Column: Take a break from the hate to appreciate the Pats
The hoodie. The skirting of the rules. The dashing quarterback with the model wife.
Oh, and all that winning.
There’s no getting around it, the New England Patriots sure are annoying.
The team everyone loves to hate just won’t go away, claiming a spot in the AFC championship game for the ninth time in the last 14 years – a run that very well could be the most remarkable in NFL history.
When the Patriots host Indianapolis on Sunday, essentially everyone outside of that little nook in the top right corner of the United States will be pulling against them.
Some of that animosity is natural for any team that wins over and over again. The rest can be traced to the mood set by their hoodie-wearing coach, Bill Belichick, who’s about as warm and fuzzy as a honey badger.
”Any city you go to, the people they don’t like are usually New England because they’ve been good for so long,” Colts punter Pat McAfee said. ”You want to be the team that’s not liked by other teams, because it means you’ve been good for a long time.”
Well, let’s take a break from the hate and appreciate what the Patriots have accomplished since the opening of the 2001 season, when George W. Bush was just a few months into his first term as president and the horror of 9/11 was still 48 hours away.
Fourteen straight winning seasons. Thirteen years with double-digit wins. Twelve playoff appearances. Five AFC championships. Three Super Bowl titles. The only perfect regular season since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule.
Those feats would be impressive in any era, but they really stand out against the backdrop of salary caps and free agency.
Simply put, the Patriots are the best franchise in all of football, maybe all of sports.
”You’re just excited for the opportunity to be able to do it,” said Tom Brady, taking a break from lording over us that he’s married to Gisele Bundchen and can cut his hair any way he likes and still look better than we do. ”It’s hard to do and our team found a way to get there this year, so hopefully we can take advantage of the opportunity.”
If the Patriots go on to win their first Super Bowl in a decade, they should go down as the greatest dynasty of them all.
If not, they’re still in the same ballpark as Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys, Chuck Noll’s Pittsburgh Steelers and Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers.
Consider these numbers, provided by STATS:
– The Patriots are tied for the fifth-longest stretch of winning seasons in NFL history. The Cowboys have the longest run (20 in a row from 1966-85) but didn’t have to deal with free agents or a cap, which have undoubtedly leveled the playing field. In fact, only one team on the list with 14 or more (San Francisco, 16 straight from 1983-98) overlaps at all with this epoch in the pro game.
– New England has missed the playoffs only twice in the last 14 years, both times edged out on tiebreakers. The 2008 team went 11-5 (with backup quarterback Matt Cassell running the offense, no less, after Brady went down with a season-ending injury) to become one of only two teams that failed to make the postseason with that many wins.
– During its run of winning seasons, the only team to put together a streak even half as long was the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts, who ripped off nine straight from 2002-10. The Green Bay Packers, currently on a streak with six in a row and playing Seattle in the NFC title game, are next on the list.
Granted, New England is a sneaky bunch, not afraid to bend the rules (or, in the case of Spygate, break them).
But the primary reasons for the Patriots success are simple: They draft better than everyone else, they manage their roster better than everyone else, they game-plan better than everyone else, they coach better than everyone else.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck summed up what it’s like to go against New England.
”They do a great job of taking away your strengths,” he said. ”They are not going to let you get easy yards, easy first downs, easy points. Every down is a chess match, a battle.”
Of course, don’t expect the joyless Belichick to provide any perspective on what it all means.
”Right now, I don’t really care about any of the other games – last week, last year, 10 years ago, whatever it was,” Mr. Grumpy said this week. ”All our focus is on the Colts, and we’ve got to do a good job with our preparation for Indianapolis. We’ve got to execute well and we’ve got to coach well and we’ve got to play well. That’s our challenge.”
OK, haters, we know what you’re thinking.
No way we’re going to appreciate a curmudgeon who gives answers like that.
Well, swallow hard, take a deep breath, and repeat after me:
The hoodie rules – no matter how annoying.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
AP Sports Writer Howard Ulman in Boston and Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this report.