. Knees get blown out. Bones break. People get, ahem, "dinged." If you spend all your time as a fan worrying about that stuff, you'll never enjoy a game. Leave that kind of worrying to the coaches. At least they're getting paid to do it.
It's July 25, and the Yankees are coming, the Yankees are coming, and the Celtics are off celebrating being champs, and now here comes our most intriguing team of them all. Do you doubt the New England Patriots have their eyes firmly fixed on the prize that will be awarded at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium sometime around 9:45 EST the night of Feb. 1, 2009? I don't.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.