<
>

Passionate New England sports culture sweeps up Jeremy Hill

play
Bruins fueled by big 3rd period to win Game 7 (0:35)

Boston scores 4 goals in the 3rd period to defeat Toronto in Game 7 as they advance to the next round of the NHL playoffs. (0:35)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- This one made me smile, and it's probably because the New England roots run deep.

Born here. Grew up here. Rode the wave with my favorite teams here. And still here.

There's something special about New England professional sports that make them part of our culture, the passion that the locals have for the teams passed down from generation to generation.

So what unfolded Wednesday night was something we're quite used to around these parts -- a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs between the Boston Bruins and visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. It was an electric atmosphere, and if you closed your eyes and turned the sound up on the television, you easily could have envisioned yourself in the old Garden some 30 years ago in your young teens, the building shaking, as Cam Neely & Co. were chasing the Cup.

As I watched the end of the terrific back-and-forth game and saw Patriots owner Robert Kraft waving his towel in support of the hometown team, I could almost feel the energy through the television. I couldn't help but think, "This is what sports in the region are all about."

Then I saw Jeremy Hill's tweet.

A 25-year-old running back from LSU who spent the first four years of his NFL career with the Cincinnati Bengals, Hill has been grinding away in the New England Patriots' voluntary offseason program the past two weeks, making an impression on those around him with his work and kindness.

Wednesday night was, in some ways, his introduction to New England sports after signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal in March.

Specifically, it's how the fans rally around their teams, can be hard on their teams, and how there's been a remarkable run of success and almost a shared experience among the big four professional clubs themselves -- the Boston Red Sox, the Patriots, the Boston Celtics and the Bruins. For example, in Game 5 of the Bruins-Leafs series, Patriots special-teams captain Matthew Slater served as the Bruins' banner captain as he waved the team's flag at the Garden.

So that was neat to see Wednesday night from Hill, who could be a sleeper-type signing by the Patriots in 2018 or might not emerge at all if injuries continue to slow him down.

He had never watched a hockey game from start to finish before, but now that he's joined the Patriots and is part of New England's passionate sports culture, he's on the board.