Why Aren’t The Patriots “America’s Team”?

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Americans love to win.  I suppose nobody really likes to lose, but we Americans take pride in winning and being the best.  Every two years we rally around the Olympics and watch sports in which we have had absolutely no other interest, other than the fact that someone wearing stars and stripes is competing against someone from another country for the opportunity to win a gold medal.  Why? Because that makes us a winner.  Virtually none of us will ever come close to the opportunity to compete at such an elite level in any sport.  We associate ourselves with a favorite team or athlete, and when they win, we feel a sense of accomplishment for ourselves.

So, if America does truly love a winner, why are the Patriots hated outside of New England?  If people tend to associate themselves with winners, why aren’t the Patriots “America’s Team”?

Photo courtesy of nesn.com

2001 – 2005: The First Dynasty

The Patriots run of dominance began when they upset the then St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXVI.  The game was played while America was still dealing with the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.  A wave of patriotism swept the country after the attacks.  America flags were flown on houses nationwide.  It was fitting that a team called “Patriots” was to play in the game at that point in history.

The Rams were touted as the “Greatest Show on Turf” and were 14 point favorites going into the game.  In an unprecedented move, the Patriots eschewed individual introductions at the start of the game and chose instead to be introduced as a team.  In a country that had come together like no time since World War II, the symbolism was perfect for the time, and further endeared the Patriots to the nation.

The Patriots dominated the Rams and held a 17-3 going into the fourth quarter.  The Rams offense came alive in the fourth quarter to score two touchdowns to tie the game at 17-17 with 1:30 left to play.  It was at this moment the legend of Tom Brady was born.  With no timeouts left, Brady drove the Patriots to the Rams 30 yard line to set up Adam Vinatieri’s now iconic field goal to win the game as the clock ran out.  For the first time in their history, the Patriots were Super Bowl Champions, and America embraced the underdogs as a team of destiny.

After falling out of the playoffs in 2002, the Patriots solidified their claim as the latest football dynasty in 2003-2004, posting a pair of 14-2 seasons which included a record 21 consecutive victories. The Patriots added two more Lombardi Trophies to their mantle with another last second victory over the Carolina Panthers and a win against the Philadelphia Eagles.

In the past teams that have won multiple championships in short periods of time have been embraced nationwide.  The Cowboys, Raiders, Steelers and 49ers are examples of NFL teams that claim fandom all over the country, as have the Yankees in the MLB and the Canadiens in the NHL.  But the Patriots have failed to find that fan base outside of New England.  America does not love this winner.

It may have been the way in which the Patriots won.  They did not feature a high-powered, sexy offense and instead relied on a solid defense.  Many of their wins were ugly, but they were still wins.  They also seemed to get every close call from the referees and every opportune bounce of the ball, which led to claims they were either “lucky” or their wins were “fixed” by the NFL.

The team also lacked a charismatic figure head like a Tom Landry or John Madden.  Head Coach Bill Belichick was (and is still is) a cold, dispassionate curmudgeon who does not care to pander to the fans or the media with extraneous items.  His one focus is on winning, and everything else is irrelevant.

The one thing the Patriots should have had going for them in those early years was their straight out of central casting quarterback.  Brady was almost too-good-to-be-true.  His Boy Scout persona and team-first attitude was somehow misconstrued as being phony.  It didn’t help that women swooned over the handsome QB, driving away legions of perspective male fans.  Brady was also perceived as undeserving of his superstar status.  Many claimed because Brady was not the gunslinger of previous quarterbacks like John Elway or Dan Marino, he was merely a “system quarterback”.  That debate goes on to this day, six championships later.

Instead of becoming America’s Team, the Patriots became the Team America Loved to Hate.

Cheating Scandals

Claims surfaced shortly after the Patriots Super Bowl win over the Rams that a spy videotaped the Rams final walk-through practice before the game.  These claims were never substantiated, but they took on a life of their own and tarnished the Patriots’ achievement in their first championship. 

In 2007, while en route to an undefeated regular season, the Patriots were actually caught videotaping Jets coaches giving signals on the sidelines during a game, a violation of NFL rules.  Those who already were looking for a concrete reason to hate the Patriots were like kids on Christmas morning.  The Patriots were formally branded as cheaters, and all of their previous success was called into doubt.

The Patriots success continued, but Super Bowl championships eluded them.  As they made a run to Super Bowl XLIX in 2014, another scandal hit when claims surfaced that the Patriots used under inflated balls in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts.  The Patriots went on the win their first Super Bowl in 11 years and fourth overall over the Seahawks, but the Deflategate scandal again tarnished the win.  Brady was made the scapegoat for the entire episode, which resulted in him eventually serving a four game suspension to start the 2016 season.  The Patriots perception as cheaters was solidified in the minds of their detractors.

The curious thing about the Spygate and Deflategate affairs are the heights to which they reached in the national consciousness.  Media outlets like ESPN grabbed onto the story and would not let it go away.  The only other NFL scandal that has reached that magnitude has been the Saints’ Bountygate scandal which, involved Saints players intentionally trying to injure opponents to force them out of the game and collect a cash reward from the coaching staff.  Yet the Saints are not despised for it.  Stealing signals and letting air out of footballs is perceived to be more egregious than trying to injure opponents in the court of public opinion.

Then there are the lesser known incidences of teams being accused of illegal acts.  The Colts and Falcons were both accused of pumping artificial crowd noise into their stadiums to prevent their opponents from calling out signals.  The Giants were also fined for using a walkie-talkie on the sideline to communicate with players on the field, a clear violation of NFL rules.  Does anyone perceive these teams to be cheaters?  Does anyone even remember these infractions? 

I’m not claiming the Patriots did not commit these infractions.  In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they are true.  The simple fact is, all teams cheat to some degree to get a competitive edge.  Remember when the Celtics were lauded for turning up the heat in the Lakers locker room during the NBA Finals back in the ‘80s?  That was considered a brilliant move at the time, though it was never actual verified as having occurred.

There’s an old saying in sports – “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying”.  Don’t believe it?  Check out this website - http://yourteamcheats.com/.  It provides a breakdown of all cheating claims levied against each NFL team.  No team has a spotless record, and in fact, the Patriots rank somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of overall cheating scandals.

The Dynasty Continues

Since 2001, the Patriots have played in thirteen AFC Championship Games, including the last eight consecutive, and an unbelievable nine Super Bowls.  They have now won three out of the last five Super Bowls and have re-written the record book for postseason accomplishments.  It is a run of success that is unprecedented in modern day sports, and one that will very likely never be duplicated again.  

This is probably the most basic reason why the Patriots are so despised.  They have won too much for too long.  They have squashed the hopes of NFL fans across the country for nearly two decades.  

Who knows how much longer this success will continue?  If we have our way in New England, we’ll see many more Duck Boat rides down Boylston Street.  The rest of the country can continue to hate and watch the parades on ESPN.


Follow me on Twitter @BTravers_SYN

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Why Aren’t The Patriots “America’s Team”?
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