You might not be buying it, but we New England Patriots fans actually have a wicked good explanation for why you shouldn’t hate us.
We get that America’s pretty damn sick of the Patriots crashing its Super Bowl party like the wealthy neighbor who manages to pick the winning square in the final-score pool every year. We get that Bill Belichick dresses for game day like he’s going out to change the oil in his car and that Tom Brady appears to have negotiated the all-time greatest deal with the devil.
And we totally get that the Rams have never won a Super Bowl when calling Los Angeles home, while the Patriots had to reconfigure part of their stadium in 2017 to accommodate their fifth Super Bowl champions’ banner.
Fans like me who grew up in the Boston area before the new Patriots millennium accept all that.
But here’s the thing: We believe we deserve all the winning.
It’s hard to remember now, but for decades after their founding in 1960, the Patriots could have made a good case for why they were the worst franchise ever to strap on shoulder pads. They weren’t called a dynasty back then. They were simply known as the Patsies.
Time and space prevent me from listing all the ways they tortured their fans. I’ll condense it down to one truism that existed for years in my extended family, which had several members known to place a wager or two: Never bet on the Pats.
Even if you bet against them, they tormented you. They’d lose, but score just enough to beat the point spread. You quite literally couldn’t win as a Patriots fan.
They managed to combine incompetence (a 1-15 record one year) with controversy (an ugly locker room sexual harassment episode involving a naked tight end and a female sportswriter) and tragedy (a star wide receiver paralyzed by a vicious hit in a preseason game).
They topped it off with a dollop of something familiar to Boston Red Sox fans: the spectacular dashing of suddenly high hopes on the biggest of sports stages.
In January 1986, the Patriots shocked the football world by earning their first trip to the Super Bowl.
Spirits were high in New England that this was their year. I was 22 years old and showed up at a Boston area sports bar with some high school friends six hours before kickoff so we could grab a spot directly in front of the big screen TV.
Less than a minute into the game, the Patriots recovered a Chicago Bears fumble. The crowd at the Town Line Inn in Malden, Mass., exploded with cheers that channeled years of pent-up frustration. The Patriots kicked a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Then the Bears scored the next 44 points.
Chicago shuffled off with a 46-10 victory that was far worse than the lopsided score indicated.
Five seasons later, the Patriots were back to being Patsies again and won only a single game. They managed to improve enough to lose another Super Bowl in 1997 (by just 14 points this time).
Then, Belichick arrived, with a personality as gray as the sweatshirts he liked to relieve of their sleeves with a pair of scissors. And Brady, an unheralded backup, became the starter in 2001 after the Patriots star quarterback got injured.
The Patriots made another Super Bowl that season against a St. Louis Rams team angling for its own dynasty. The dread of another excruciating smack-down was so intense that I decided to take a different approach for that game: I wouldn’t even watch the first half.
I would play with my two young boys and help put them to bed. Then I’d check the score. If the Patriots were within 14 points, I told myself, I’d watch the second half.
When I turned on the TV at halftime, the Patriots were inexplicably leading 14-3. Nobody in New England thought it could last. And it didn’t. The Rams scored two late touchdowns and tied the game with less than two minutes to play.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Brady drove the Patriots down the field. They kicked a game winning field goal. The Boston sports world tilted off its axis.
I ordered the official New England Patriots Super Bowl Champion wristwatch, engraved it with “We finally won one,” and sent it to my father for his 76th birthday.
It’s been one mostly joyous football ride ever since. The hopes for victory have transformed into an expectation. There’s a supreme confidence now that, barring a miraculous catch or a trick play, the Patriots will somehow find a way to win the biggest games by the narrowest of margins on the strength of Belichick’s strategic mind and Brady’s age-defying right arm.
The whole thing has almost become embarrassing in light of the success of the Red Sox in recent years (four World Series wins since 2004, including last fall’s defeat of the Los Angeles Dodgers). You could certainly make a case that we’ve been delivered far more professional sports riches than we deserved.
We don’t expect Rams’ fans to be happy about it. We don’t expect them to feel sorry about our seemingly annual outlays for new championship T-shirts and caps. We don’t expect sympathy because many of those playoff and Super Bowl games were closely fought battles with last-second heroics that caused a spike in blood pressure.