Antipathy towards the Patriots’ Super Bowl juggernaut is a form of self-hate

first_imgWhen Brady arrived at the Patriots, the starting quarterback was Drew Bledsoe, the No1 pick in the 1993 draft. Brady entered the Patriots as the 199th pick in the 2000 draft. Then, in Brady’s second season, Bledsoe got injured; Brady, still lightly regarded, took his place; with Brady calling the shots, the Patriots won the 2001 Super Bowl. If ever a moment summed up everything the Patriots have gone on to achieve in the 17 years since, it was that shift from a record of underachievement with a star quarterback to almost total domination of the sport with a refitted draft also-ran at the helm of the team’s play. Bledsoe left for the Bills the season after that first Super Bowl win, and the Patriots have not looked back. Belichick continues to have a knack for getting the best out of the league’s tired, its poor, its huddled masses yearning to breathe free. In this post-season Danny Amendola, a player who once languished unwanted in the practice squads of the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, has emerged as a clutch performer of rare nerve and determination – a classic Belichick find, the good-not-great receiver turned master of the pattern play. Since you’re here… Read more Memory Lane: the Super Bowl down the years – in pictures The Patriots have dominated football since the turn of the century in two main phases: the first lasting from 2001 to the almost-perfect season of 2007, and the second starting in 2014 and stretching to today. What makes all this so profoundly irritating for non-Pats fans is that the Patriots have forged dynastic success despite a system that’s designed, at least in part, to prevent it. The draft (introduced in 1936) and the salary cap (1994) are supposed to ensure parity between the teams, on both the field and the balance sheet. The loot is supposed to be shared. New England have exploded that schema of enforced equality through a strategy in which canny recruitment, the subordination of talent to data, luck, expert man management, and the simple dynamic of success feeding on success have all played a role. Other franchises are free to copy that model – indeed, many have tried – but none have succeeded. The Patriots are simply too good, but no element of their success is closed, in theory at least, to any other team in the NFL.Arrivistes, when they arrive, are supposed to be gauche and gaudy. Sure, there have been some minor on-field infractions for the critics to gripe about as the Pats have taken their tricorne hat to the top. But they haven’t made it there with the help of a sugar daddy, or thanks to some chronic institutional distortion of the rules of financial fair play. They’re not like Chelsea in the English Premier League, financially doping their way to the top, or Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, a monarch the system is specifically tilted to keep in power. They’re not easy to hate like that. Hating them is much harder, because for every non-Patriots fan, it’s really a form of self-hate: if only we could be like them. Support The Guardian Share on Pinterest 1:34 … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. 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Share on WhatsApp Tom Brady A Philadelphia Super Bowl victory would counter two centuries of US history New England Patriots Super Bowl LII: Patriots and Eagles set for showdown – video Share on Facebook The American people are uniquely triggered by traits of physiognomy, so let’s start with that dimple. In the face of every one of America’s most hated men there’s a feature that provides the lodestar for a nation’s rage. But neither Donald Trump’s flame-head nor Martin Shkreli’s tripod nose comes close to matching the torrents of bile and resentment generated by Tom Brady’s chin dimple. Faced with a smorgasbord of options on which to home its Brady-hate – his Cristiano Ronaldo-like habit of referring to himself as “TB12”, his marriage to a supermodel, his $180m personal fortune, his on-again, off-again bromance with the president, his many crimes, both documented and undocumented, against ice cream – America has instead focused on a small, button-like depression in the flesh of Brady’s chin.It’s a non-verifiable fact that close to 90% of media previews of this Sunday’s Super Bowl, which most people agree the New England Patriots will win for the sixth time in 17 years, have included some reference to that dimple. A dimple that sums up everything non-Patriots fans (ie every part of America that’s not within a 100-mile radius of Boston) find so detestable about the most successful NFL franchise of our time.center_img Share on Messenger Super Bowl LII American sporting heroes aren’t supposed to look this good. Joe DiMaggio had bug eyes and funny teeth. Joe Montana looked like he should be running a sandwich shop. But Brady is altogether too perfect, too handsome, too successful, and too good. How can anyone like this attract anything but a nation’s hatred?There are, of course, myriad other explanations for the unique antipathy that so many in this country feel for the Patriots. There’s the long history of (alleged!) cheating, from Spygate to Deflategate; the gruff spikiness of coach Bill Belichick; the retirement (Deion Branch, Tedy Bruschi) or departure (Adam Vinatieri) of all the vaguely likable players from the Patriots’ first rush of early-century success; the bitter spectacle of a team that’s from the city that gave American independence its initial spark thickening into its own kind of evil empire. Mostly, though, it’s about the winning. And it’s not just the fact the Patriots have won so much that makes them a magnet for a million jealousies and resentments. It’s the way they’ve done it, with a formula for success that should be replicable but is somehow not, and therefore all the more unique and providential, almost religious. Their success is a mystery of timing and luck; a mystery of nature. Things were not always this way. In the early 1990s the Patriots were something like the Buffalo Bills today: the perennial underdog (or the butt of the league-wide joke, however you prefer to look at it), a hardscrabble team of mostly clueless pluggers and journeymen (yes, they’d reached the Super Bowl in 1986, but they’d been destroyed by the Bears). When Belichick arrived as head coach on the stroke of the new century, the Patriots had momentum – they’d been to the Super Bowl again under Bill “The Big Tuna” Parcells in 1996 – but were still, largely, a work in progress. Belichick threw away the manual on how to win in the NFL, ignoring the received wisdom that said teams needed to pick high in the draft or build their core axis around a star quarterback and a star receiver. Instead, the Patriots became something like value investors in the NFL draft – cleverly going after down-round picks they felt were undervalued, instead of splashing their cash on razzmatazz first-round names – and Belichick set about building a team in which the system, the pattern, were far more important than the individual virtuosity of its brightest lights. This approach was part of a shift across all sports to place data and pattern analysis, rather than a simple reliance on raw talent, at the center of coaching – a shift that included Sabermetrics in baseball, Phil Jackson’s triangle offense in basketball, and today’s fashion for pressing in soccer. The Patriots were the first team in the NFL to fully embrace this analytical turn, and no player better encapsulates it than Brady. View gallery Share on Twitter features US sports Play Video Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Super Bowl NFL Topics Reuse this contentlast_img read more