The NFL is designed to be the parity league. Dynasties aren’t supposed to happen. A limit on player salaries allots each team the same payroll. Last place teams get the top college draft choices; first place get the last picks.
The Patriots have shattered that image and the NFL's design. The Brady-Belichick era has produced five super bowl titles, the most improbable on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Pats have become the team America loves to hate. They are reviled as cheaters by opposing fans, as if Deflategate was actually a crime. The new liberal trope is to hate Bill and Tom because they play golf with Trump. Many fans just don’t like New Englanders, our passion for our teams and the magical run of success our professional teams have had for more than a decade.
Here’s what football fanatics who wince at the scenes of duck boats winding through the streets of Boston don’t get: It wasn’t always this way. The Patriots were long the orphans of Boston sports, piling losing season upon losing season. For years they didn’t even have a stadium to call their own – they played games at Fenway Park and the college ballparks at Boston College and Boston University.
When they finally moved into their own charmless stadium in suburban Foxboro, the agony continued. When Schaefer Stadium, named after the one beer to have when you are having more than one, opened the toilets wouldn’t flush, the beer was watery, the sight lines poor, the aluminum seats cold and hard on fans butts and the traffic jams on Route One unending.
New England fans of a certain age will remember when the Pats weren’t even the favorite professional football team in the region. That accolade belonged to the New York (Football) Giants in their glory days of the 1960s. Their games were televised into the region and the Sunday afternoon ritual after church was to cheer on Y.A. Tittle, Sam Huff, Frank Gifford and Kyle Rote.
As old friend and rabid Patriots fan Mark Arsenault of the Boston Globe opined recently: "It’s hard to imagine any lack of appreciation among longtime Patriots fans who withstood the loseapalooza before Robert Kraft bought the team in 1994, those who remember wishing Rod Rust would bench Marc Wilson for Tommy Hodson (who he?) at old Schaefer/Sullivan/ Foxboro Stadium, the venue with the architectural charm of a Soviet prison camp, but fewer amenities. Back Then, when they referred to the cheap seats as 'the nosebleeds' it was because you might get punched. The fandom was in a foul mood.’’
I recall once watching a bus full of very liquid fellows from an American Legion Post in northern Maine before a November game. A couple of them vomited in the parking lot before kickoff. It was a harbinger of a dreary, slate-skied, chilly afternoon in 1992, the year the team won two games and lost 14. Did I mention the 1990 edition that won a single game while losing 15? Or the desultory years of five and 11 and six and 10 records?
After games, the Foxboro cops were overwhelmed by rowdy, drunken fans emptying their swollen bladders on the lawns of the burghers of the town. For a time, things got so bad that Monday night football was banned in Foxboro. Not that ABC really cared about televising their desultory games.
The 1985 season gave us some hope, then we got creamed by the Chicago Bears in a Super Bowl that truly was over before halftime.
We aren’t perfect. As is the case around the NFL, the players are not divinity students. A former Pats tight end, now living at taxpayer expense in a Massachusetts prison, has murdered more people than all the refugees allowed into the nation during the Obama Administrations. We’ve had our share of coke heads and domestic abusers.
Through it all, Pats fans kept up hope and remained loyal. That’s the New England way. The way it was for eons with Red Sox, who finally snapped 86 years of baseball misery by winning the World Series in the giddy season of 2004. Sunday evening's comeback for for all the loyal fans of New England, the folks who remember Butch Songin and Butch Hobson, what the number 13,909 signifies and who wore number 4 for the Burins and number 6 for the Celtics.
Too many football devotees around the country think we’re arrogant, spoiled, knows-it-alls. And cheaters. But the ancient state capitols on Beacon Hill and Smith Hill – the two geographically closest state capitals in the United States – have long been redoubts of sports, politics and revenge, not necessarily in that order. Right now we're on the sports kick; Gov. Gina Raimondo and Mayor Jorge Elorza, two Rhode Island pols who showed up at today's victory rally at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, were greeted with a chorus of lusty boos. Today was for the fans and players, not the politicians.
Yes, Sunday night’s comeback for the ages was part revenge for Commissioner Roger Goodell’s four-game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady. But Patriots fans have paid their dues. Let us bask in this victory. We will nevah forget this one. And we shouldn’t.