Every year, my friends and I get together for what we refer to as “Championship Sunday,” or the day in which both NFL conferences have their respective championship games to determine who’ll be the two teams playing in the Super Bowl. In lives now filled up with work, household to-do lists, spousal obligations, and parental duties, it’s one of the few respites we manage to still carve out annually.
At this year’s gathering, I professed a deeply-held – if not unpopular – sentiment I had, regarding New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick. While he’s generally reviled by many outside of the most northeastern part of the United States, I don’t hate Belichick at all. In fact, I’m endlessly fascinated by his ability to be both a true football savant, while running his team, in the same manner, a true Chief Executive Officer should optimally run a high-powered company. For all his flaws, Belichick embodies three things that every great organizational leader should have and establish: vision, culture, and process. If you want the truth about why the Patriots have been the single-most dominant franchise for the entirety of this century to date, look no further than those three virtues.
And yet, with all of that being said, one thing remains constant: everything about the New England Patriots makes you want to punch them in the face, along with basically anyone who roots for the team as well.
In society, we’ve been taught to revere the story of the “underdog” defeating the much-mightier adversary. David Smote Goliath. The pint-sized Napoleon Bonaparte once held the world at his fingertips. The United States defeating the USSR was given the name “Miracle on Ice.”
Given that, there’s absolutely no reason as a society that you should be rooting for New England. It’s not just about the fact that they win all the time, and are just the better team when they line up against anyone. It’s just that everything – and everyone – about the team has become so damn unlikable.
Let’s start with Tom Brady, who I’ll readily admit to being the NFL’s “GOAT” – “Greatest Of All Time” – at quarterback. But nobody cares about the whole “198th pick in the NFL Draft to iconic NFL quarterback” story arc anymore.
Rooting for Brady is like rooting for Johnny Lawrence when he beat up Daniel LaRusso in the Karate Kid movie or rooting for Bradley Cooper’s character (“Sack Lodge”) in Wedding Crashers. He’s the personification of every bullying jock you see in the movies, picking on the little guy and stealing away his girlfriend. He walks into work shouting that he’s the “baddest motherf—ker on the planet,” and walks out of wins with the biggest sh*t-eating grin known to mankind.
And the worst part of all of it is: for the better part of two decades, we STILL haven’t found someone who’ll stand up to the bully, put him in his place, and end the bully’s reign of tyranny over everyone else.
Then, there are the Patriots fans. My favorite part of them is like they’re a reverse magic trick; instead of vanishing into thin air, they – all-of-a-sudden – started appearing everywhere, circa 2001. These self-proclaimed “Massholes” now congregate – en mass – anywhere the Patriots and Red Sox (and sometimes the Celtics) play, acting as if they’re some longstanding loyal fan base, even though most of them wouldn’t know the difference between Irving Fryar and a deep fryer, or probably couldn’t tell the name of Boston’s NHL team.
These fans feel like Boston sports teams winning championships has become a birthright, even though the Patriots have gotten to the last two Super Bowls thanks to huge assists from very dubious playcalling (don’t think that we haven’t forgotten about the unexplainable pass interference call on Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye, which helped flip the momentum in last year’s AFC Championship game, and the even-more-egregious roughing the passer call on Kansas City’s Chris Jones in this past AFC Championship game). Try telling those fans that New England enjoyed the 11th-easiest strength of schedule in the NFL this year, or that Brady – who really started to show signs of his age this year – had 13 touchdowns over the last 8 games of this season (with 4 of those 8 coming in a meaningless game against a New York Jets team that had already quit on the season), and they’ll probably just start a “YANKEES SUCK!!” chant in your face.
And to top off this layer-cake of rubbing our face in their “we’re better than you” modus operandi, The Patriots are somehow trying to convince the rest of the nation that they’re the underdogs in this Super Bowl, and they’re rallying around the idea the rest of the country betting against them – as if the media and fans haven’t already acknowledged New England’s dominance over the last 18 years, ad nauseum.
I previously thought it would be hard to convince myself to root for the Los Angeles Rams in the upcoming Super Bowl. It was REALLY hard to stomach the circumstances in which they won the NFC Championship game — via the New Orleans Saints getting robbed by non-existent officiating, on an unconscionable non-call (and cowardly explanation for it) that would’ve allowed them to all but wrap up a win.
Then again, it’s not like the Rams have that many fans to begin with; there’s plenty of room to hop on their bandwagon. In a city with essentially perfect weather year-around, it’s hard to get people in Los Angeles to care about sports, outside of the Lakers or Dodgers. Although Wayne Gretzky did an excellent job for hockey in L.A. But the number of true-and-blue Rams fans, who supported this team from the day they arrived (and endured Jeff Fisher’s Mesozoic approach to football), is probably less than the number of people who attend Coachella each year.
But while I’d love to see wunderkind Sean McVay earn a Super Bowl ring before he even turns 35 years old, and watch Wade Phillips’ defense completely flummox Brady yet again, it’s not so much about rooting for the Rams as it is rooting against the Patriots. Being excited about Brady and Belichick winning Super Bowl rings is like being gleeful when Thanos snapped his fingers and eliminated half of all of life in the universe.
Like infamous purple nemesis of The Avengers, the truth is that any story is only as good as the villain and/or the adversity that the protagonist has to overcome. So sure, New England fans are basically no different than someone rooting for the house to take everyone’s money in a casino, but the rest of the world – who just want to see Biblical Daniel or the Daniel LaRusso types succeed – will be watching to see the NFL’s version of “The Evil Empire” be defeated.
Pick: Rams (+2.5)