There can be no stopping them now. Move over, Dallas--there's a bunch of new kids on the block looking to usurp your claim on "America's Team."
Not necessarily in talent, granted: the New England Patriots don't exactly have the Cowboys and the Niners quaking in their Nikes. But the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy is right-mere hyperbole can no longer shout the truth loud enough in these parts.
Who, 365 days and several NFL lifetimes ago, could have forecast the Pats' meteoric rise to football stardom, save perhaps the looney in the Steve Grogan-autographed jersey out in Foxboro or Fall River or somewhere else within range of the "Hub's" almighty tug?
How many, for that matter, 365 days ago thought that 265 days ago the Patriots would still have "Massachusetts" on their calling cards? Weren't St. Louis, Hartford, et al. ready to take these so many orphans into shelter?
And yet, here they are. They're not in the playoffs yet, but the smart money says they will be. And a not-too-unlikely scenario could give them two weeks off between Saturday's season-ender at Chicago and the AFC Divisional Playoffs.
* The six-in-a-row Patriots down the Bears (1986 Super Bowl payback, anyone?) at Soldier's Field, Chicago;
* The slumping Chargers fade with a loss to the positive Steelers (although Pittsburgh might be reluctant to field a full-strength team on Saturday, having locked up home-field advantage two days ago);
* Those Dead-for-December Dolphins lose at home on Christmas night to Barry Sanders' hard-charging Lions.
That's all it would take. And one can make a serious claim that, in light of the general offensive ineptness of the AFC (ex-Patsies notwithstanding), New England could even emerge from the wild-card picture as it did in '85-'86 to fight for the Lombardi trophy this January against the NFC's finest.
Would they be sacrificial lambs (roadkill, if you will) to so many Aikmans or Youngs? Yeah, probably. But that doesn't matter. This team has won its last six games with a simple, blue-collar ethic that resonates with America's heartland more than so many trash-talking Michael Irvins ever could.
Drew Bledsoe--the true golden boy, everybody's All-American. So he gets in trouble with his Dad (played by Bill Parcells) every so often....his soft-spoken charms eventually dazzle on their own, without the need for a Willie Joe Namath's bumbling brashness.
And all the other Patriots follow his lead, from Coates to Hurst to rookie McGinest. Did you see how systematic their destruction of the four-time defending AFC champs looked on Sunday? Quite the Buffalo-Houston comeback in reverse, one might say.
If for nothing else, the nation can be thankful that it was New England who finally scythed the Bills from the playoff picture. With the "Super" Bowl looking ready for syndication after so many bad reruns, at least the slaughtered lamb might look and taste a little different this year.
You might perhaps be a little surprised, given all of the above speculation, that I personally am not from New England. But with my native Falcons now properly dead and buried, I implore all other non-partisans to join up with me on the blue, silver and red bandwagon.
New England professional sports fans have suffered so much in the last several years, let them enjoy their breath of fresh air. Maybe the Pats are not even playoff-bound, after all--but after years of losing with class, let's join forces and hope that they can win with class.