Late in 2003, I was given the important duty of recording the outgoing voicemail message on my family landline, surely a novel concept for our younger readers. I was a sports-obsessed teenager in New Hampshire whose heart had recently been torn out of his chest by Aaron Boone.
The voicemail began, “Thank you for calling the New England Graffs, home of the cursed Boston Red Sox.”
It was a practical joke on my parents, I figured, before they’d make me re-record it. But the voicemail stuck. A year later, it was changed to reflect “the proud home of the world champion Boston Red Sox.”
I still haven’t lived down those messages.
I grew up in New England, attending high school in Manchester, NH, before studying journalism at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. I remember where I was when the Patriots bucked the trend and came out of the stadium tunnel as a team before Super Bowl XXXVI. I remember where I was when David Tyree improbably pinned a football to his helmet. I know how much sports mean to the people of this region. I think our family voicemail reflected that.
And that’s why I’m so excited to share that after nearly a decade in Minnesota, I’m headed home to cover the New England Patriots for The Athletic. I’m beyond excited to return to the area and tell stories about your favorite team.
The Patriots’ success has made them such a big deal that even in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, I found myself writing about Bill Belichick (like the time he nearly left the Giants for the Vikings) and retelling stories of defensive players’ first Tom Brady moments (like the former Bengals player who reflected on a blowout loss to the Pats by declaring, “When they said they were on to Cincinnati, they meant that shit.”) Heck, my first story at The Athletic some four-plus years ago was about Brady’s Minnesota connections before the Super Bowl there.
Those are the kinds of stories I hope to tell in New England. I hope to follow Mac Jones’ every move for a day in training camp, like I did for this Justin Jefferson story. I hope to tell the stories of Patriots players before they arrived in Foxboro, like I did for this reflection on the wild high school game that saw Dalvin Cook square off against Lamar Jackson. And I hope to do some fun, quirky pieces, like when I asked Vikings players about their pre-draft scouting reports.
I’m going to take you behind the scenes and chronicle this fascinating chapter of Patriots football that has Belichick already raving about Mac Jones’ progress following an impressive rookie season. There’s so much I look forward to following. How will Cole Strange fare as a rookie after the Pats bewildered draft experts by selecting him in the first round? How will this new group of wide receivers look with DeVante Parker and second-round pick Tyquan Thompson? Who the heck will run the offense? I’m excited to find out.
I’ll be in Foxboro next week to get started, and I’ll be traveling to Las Vegas a couple of weeks later for the joint practices there with Josh McDaniels and the Raiders. In the meantime, Steve Buckley, a writer I’m thrilled to call a teammate, will be on-site at Patriots training camp.
I have to confess, though — this wasn’t an easy decision. Minnesota has meant so much to my wife and me. It’s where we became adults and where we spent the entirety of our 20s. It’s where we bought our first house. It’s where we made life-long friends.
It’s where both of our children were born. It’s where our firstborn, Ana Rose, received incredible care for a rare chromosome disorder. The people here embraced us and consoled us after Ana passed away. We’ll never be able to repay the people of this incredible state for the way they lifted us in those dark days. They celebrated the birth of our second daughter, a healthy(!) girl named Riley. They joined us for our first fundraiser in June and helped us raise more than $33,000 in Ana’s name for the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
They made Minnesota more than a place we worked, but a place we loved and a place we thought we’d never leave.
This, truly, was the only job that could have pried us away from Minnesota. It’s more than a chance to return home. It’s a chance to cover the NFL’s most successful franchise of the last three decades for arguably the most passionate fan base.
I look forward to interacting with all of you via mailbags, in the comment section and over email. And I hope those of you who aren’t subscribers yet will consider joining to read our army of reporters in Boston and around the country.
The Athletic has come a long way since Michael Russo wrote my welcome-to-the-company letter as a roast almost five years ago. But the goal remains the same: Telling the best stories.
That’s what I’m returning home to do. But I won’t be changing my voicemail.
(Photo: Paul Rutherford / USA Today)