I don't think I need to regale you with too much of the more recent history of the New England Patriots. Lord knows there are more than enough bandwagon fans around the country who are more than willing to brag to your face about the greatness of "their" team. You know the story: Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Deion Branch, Kevin Faulk, three Super Bowl victories, four appearances, and a perfect regular season in which the Patriots set records for number of wins in the regular season, number of points scored, Brady for number of touchdown passes thrown, and Randy Moss for number of touchdown passes caught. Then they lost the Super Bowl that year. Since then, Patriots bandwagoners seem to have been hopping off, and Boston appears to finally be setting aside its Yankee fan-like arrogance and going back to its high peking order in the sports world: That is, Baseball first, basketball and hockey competing for second, and no one caring about football unless the Patriots are winning.
The Patriots are the great public enemy of the football world right now. They play under a whip-cracking coach. Their star quarterback has turned from likeable underdog to guy at the bar who the single men want to punch in the face. Tom Brady has earned the venom of much of the public because he got where he is having never paid a single real due in his entire life, and because he perpetuates an image of an ideal in Americana which most people could never possibly hope to live up to, and which was finally starting to die until he came along. They're known for running up scores constantly, for no reason, keeping their starters in blowouts, and basically daring the other team to stop them. Their egos blew out of control during the 2007 postseason - it was widely reported that their Super Bowl opponents arrived in black suits to symbolize New England's funeral, and Giants wideout Plaxico Burress guaranteed a victory. What wasn't reported was that a Pats player I can't remember told the Giants they were welcome to be guests at their victory party, and most of the players appeared to be treating the buildup to the game as a vacation. When you look at it like that, it's no wonder the Giants were able to take them off guard.
One thing you have to remember about the Belichick/Brady Patriots, though, is that they got where they are by extolling some great virtues. They eschewed individual ego, so much so that in the 2001 Super Bowl, when they beat the highly favored St. Louis Rams, the Patriots refused to have their starting lines introduced player by player, as is the normal custom. Instead, they chose to run out as a team, as one. It was the Rams who spent the buildup talking about the overnight birth of a dynasty. (Come to think of it, they were technically right.) But the Pats hit The Greatest Show on Turf in the mouth, shutting down Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. They've gotten even the angriest, most loudmouthed and poorly behaved players - Corey Dillon and Randy Moss are probably the best known, and now Chad Ochocinco - to tone it down for a common object.
No, things aren't quite as bad for New England as they were in the bad old days. Wait.... Editor message.... The Patriots didn't have any real bad old days? Are you sure?
Yep. The New England Patriots, who are talked about in the pre-Brady days as if they were the Detroit Lions of the AFC, don't have a whole lot to truly be ashamed of. When people think of bad times for the Patriots, they tend to look at 1989-1993, when the team had some seriously bad seasons and their best record was 6-10. Or their 5-11 2000 season. But here's the thing: That 5-11 record in 2000 was one of just two seasons in which New England had a losing record between 1994 and 2001, the year they began their mighty dynasty. In 1996, they went to the damn Super Bowl! Yeah, they were beat pretty handily by the Packers, but they got there. Before then, the only real bad period in the history of the New England Patriots since their founding in 1959 went from 1967 to 1975. From 1960 to 1966, the team only had two losing seasons, and they went to the AFL Championship in 1963. (They lost to the San Diego Chargers.) From 1976 to 1988, they endured one losing season, a very unique debacle in 1981 in which they went 2-14. And even during that year, the Patriots lost mostly because of some kind of evil karma. They lost five games by three points or less, another three by less than a touchdown, and had a point differential of just 48. For what it's worth, they may have been the best 2-14 team in history. The between-the-lines fine print says the 1981 Patriots were merely a decent team having an off year, not the hopless disaster 2-14 teams usually are.
Probably the reason early Pats history is so ignored is because the pre-dynasty Pats weren't regular Super Bowl contenders. They were good, definite spoilers, sometimes challengers. In 1985, they made it to the Super Bowl, but that was a slight anomaly. They did well like they usually did that season, then managed to luck their way through three road games in the playoffs before going to the Super Bowl and getting slaughtered by the Bears. 1985 was the year the Bears got to have all the fun, and they fielded a dynamo of a team that went 15-1 in the regular season, posted two shutouts in the playoffs, and set what was then a record for points scored in the Super Bowl. Mostly the Patriots became known for collapsing in the stretch. In 1996 they went back to the Super Bowl, where they played better than in 1985 and kept it close until a kickoff return touchdown and two touchdown passes from Brett Favre sealed it for Green Bay.
