When the Patriots went up against the St. Louis Rams in 2002, they were 14-point underdogs, a concept that seems far removed from the Patriots of today. Indeed, the “favorite” moniker might make the Pats a little harder to get behind. After all, the Red Sox championship was perfect partly because that franchise was a perennial loser.
How do you root for a dominant football team that is quickly becoming—dare we say it—a dynasty?
Three years ago, The Staff predicted the win over the Rams, stating, “The Patriots are an exception in today’s self-obsessed sports world; they exhibit teamwork and unity rather than selfishness and sniping.” The beauty of this statement is that it’s still true. Not only has success not spoiled the New England Patriots, it has made them stronger—maybe because the Patriots are more than just a few superstars.
New England is about being a team, not about being the talent. Standout running back Corey Dillon took a $1.55 million pay cut to play for the Patriots this year and quarterback Tom Brady has settled for far less than other hotshots like Peyton Manning to keep the Patriots under the salary cap. A wide variety of receivers gives Brady plenty of options—though Deion Branch’s 60-yard touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers forces him to stand-out—and Adam Vinateri lives to kick clutch field goals. Plus, don’t forget a defense that can change to stop any variety of opponent.
Now Philadelphia is a formidable opponent with quarterback Donovon McNabb, who can run just as well as he can pass, and fantastic, if injured, receiver Terrell Owens, who vows he will play. Still the Eagles sit atop the lackluster National Football Conference. It is the Patriots who have answered the American Football Conference’s rigorous challenge in pounding the Indianapolis Colts and the vaunted Manning, 20-3, and creaming the Steelers 41-27—payback for their destruction of the Patriots’ NFL-longest 21-game winning streak.
New England is perfect under pressure. Coach Bill Belichick is superb in making gameday adjustments, and the unflappable Brady thrives under fire—destined to become one of only four quarterbacks to win three super bowls. In fact, if he executes as usual, he could grab his third Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award, tying him with the legendary Joe Montana.
Some have mentioned that the Eagles have actually had a better record since 2000, but there is a point that is missed. True athletic greatness is not achieved in the regular season, but in the championship game. A combination of teamwork, talent and total mental edge will bring the Patriots the trophy. And two Super Bowl wins will bookend a Boston sports fan’s fairytale.