The Patriot Way: Achievement and animosity

By Jim Naveau -

Why do sports fans love to hate so much?

The New England Patriots have become the reigning champions of intense fan hatred in American sports, which is no small feat since the Yankees, the Cowboys, Golden State, Duke and Notre Dame are still in business. Around here, you could add Michigan to the list.

There are countless explanations given for hating the Patriots. People are tired of them. They’re cheaters. Deflategate and all that. Tom Brady is too perfect and too good looking. And his wife is even better looking.

Maybe it’s a mixture of envy, resentment and a need to have your beliefs validated. Maybe some people really are just tired of the Patriots because of all the exposure they’ve gotten for so long. It’s a lot of things.

But there is one thing all sports teams who are hated share. You don’t become hated without winning and winning a lot.

The Patriots have won the Super Bowl in 2017, 2015, 2005, 2004 and 2002 with Bill Belichick as their coach and Brady at quarterback and were runner-up in 2008, 2012 and last year.

But before Brady and Belichick came along the Patriots were barely noticed more than 200 miles outside the Boston metropolitan area, much less hated.

They appeared in the postseason only six times between 1960 and 1993 and had 14 losing seasons in 26 years from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s. They went to two Super Bowls, but lost both of them, one by an embarrassing 46-10 score to the Chicago Bears in 1985 when their offense scored the same number of touchdowns as Bears defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry did.

A good comparison for the Patriots before all their postseason success would be the Cincinnati Bengals, who have had losing records in 16 of the 30 seasons since their last appearance in a Super Bowl and have lost both times they’ve been in a Super Bowl.

Can you imagine anyone hating the current day Bengals, except maybe the people who have bought season tickets from them for the last 30 years?

Would people in Utah or Arkansas or Idaho hate the Bengals, like they do the Patriots? Not a chance. Teams with 6-10 records do not have legions of haters.

All sports dynasties attract haters. And with three consecutive trips to the Super Bowl and playing nine times in the NFL’s ultimate game since 2002 the Patriots certainly qualify as a dynasty.

But New England seems to attract a level of hatred beyond that of the other dynastic rulers of the playing fields.

One unscientific measurement posted on a Twitter site called NFL Memes showed fans in 43 states want the Los Angeles Rams to win today’s Super Bowl.

The only states who favor the Patriots are six states in the Northeast and Louisiana, where New Orleans Saints fans understandably view the Rams as undeserving participants in today’s contest, put there by a blown call.

Some day the Patriots will no longer make almost annual trips to the Super Bowl. Some day there will be a new team playing the role of the villain.

Who that is might be a surprise. It doesn’t take long for a team to go from the cuddly, lovable fan favorite to being disliked, even hated.

When the Boston Red Sox went 86 years without winning the World Series before winning the 2004 title, many fans outside of Boston were like, oh it would be nice to see the Red Sox finally win one.

But by the time they won it all again in 2007 and 2013 and 2018, some of those same fans went over to the other side and said, oh we’re tired of the Red Sox winning all the time.

The same thing happened even faster to the Chicago Cubs after they won the World Series in 2016 to end their 108-year drought. At least around here much of that came from disappointed Cleveland Indians fans, but it happened all over.

So, is it unrealistic to daydream that some Super Bowl Sunday 15 or 20 years in the future people will be talking about how much they hate the Browns or Bengals because all they do is win?

Probably. But fans have to have dreams.

By Jim Naveau

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.

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