Sports are funny. As much as the location where you grew up or live, style of play, or favorite athlete, narrative is a huge part of how we choose the teams we root for. If you’re an uncommitted fan, or just a fan with no strong ties to a particular team to begin with, the story that surrounds a team can often be as big of an attraction as anything.
I was never really a Patriots fan. But I bought into their “No superstars, one team of egoless overachievers” ethos big time when they burst on the scene in the 2001 season. I admit, too, that much of my desire to see them win that year was who they played. They beat the Raiders in the Snow/Tuck Rule game. They beat the Steelers in the AFC title game. They beat the Rams in the Super Bowl. Three teams I did not like. Since I had no strong feelings either way about the Patriots, and they projected a laudable image, I jumped on their bandwagon that playoff year.
My admiration for them continued for several years. It’s kind of easy to forget now, but it took several years for Tom Brady to become TOM BRADY. For several seasons he still seemed like that guy who got lucky with a chance then took it and ran. Belichick was the coach who took a bunch of cast-offs and mis-matched parts every year turned them into winners.
Even as I became a Colts fan and the Patriots always found a way to beat them, I still generally pulled for the Pats against the field.
I don’t know when the change came, but eventually I bought into the “Pats are evil” narrative. Brady and Belichick turned into humorless, insufferable robots who showed almost no joy in winning and whined when things didn’t go their way. They bent rules. Maybe even broke some. And those are just the scandals that have become public. Surely there are more we don’t know anything about.
Unless you’re a true fan of a team, if they keep winning for too long, I don’t think you can help but to eventually root against them. Oh, and it didn’t help that Patriots fans are the worst. Seriously, has any fan base ever managed to be both insanely arrogant and dismissive of their opponents, and martyrs who constantly complain about how everyone is persecuting them at the same time? Cowboys fans are delusional. Steelers fans are just arrogant, but in a tolerable way. Browns fans are pathetic. Raiders fans are best avoided. But Patriots fans somehow manage to stand on both extremes of the fan continuum, and in the process piss everyone else off.
So…where once I would be rooting for the Patriots against a generic NFC team in the Super Bowl, now I hope whoever they play crushes them. I mean, it won’t change the past 15 years, but it will make me feel good for a couple hours.
Still, I can’t help but admire what the Patriots have done. It’s really freaking tough to keep an NFL franchise competitive year-and-year. The Colts did it for a dozen years, but then fell off. The Eagles were really good for a long stretch, but had a deep dip at the end of that run. The Packers and Steelers probably come closest to doing what the Patriots have done in the salary cap era, and both of those teams have had some stinker years sprinkled in all their success. And neither has had the same level of success as New England has.
The Patriots just keep chugging along, though. Even when Tom Brady got hurt, they were still pretty good. All the pieces around him keep changing, but every damn year you know they’re going to play for the AFC title and will advance to the Super Bowl more often than not.
It’s a hell of a thing. And I hate them for it.
Sunday’s game seems to fit right into the classic Patriots narrative. Atlanta is the bright, shiny, new thing. The team that runs up-and-down the field and scores points at will, a thing of beauty to watch. They have athletic freaks all over the field. And they have a quarterback of which much has been expected who seems to finally be coming into his own.
The Pats are their standard collection of middling parts around Brady on offense, and a stout, smart, but largely starless defense. You just know Belichick and his staff have spent 22 hours a day for the past two weeks coming up with 800 ways to shut down the Atlanta offense. They’ll bring out some looks no one has shown since 1977, then throw something at the Falcons that they drew up in practice yesterday and are running for the first time. It will be depressing to watch.
Unless…that Atlanta offensive line can continue to dominate and open holes for Devonta Freeman while giving Matt Ryan plenty of time to find his receivers. Unless Julio Jones blows right past the Pats’ secondary like he has everyone else this postseason. Unless the Falcons defense can frustrate Brady by moving him out of the pocket and getting him out-of-rhythm.
It’s possible, I guess.
Not likely, thought.
New England 24, Atlanta 13