Click on any online article about the New England Patriots in the last 5 to 10 years or so, and
in the comments section you will inevitably see remarks reflecting that they are cheaters, or that
they are less than squeaky clean. Spygate, Deflategate, Aaron Hernandez, etc… This is what it
is. Success eventually brings haters from somewhere. I will not get into all the details of the
“gates”, those horses have been beat to death. Those outside of New England are going to see
what they want, and those local are going to do the same. The main point is that if you win long
enough, the haters come from everywhere other than home.
Over the last few weeks, both leading up to Super Bowl LIII, and after the Pats won their 6th
title, I started to see some comments that actually did get under my skin a bit. “Who cares, the
Pats win all the time.” “The team everyone loves to hate.” “The Patriots have become the
Yankees.” This really frosted my ass. Those commenting didn’t mean this because the Pats
now had the most Championships in NFL history (strictly speaking Super Bowl era… no
disrespect to the good people of Green Bay). I could at least excuse that. The context led on
that because we have won too much, we have become unlikable to the rest of the country. Not
just the Patriots as a team, but the whole New England fanbase too. WE THE FANS… HAVE
BECOME INTOLERABLE because our team has won too much. I pause. “Too much in
how long?” I wonder how many other fans in how many other cities have pondered this?
We have won too much? We are now the Yankees? This is simply just a false narrative.
The Yankees have always had the luxury of playing in the largest market in the whole country.
They have for lack of a better term, “bought their rings” from time to time, starting with literally
buying Babe Ruth from the Red Sox. Baseball allows that. Who am I to bitch at them for
making the most of the rules in place? If you want to simply outspend everyone and build your
own personal all star team, you can do that in baseball. Sure, thanks to Curt Flood and other
like-minded pioneers, the Free Agency era made it much harder for the Yankees to keep this up
like they did during the Murderer’s Row Years… or during the Mantle/Maris days in 50’s/60’s.
In today’s modern MLB, it would be almost impossible to keep those teams together in the
Bronx as long as they did back then. The Yankees have enough money to do it, but the luxury
tax rules have made it a little harder. The point is the Yankees, like the Red Sox, or the
Dodgers, or a handful of other teams, have clear advantages over the Royals, Rays, Pirates,
etc. It is just much harder for small market teams to sustain excellence in MLB nowadays. I
will give the Yankees of the late 90s credit in that their talent was largely homegrown. However,
the Yankees of the late 90’s until present have always been able to take on salary to either keep
superstars, or steal them from other teams via trades & free agency in a manner that only a
handful of other teams are able to. Revenue sharing is great and all, but unless there is a hard
salary cap in MLB, you can not compare the Yankees and how they are able to sustain
excellence to the way the Patriots have had to do it in the NFL. The Patriots are the exact
opposite of the Yankees. They have cut their own players, sometimes prematurely, at the risk
of upsetting fans BECAUSE they are salary cap conscious. Belichick especially believes he can
coach anyone with NFL level talent into a starting player for the Pats. Ask Ty Law, Richard
Seymour, Asante Samuel, Randy Moss, Chandler Jones, Logan Mankins, Malcolm Butler, Nate
Solder, just to name a handful. I could keep going, but you get the point. Eventually even big
names get the axe in Foxboro with VERY few exceptions.
Back to us fans for a minute before we get back to the team itself…..
I grew up in a world in which, growing up in New England, in the North Shore of
Massachusetts, hating the Yankees is a birth right. I grew up a Reagan baby. The Patriots, for
lack of a better term, sucked pretty much my whole life until Jr. High. There were more 4-12
teams than 9-7 teams, and double digit wins felt like a gift from Santa. That all started to
change when the 1985 Patriots ran the table on the road to win playoff games against the NY
Jets, LA Raiders & Miami Dolphins. Anyone old enough to remember this will fondly wax poetic
about how wearing your “Squish the Fish” t-shirts was a badge of honor for any self respecting
New Englander during that title run. I remember being a kid who still hadn’t quite grasped the
do’s and dont’s of being a Boston sports fan. I recall telling my family elders and their friends
that it was pretty cool that the Pats had made the Super Bowl, but that it was too bad we had to
face the Chicago Bears and the 46 defense of Buddy Ryan. The look of scorn I would
undoubtedly receive from everyone is still laser-etched into my foggy brain to this day. “How
dare you?”, “You gotta believe!”, “This is finally our year!”. These were the usual replies I would
get from men who had suffered far more losing than me. Decades of losing. Although the Pats
at least didn’t tease us like the Red Sox would everyone once in a while. I was 12 years old and
really had only been actively following since about the age of 7. I was a precocious little SOB,
and had no clue how to “read a room”. I simply stated what I felt in my heart. That while I was
happy the Pats had made it there, I expected that we were going to get crushed by the Bears. I
warned them against betting their hard earned money on the Pats and to not let their hearts
tune out the reality.
