Bryan Best Game

I’m here to set the record straight.

Yes, I’m a diehard New England Patriots fan.

No, I’m not from Boston.

I was actually born in Astoria — a middle-class, commercial neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens.

My time in the Big Apple was short-lived, however, as my parents decided to move to South Florida when I was 3 years old to provide a safer environment for my new-born sister and I to grow up in.

It was in Coral Springs where my dad enrolled me in a recreational youth soccer league to gauge my interest in sports. Much to his relief, I was immediately hooked.

My dad’s childhood was spent with a ball at his feet in the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador. Soccer has been a mainstay in the Matamoros family, and it was the only sport my dad felt passionately about.

He made a concerted effort to instill his love for soccer in his son, so you can imagine the look on his face when a seven-year-old Bryan came through the front door babbling about American football — an unfamiliar sport to many people born and raised in South America.

It was 2005, and I had just returned from a day at my friend’s house, where we spent the afternoon watching the New England Patriots dismantle the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 28-0 victory.

Because it was the first football game I had ever watched, I didn’t understand most of it. What I did comprehend, though, was the sheer dominance of the winning team and its quarterback: Tom Brady.

From that day on, I spent the majority of my free time studying the intricacies of football and researching the history of the Patriots. Every piece of football knowledge I acquired was passed on to my dad, who didn’t even know what a touchdown was when he migrated from his home country to the United States in his early 20s.

His open-mindedness allowed us to develop a relationship that was deeper than your typical father-son dynamic, one that was fueled by the heart-wrenching Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants and Brady’s indefatigable quest for greatness.

Our fandom for the Patriots (finally) brought us to New England for the first time in our lives on Dec. 2, 2018 — nearly 13 years after seeing the Pats shut out the Bucs from my friend’s couch.

We had already seen Brady and the Patriots take the field in person on three separate occasions, but those were all against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium, where the fans heckled us from the minute we took our seats in the nosebleeds.

Our experience this time around was unmatched.

With rumors about Brady’s departure from New England heating up due to his deteriorating relationship with coach Bill Belichick, my dad and I made it a priority to watch one of the greatest quarterbacks in his natural element: a game at Gillette Stadium in the latter stages of the regular season.

Kickoff between the 8-3 Patriots and the 6-4-1 Minnesota Vikings was set for 4:25 p.m., with FOX labeling the meeting as “America’s Game of the Week” because of the playoff implications it carried. The circumstances of the contest spawned the most breathtaking atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of.

A group of fighter jets roared through the cloudy skies of Foxborough, Massachusetts, at the end of the national anthem. And the fireworks that proceeded filled Gillette Stadium with a fog as thick as New England clam chowder.

The Vikings started off with the ball but went three-and-out, giving the Patriots a chance to put points on the board first. Brady marched the offense down the field in less than four minutes on New England’s first possession, which resulted in a one-yard touchdown run by fullback James Develin.

Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski tacked on a 20-yard field goal in the second quarter to give his team a 10-0 lead before Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins linked up with wide receiver Adam Thielen to cut Minnesota’s deficit to three with 15 seconds remaining in the half.

With the score tied at 10 late in the third quarter, Brady exploited a gap in the Vikings’ secondary and found wide receiver Josh Gordon for a 24-yard touchdown pass to put New England ahead.

“Braaady, Braaady,” the crowd chanted as more fireworks lit up the home of one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history. And, obviously, my dad and I joined in at the top of our lungs, celebrating the go-ahead score with the 65,000-plus Patriots fans in attendance.

My dad, who came from Ecuador to provide a better life for his future children, and me, a kid from Queens, felt like true Bostonians that night.

That’s what football — and sports in general — is all about. For now, though, sports are currently on hold as the world fights the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

When everything settles down in the coming months (fingers crossed), my hope is that other parents and their children can experience something similar to what my dad and I experienced that night in Gillette Stadium.

Follow Bryan on Twitter @bryan_2712 and contact him at [email protected].

Bryan Matamoros is a sports writer for The Alligator. He has previously covered UF men's and women's golf, women's lacrosse and women's soccer. Now, he is on the Florida baseball and women's basketball beats.