Road Trip: Indianapolis - Day 1, Post 1What of the Leather man?

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Road Trip: Indianapolis - Day 1, Post 1What of the Leather man?

Welcome to the Road Trip: Indianapolis, a creatively-named blog that will detail my five-day, 1300-mile drive from Boston to Super Bowl XLVI.

But before we get started, a quick story:

The Patriots won their first Super Bowl on my 22nd birthday.

The end.

Just kidding. Theres a little more.

At the time, I was a senior in college in upstate New York, with no clue what I was going to do or where I was going to live once real life began in May. But more important than what would happen a few months later at least for the sake of this story was a phone call Id received a week before.

It was from my Dad back in Boston, in the moments after the Pats upset the Steelers in the AFC Championship:

Him: Hey, so you see the Super Bowls on your birthday this year?

Me: Yeah! Unbelievable, right?

Him: Yeah, so I was thinking what if we went down to New Orleans?

So, we went down to New Orleans.

We took one of those insane 24-hour charters where the flight Pats fans only leaves from Boston at 6 a.m. on the morning of the Super Bowl, and flies back three hours after the game. We had no idea what we were in store for. We had no idea how to even prepare.

It was crazy. It was spontaneous.

It was, and is, one of the greatest decisions weve ever made.

As a sports fan, Ive still never felt anything like I did as Vinatieris field goal split the uprights. It was the culmination of every pathetic moment of my lifelong fandom. It validated every ounce of pain, in the most dramatic and fantastic way possible. And as confetti rained down on the Superdome stage, I didnt know what else to do but put my hands on my head and cry.

Everything got the best of me.

My dad was emotional, too.

Listen, he said, as the party played out on the field in front of us. I dont know where youll be living after this year, or how often well even get to see you, so lets make a deal: From here on out, no matter where you are, if the Pats are in the Super Bowl well be there.

We hugged it out and had a deal.

Of course, there were two things he didnt count on.

1. That Id move back to Boston after only one year away, and spend the next nine living within a 20 minute drive of him and my mom.

2. That the little engine that could Patriots team that shocked the world in New Orleans would morph into a modern day dynasty and return to the Big Game in three of the next six seasons.

All things considered, I wouldve understood if he found a way to finagle out of our Superdome pact, but he hasnt. And every year from New Orleans to Houston to Jacksonville to Glendale (with mom!), he and I have been there. For better or worse.

And well be there in Indianapolis.

Hes flying into Indy on Saturday.

Im driving to Indy right now.

As you read this, Im rolling down I-90 towards Buffalo.

Later this afternoon, Ill land in Williamsville, NY the hometown of Rob Gronkowski where Ill spend a few hours investigating the legend of Gronk, and report back to you in the form of text, photos and video (that will be the case for every stop along the way).

When the days done in Williamsville, Ill head to beautiful Buffalo, and spend the night hanging with a few beautiful Bills fans.

On Tuesday, Ill wake up and drive 230 miles from Buffalo to Canton, OH.

Canton is home to both the Football Hall of Fame and the William McKinley Presidential Library. Ill spend the day at one of these two historic establishments, but dont want to ruin the suspense.

From Canton, Ill drive 64 miles and spend the night in Mansfield, OH.

Theres no fancy reason for Mansfield. (Originally, I had a choice between staying there or staying in Lima, OH. I chose Lima as a tribute to Jose, but then realized Mansfield actually made a lot more sense. Hence, Tuesday night in Mansfield.)

First thing Wednesday, Ill make the 80-mile drive from Mansfield to Ada.

Adas a village (not a town; a village) in Northwest Ohio which is home to less than 6,000 people and the only leather football manufacturing facility in the United States.

The Wilson Football factory in Ada churns out 4,000 balls a day, over 700,000 a year and has made every NFL football since 1955. As soon as I get there, Ill be on a tour.

From Ada, Ill drive 82 miles down to Greenville, OH the hometown of Matt Light and spend the rest of Wednesday in and around No. 72s turf.

Greenvilles less than 100 miles from Indianapolis, but its only Wednesday, so with a day to spare Ill bypass Indy for a historic detour. But first, Ill have to drive 150 miles drive to Bloomington, IN.

It will be late by the time I land in Hoosier Town, but thats OK.

Its only a pit stop.

On Thursday, Ill wake up in Bloomington, and drive 59 miles down to a little place called French Lick.

Sure, this is a football trip. But theres far more on the line than football. Its Boston sports history, and within that realm, there are few more historic places than French Lick.

Ill spend Thursday in the land of the Legend, and hopefully make it out in one piece.

On Friday, Ill wake up in French Lick on my 32nd birthday 10 years to the day since Vinatieris kick sailed through the uprights and forever changed the face of Boston sports.
From there, Ill make the 108-mile drive to Indianapolis, where two days later, the Pats will try to make it four Super Bowl.

My dad arrives on Saturday, but for now, I can barely see that far ahead.

Thats days and miles away.

In the meantime, I hope youll stick around and follow along for what should be an exciting ride.

Ill check in again before we get to Buffalo.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

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But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth-quarter performance

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth-quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

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Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.