Shortly after the game started, did I ever hear an earful when the Pats got out to an early
lead after a Bears turnover. Less than 2 minutes into the game, grown men in my own family
were ridiculing me with shit eating grins while chugging down more German beer than all of
Munich combined. This caused me to retreat to my bedroom to watch the rest of the game on
my little 13” black & white TV instead of in the main room with the men. Fast forward another
couple hours, and the Pats had gained less total yards on offense in the first half than I had
gained going up & down the stairs from my 3rd floor bedroom to the 1st floor living room where
all the grown ups were watching. Fast forward another hour or so, and mutters of “I should’ve
listened to the kid” came from more than a few of them. For those not aware, the Bears won
46-10. It was never even a game. To make matters worse, the Bears defensive line had more
rushing touchdowns than the Patriots running backs had. My rushing yardage up and down the
stairs was more than the entire Patriots team had for the game. Whatever hope that was
gained over the prior few weeks that the Patriots may have been starting to turn the corner as a
franchise, was all gone in the matter of a few hours. Back to Loserville.
Fast forward a few months to the late spring of ‘86, and the Celtics had beat the Twin Towers
of Sampson & Olajuwon to win the NBA crown after losing to the hated Lakers the year before.
It felt hollow beating Houston instead of beating LA, but a ring was a ring, and it did take the
sting out of the Pats getting crushed a bit. Fast forward a few more months, and Mookie
Wilson’s slow roller gets through Bill Buckner’s wickets and the hopes of ending the Curse of
the Bambino had died. I will not even get into the semantics of Bob Stanley, Calvin Schiraldi,
Dave Stapleton, and if Buckner would have even beat him to the bag. Maybe that is for a future
article someday. All the winning in the world will never fully heal that wound. It’s like a scab
that never goes away.
The point is, that the Celtics were the only consistent winning I knew by the age of 13. Sure,
the Bruins would make the playoffs, but they never felt like a real threat to bring the cup back to
the Hub. They were past their prime of the Big Bad Bruins by the time I was in 7th
grade. Edmonton had replaced the Islanders as the team to beat each year, and the Oilers were still
very much the dynasty. Gretzky, Messier, Kurri & company would break our hearts a couple
years later in the Stanley Cup Finals. Those old enough remember the “Night the Lights Went
Out” at the old Boston Garden. A lot of good teams lost to the Oilers, but it still stung. By the
time I graduated High School in the early 90s, The B’s were still competitive but it started to feel
like they missed the boat. As the 80’s went on into the 90’s, the Celtics were getting older, Len
Bias had died, and Michael Jordan won his 1st of 6 rings in an 8 year span a few days after I
graduated in 1991. Reggie Lewis died suddenly just as the big 3 were moving on. Up to this
point in my life, the only significant winning I had ever known was the Celtics. They were the
one thing that kept you feeling like a winner as a sports fan in Boston, and now they were
starting to look very beatable.
Back to the Pats….. In 1993 Bill Parcells, who was a proven winner becomes the Pats head
coach. Hope appears like a ripple in a pond. Drew Bledsoe. Cannon arm. Some more hope.
Robert Kraft buys the Patriots in 1994 and saves the Patriots from moving to St.Louis. Fast
forward a little more and we are now in Super Bowl XXXI. Three words. Desmond Effin’
Howard. I am now in my early 20’s and drunk off Captain Morgan that I snuck into a movie
theater that was playing the Super Bowl XXXI on the big screen. I am now feeling like the
elders in my family who had false hope vs. the Bears just over 10 years ago. I was worried
about Brett Favre, turns out special teams porked us. Whod’ve thunk? Unlike as a 12 year old,
I actually thought we had a chance in this game. I was wrong. Heartbreak again. This era of
the Pats ends with the famous press conference of Parcells bitching about not getting his way
with the offseason grocery list, which leads to an eventual falling out & hope being choked out
again for Pats Nation. Fast forward… a young Pete Carroll injected some youth and excitement
into our team, but wasn’t quite ready to do in Foxboro what he did at USC & Seattle. Just
enough to tease you, not enough to feel fulfilled.
