The idea as pitched was to do one more takeout of the essential evil that is the New England Patriots collective—because, yeah, that’s never been done before. Up until now, it’s been one hagiography after another, because the Patriots have been so damned cuddly and cheek-pinchable. The helmet logo is really a postmodern graphic representation of My Little Pony, and Bill Belichick is Conan O’Brien with a snootful of helium. Absolutely.
The idea is wrong, though, because the Patriots are no longer evil for the reasons you want them to be.
Besides, are they really more detestable than the Los Angeles Rams, who fled St. Louis on a train whose tracks were lined with middle fingers so they could help recolonize a city that hates local professional football? Or the game officials who cannot see cynical rules violations play out in real time before their faces because the game is too fast and the players have been taught that the risk of getting caught is way less than the reward for having cheated? Or the competition committee, which has built through its laziness a rulebook thicker than a rhinoceros frittata and about as digestible? Or Roger Goodell, the front man for a football company that can no longer present football? Or his 32 bosses, for whom he takes the bullets because they know we in the journalism dodge are too lazy to name them all every time the league does something stupid or vile? Or the Super Bowl itself, which is nothing more than an annually perpetrated trade show with an occasionally amusing football game tacked onto the end of it?
The Patriots? They’re now merely the most familiar part of the ensemble, playing the main character in a show on which supporting actors have the more interesting roles. More to the point, they are the one unchanging character in a show that struggles desperately to be different every time—kind of like the Oscars, only with the same movies every year. The Patriots are designated as evil because they used to be evil, and you decided they should always be evil when what they should be faulted for is persistently being, well, “there.”
Sort of like Maroon 5, for those of you who think the Super Bowl halftime is a cultural metaphor rather than a 25-minute beer-and-bathroom break.
You say you hate Belichick, but all he’s really done is play the same aggressively under-engaging character he always has—the next-door neighbor who rarely leaves the house and never says hello when he does. You say you hate Tom Brady when in fact he’s shown more personality, both slickly and prickly, than any other Patriot-related figure since Will McDonough. You say you hate Bob Kraft when his practiced unctuousness is no more convincing than it has ever been. You say you hate Patriot fans when most of us never really have to deal with Patriot fans; they stay in the upper right-hand corner of the nation, occasionally yelling incomprehensibly at the outworlders but otherwise congratulating each other for cleverly choosing to live during a time when they could be profanely smug about their new favorite sports team. Even on Twitter, where the worst of the worst can truly be the worst ever, they cannot beat “mute,” let alone “block.”
Face it, you’re hating them out of habit and obligation now. Mostly, you hate them because they won’t give you the end of their dynasty yet—the one you knew was dead when they lost to the Eagles a year ago, or when they went all room temperature against the Detroit Lions in September, or the two times they made Eli Manning a future Hall of Famer. It is the one thing they won’t give you more than all the other things you have wanted from them.
These are now the post-Patriots Patriots, the team that outlasted your rage.
We like to think the world is changing at a frantic pace, but it isn’t. In a lot of ways, these are the 1960s all over again, and we are just taking another lap on the hamster wheel of history. The only difference is, we bore easier and more quickly. We think we are entitled to something new every six months or so, like the world is on the same timeline as the iPhone when we’re entitled to nothing except the right to pay attention to the imitative center of our culture. Most of you have been bored with the Golden State Warriors for at least two years, and they’ve been at the top of their world barely one-fourth as long as the Patriots. You’re bored with Stephen Curry, for Christ’s sake. Now that’s serious jade.
If it sounds like this screedy view minimizes the Patriots’ misdeeds, whether real, nuanced, or trumped-up, that is not its intention. They’ve done most of what you think they’ve done, and hundreds of things you never caught them doing. All other teams either have done or would do the same if they could have positioned themselves to benefit from that level of dodgy behavior. Sports at any level from Little League upward is cynicism and disregard for authority while pretending to be neither, and “getting away with it” is our true raison d’etre. See “House, the White.”
But you still get to hate the Patriots because that’s sports, too—the right to loathe the other person’s car when yours is in the shop—or if you’re the Browns, when it’s been repo’d. In other words, if Spygate, Deflategate, the Tuck Rule, or just the fact that the Patriots always have seven timeouts remaining at the end of every game energizes you enough every day to get out of bed, find your pants and socks and go to work every day, good on all of you. Let a thousand vipers coil.
It’s just that those events get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror because the Patriots haven’t had the good sense to fade from view themselves. Besides, the NFL as an entity is far more adept at revolting moral, ethical and even competency failures than the Patriots could ever be, and we all live for the day, however, distant, when the Super Bowl can be easily accommodated on a suburban playground, or at the bottom of the sea. The Grey Cup is a more satisfying experience on every level, and it should be on the bucket lists of all people, even those too young to have a list, or a bucket.
But we digress. Hate the Patriots for whatever reason you choose if you feel the need, or even if you just believe in the value of traditional enmity. No matter how big a party you attend this weekend, sports is still a personal experience, even if all it is is hitting that parlay that gets your kid’s dentist bill paid. Nobody is more qualified to tell you what to hate than you. Except, of course, me. I’m definitely more qualified.
It’s just important that you understand that what you really hate now, more than any of the creepy things the Patriots have ever done or been or represented, is the fact that you still can’t dance on their graves. They didn’t die on your timeline, the bastards.
Ray Ratto has typed and spoken on sports for several outlets and decades, and is currently between corporate overlords.