With Super Bowl LII just a little over one week away, the Philidelphia Eagles have slowly emerged as America’s new ‘darlings’ of the gridiron. To indulge in a soon-to-be overused analogy, they have become the ‘Rocky Balboa’ to their opponent’s ‘Apollo Creed.’ They are the overwhelming rooting interest as the ‘big game’ approaches. In short, most NFL fans will be enthusiastically cheering for the Eagles on February 4.
What is the reason, you might ask?
It is simple. They are playing the hated New England Patriots, who have just delivered another Super Bowl appearance to their ‘entitled’ fan base.
If you are a Patriots fan, you have heard them all.
Some use the term ‘obnoxious.’ Others prefer the moniker ‘fair-weather.’ There is even the dreaded label of ‘bandwagon.’ (…And those are just the ‘family-friendly’ terms for Pats fans)
However, the history of New England Patriots’ fandom has not always been one of privilege. Despite the good fortune that has surrounded Foxboro, Massachusetts for the past seventeen years, the history of the Patriots is one that involves defeat much more than victory.
Know your History, before you Hate
Following the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, the Patriots were a punchline more often than a punching bag. They did, however, have some success, In 1976, they earned their first NFL playoff-berth as a wild-card team. In 1978, the Patriots won their first AFC East division championship. They lost in the first round both times.
In 1985, they returned to the playoffs. After a ‘Cinderella-like’ playoff run, the Patriots represented the AFC for the first time in Super Bowl XX. However, the era of good feelings for Pats fans was about to abruptly end. The Patriots were steamrolled by the Chicago Bears 46–10, in what remains one of the most crushing defeats in Super Bowl history.
After a first-round playoff exit in 1986, the team would not make the playoffs again for eight more years. During the 1990 season, the Patriots went 1–15. They endured three ownership changes over the next 14 years. Losing seasons continue to pile up. Finally, in what would have been the ultimate demoralization of the New England fan base, then-owner, James Orthwein announced that he intended to move the team to his native St. Louis, Missouri in 1992. To say the least, it was not easy to be a Patriots fan.
That’s not exactly entitled luxury, is it?
The Tide Begins to Turn
Two years later, the Patriots fortunes began to improve. In 1994, Orthwein sold the team to local businessman, (and current owner) Robert Kraft. With Kraft at the helm, head coach Bil Parcells, franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe and a group of tough, talented players ushered in a new culture in Foxboro. Parcells would bring the Patriots to two playoff appearances, including Super Bowl XXXI (which they lost to the Green Bay Packers by a score of 35–21.) Pete Carroll, Parcells’ successor, would also take the team to the playoffs twice.
Although the days of embarrassment had passed them by, Patriots fans still found themselves among the back of the pack in the NFL fandom pecking order. Fans of teams like the New York Giants, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins would often look down on the Patriots as being “JV (Junior-Varsity)” or “bridesmaids.” Despite their recent success, NFL fans, as a whole, still looked at the Patriots as ‘second-fiddle.’
During the 1990’s, Patriots fans often lamented their lack of ability to find team merchandise, even in their home state. The shelves of pro sports shops were often reserved for Boston’s Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins. Being a distant fourth in their own backyard almost certainly insured that they would never find national acclaim.
However, anyone in the New England area can tell you that hometown pride runs deep. The desire to cheer on the hometown team was always there beneath the surface. The true Pats fan was just waiting for something to bring it all together.
When Bill met Tom…
Since the arrival of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady in 2000, the Patriots have since become one of the most successful teams in NFL history. They have won 15 AFC East titles in 17 seasons. During that span, they have not endured a losing season. The franchise has also set numerous notable records, including most wins in a ten-year period (126, in 2003–2012), an undefeated 16-game regular season in 2007, the longest winning streak consisting of regular season and playoff games in NFL history (a 21-game streak from October 2003 to October 2004.) They have won nine straight division titles from 2009 to 2017. The team owns the record for most Super Bowls reached (eight) and won (five) by a head coach-quarterback tandem. Currently, the team is tied with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys for the second most Super Bowl wins with five. With a win on Sunday, they would tie the Pittsburgh Steelers with six.
This is an impressive resume, for sure. The triumvirate of Kraft, Belichick and Brady have awoken a fan base that will not fade with a diminishing of the team’s success. The New England area enjoys a rich sports tradition, boasting some of the most loyal fans found anywhere. They are passionate about their teams. Simply put, spend some time in New England. In short order, anyone can see that New England ‘red, white and blue‘ flows through the veins of the self-proclaimed ‘Pats Nation’ fanbase…and it’s here to stay.
‘Cause they ain’t us….Or are they???
Patriots fans know that this success will not last forever. When the tide turns again, 31 other fan bases will rejoice in dramatic fashion. The Philadelphia Eagles present as tough of a challenge as the team has faced before. On Sunday, they will give the defending champions all they can handle. And while a possible Super Bowl loss might not bring about the end of the dynasty, those that dislike the Patriots and their fans would relish the opportunity to revel in the team’s defeat.
Conversely, Patriots fans cannot be faulted for basking in the glow of their success. Fans of the 31 other NFL teams would certainly be as enthusiastic (and at times, annoying) in their fandom, as Patriots fans. Based on that assumption, might it be considered hypocritical to refer to this fan base as ‘obnoxious’ or ‘entitled?’ Quite simply, the answer is “yes.” Otherwise, it is fair game to label the rest of NFL fans as ‘envious.’
Therefore, when one calls them ‘entitled,’ remember that there are many fans that have previously watched them lose. In fact, they probably saw them lose more often than they saw them win. They have heard their team called the “Patsies” due to ridicule, rather than jealousy. However, they stuck with their team through the bad times. As a result, they have earned their right to enjoy the good times.
It might presently be easy to be a Patriots fan, but it has not always been that way. The fans who had suffered before, are now simply enjoying the ride. You can’t blame them. Any other fan would do the exactly the same.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the AFC East. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC.