January 20, 2016
Professional hockey players don’t have a ton of free time. But make no mistake, somewhere between early practices, late games, long film sessions and shifts in the gym, many of them find the time to be fans of other sports.
With the NFL Playoffs in full gear and the Super Bowl a mere three weekends away, football has been a popular topic in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins locker room.
You might not find a bigger football fan in the room than Will O’Neill.
O’Neill is one of many Massachusetts natives on the team that pulls for the New England Patriots every Sunday. After practices, O’Neill frequently chats it up with local reporter Seth Lakso, another Mass native, about the most recent game. O’Neill has frantically asked any passerby who might have a smartphone on hand what Rob Gronkowski’s status is for the upcoming week. And don’t dare to be the person who chirps him on the latest loss, unless you want full lip service in return.
So what does Will O’Neill think of his Patriots’ chances now that they’ve reached the AFC Conference Final for the fifth-straight year and 11th time since he was born in 1988? No surprise, he’s banking on a New England victory.
“I think Patriots and I think Carolina,” O’Neill said of his upcoming weekend picks. “I think the Patriots are the favorites, and it’s in Denver, which makes it a little bit tough to cover, you know? But I think the Patriots will win. I think Arizona is obviously a strong team, but I like Cam Newton. I think Carolina will win.”
O’Neill has had the fortune of growing up in an era of pure Patriots dominance, so his confidence is understandable. He was too young to ever truly experience the dark days of the late 80’s and early 90’s. The 27-year-old only knows success from his favorite football team.
“They seem like they’re just a machine,” O’Neil said. “It’s just a system. They way they
play, the details, they don’t beat themselves. And then you add in all the great pieces that they have and it’s really tough to beat… With the game plan and the scheme and the details along with the best quarterback ever then they got a great chance.”
Oh yes, that’s right. The quarterback. A one Tom Brady. A polarizing figure around the sports world, but one who treated like royalty among the Pats faithful. Seriously, royalty. Just ask O’Neill.
“You know the king of the town is Tom Brady,” O’Neill said before recounting the sports icons in Boston history. “Obviously, Ray Bourque is a legend. I wasn’t really around when (Larry) Bird was winning all those titles, but Bird would obviously be in the conversation. (Bobby) Orr would be in the conversation, of course. But since the time I’ve been little and what I’ve seen, Tom Brady is king, no doubt, and David Ortiz is right there with him.”
So based on his predictions for this weekend, that would pit “The King” Tom Brady and his Patriots against the odds-on favorite to win league MVP, Cam Newton, and the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Who does O’Neill like in that game? C’mon, do you really need to ask?
“I think that’s a tough match-up, but Brady and Belichick have been there before, Gronk has been there before, and I think the Patriots win.”
Shocker. Although it’s hard to bet against New England in the Super Bowl, especially when they’re not playing the New York Giants.
“And it’s not the Giants, exactly!” O’Neill exclaimed with a big smile.