Part of the reason for New England's success is that they have had a revolving door of great quarterbacks which could only come from absurdly good, supernatural luck. Their first real long-term starter was Babe Parilli, the team's main quarterback from 1961 to 1967. He went to three Pro Bowls. Soon after, from 1971 to 1975, the played the understated Jim Plunkett, who is best known for his post-comeback work with the Raiders, leading them to two Super Bowl titles. Steve Grogan came in 1975, a solid, tough player who was the team's go-to guy from 1975 to 1983, and made regular if sporadic starts for them until 1990. From 1983 to 1989, Tony Eason rode a ridiculous quarterback carousel with Grogan and others, including Doug Flutie, and put up some respectable statistics while leading the team to their first Super Bowl. Although these guys were very solid and dependable, in 1993 the Patriots picked up their first true standout, Drew Bledsoe, a Pro Bowl regular who by many accounts deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. In 2000, they lucked out by picking a fifth-rounder out of Michigan named Tom Brady.
Most fans of Boston sports tend to look at themselves as underdogs. Seriously. I don't know how that works, because I haven't known a lot of Boston sports fans who are especially diehard through the bad times. The only team that can be even remotely considered underdog is the Red Sox. Other then that, I saw Boston fans abandon the Celtics - the most dominant, winningest team in NBA history - when they were bad, the Bruins when they were bad, and the Patriots weren't beloved when they were good most of the time. It took them being absolutely dominant for people to start paying attention. Ironically, supporting the Patriots in the past would have granted fans underdog status. Now the only Patriots fans - I'm sorry, I don't want to insult real Pats fans, so I'll rephrase that by saying the only visible Patriots fans - are frontrunners and secondary fans who don't actually give a shit.
How many famous games have the Patriots been involved in that didn't come in the last decade? Well, there was the Super Bowl against the Bears, but that wasn't because of anything the Patriots did. Everyone remembers the 1985 season because of the Bears, most people reading this probably don't even know they beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl until they read this. The Super Bowl against the Packers is, again, remembered for the Pack, not the Pats. All of their subsequent Super Bowls have been decided by a collective total of twelve points, and they've played plenty of memorable games outside of the Super Bowl as well. The Tuck Rule, their legendary showdowns against the Indianapolis Colts, the last ten years are filled with fantastic games, but they all happened during the Brady Bunch era.
The Patriots have some very strong divisional rivalries with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. The Bills were their big foe for most of their history, but lately the Jets have taken that role. Of course, due to the team's invisibility, no one would ever know that. They also have a serious rivalry with the Indianapolis Colts, which is more between Tom Brady and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning than between the teams themselves.
The Patriots of the past are so understated that no one remembers who their greatest running back was. Their all-time leading rusher was Sam Cunningham, who rushed for 5453 yards from 1973 to 1982. They were also the team that drafted Curtis Martin, a possible all-time great running back who started with the Pats but made himself with the New York Jets. People also forget they were, in the past, called the Boston Patriots and for a brief time called the Bay State Patriots. Also, no one cared when former owner James Orthwein threatened to move the team to St. Louis in 1992 before selling it to current owner Robert Kraft. Also, there are only three Patriots in Canton - guard John Hannah, linebacker Nick Buoniconti, and cornerback Mike Haynes.
Pat Patriot represented the New England Patriots in the past, a cool image of a 1770's-era minuteman about to hike a football. Now they're represented by a flying Elvis. It's ironic that in the post 9-11 world, the New England Patriots would rise to true prominance wearing uniforms that hate America. The team used to wear a very fitting red, white, and blue. Now they've darkened the color scheme and added an ugly silver accent.
It's possible the rise of the Patriots is just due to timing. Everyone loves an underdog, and when the Patriots won that first Super Bowl against the Rams, the country was fresh off 9-11. How did one possibly root against them at the time? They were called the Patriots, for god's sake! And back then, they really were the lovable underdog team everyone wanted to see upset the great hype machine. They always had been. But success apparently changed them. It's funny how the team the entire country once embraced for inspiration in the awful shadow of 9-11 has somehow managed to squander all the goodwill.