That brings us to the best trade the Patriots ever made. 1st round draft pick to steal Bill
Belichick from the New York Jets for his reunion in Foxboro, this time to be the head coach.
Then, the 2000 NFL Draft, in which the Patriots select Tom Brady from the Michigan Wolverines
in the 6th round. I did not realize at the time what this was the start of. It had to really piss
Parcells off that not only did we steal his protege from the team he left us for, but Robert Kraft
immediately gave Belichick the complete power that Parcells had never been granted. Parcells
had 2 rings. Belichick hadn’t even won a playoff game yet.
September 23, 2001. Not even 2 weeks after 9-11 had shaken America to its’ core, the Pats
play the New York Jets. 4th quarter. Mo Lewis delivers a hit on Drew Bledsoe that would turn
Bledsoe into the Wally Pipp of the New England Patriots. I recall my best friend at the time
jumping up out of his chair immediately upon Bledsoe getting drilled by Lewis. “Woooooo! We
are going to the Super Bowl!” he yelled while pumping his fist with conviction. Baffled, I turn and
ask him “What the hell are you talking about? Bledsoe just got leveled!, our playoff hopes just
took a huge hit.” He says “Bledsoe is the guy keeping us from the playoffs! I don’t care who the
back up is, we are going to the Super Bowl!”. At the time, I thought he needed to lay off the
rum. As time has gone by, I realize he was a prophet. Fast Forward to the playoffs, the
infamous Snow Bowl vs. the Oakland Raiders. The. Tuck. Rule. Vinatieri’s miracle kick in the
snow, Bledsoe’s brief heroics in Pittsburgh. Ty Law & company shutting down The Greatest
Show On Turf. The Patriots are Super Bowl Champions 5 years after Desmond Effin’ Howard
snatched our best shot at a ring away (at that point in time) from Patriot Nation.
The Pats would then go on to win Super Bowl XXXVIII & XXXIX to give them 3 rings in a 4
year span. A feat only equaled by the Cowboys of Aikman, Irvin & Emmitt Smith. By the time
you are reading this, they have now concluded a run since 2001 that has seen them reach 9
Super Bowls in 18 years. This is an average of making every other Super Bowl for almost 2
decades. After beating the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, they have been able to win 6 titles in 18
years under Bob, Bill & Tom (winning every 3rd Super Bowl on average). Now I could get into all
the mind-numbing statistics about Brady being 30-10 in the post season, 6-3 in Super Bowls,
and Belichick having 2 more rings than Brady including the 2 he won under Parcells in the
Giants era. However none of this is going to do anything other than start an argument in most
online comment sections.
What if Mo Lewis never injured Drew Bledsoe? ? pic.twitter.com/INqqYlHEFG
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) September 22, 2016
The point of all of this is that, up here in New England, NONE of us are going to feel sorry for
winning so many Super Bowls in the last 20 years after 3+ decades of being perennial losers.
Millenials notwithstanding, we know what it is like to lose… ALOT. We are going to revel in this
& savor it until the last drop like a fine bottle of 40 year old Scotch. NONE of us are going to
listen to being told that we are “Just like the Yankees” however. We did not grow up winning
every year, we did not just outspend everyone every year for our 6 Super Bowls. Calling us
Yankees is like calling a Hatfield a McCoy or vice versa. We are not going to stand for it. We paid our dues with decades of losing. We have earned the right to celebrate like it won’t last.
Anyone who does not like it…. Beat us or join us. We always have room to welcome more New
England Sports fans. We’ll even help you burn your old jerseys in some sort of exorcism.
My daughter is 14 and she has seen the Pats win it 4 times, the Sox win it all 4 times
(including waiting a whole 2-3 weeks to see the Curse of the Bambino end) & the Bruins &
Celtics each win 1 ring for good measure so they didn’t feel left out. She wasn’t even around to
see the Pats first 2 Super Bowl rings. She has never known anything but winning. She doesn’t
understand why I make a big deal out of it. I tell her to enjoy this now. It will never last forever.
One day she might be telling her grandkids about arguably the greatest 2 decade run a North
American Sports City has ever seen. One thing she will never say however, is that “We were
the Yankees.” Not if I have anything to say about it.
The Salty Beevah