I don’t like the Patriots, but I love not liking them.
They’re the villains many of us need in our lives, and it’s a wonderful fact that they have two exceptional rogues on whom to heap our hostility – coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
The Patriots are back in the Super Bowl because they beat the hipper Chiefs on Sunday, because Brady was great when he needed to be in that game and because they’re the Patriots.
But mostly they’re back in the Super Bowl just because. Because it’s right that they are. Because we need them.
There would have been nothing wrong with a Rams-Chiefs Super Bowl. A battle between Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes, two talented young quarterbacks? Are you kidding? Three days after the game, we would have still been adding up their passing yards.
But injecting the Patriots into the equation produces heat and hate. It produces storylines.
Brady, his supermodel wife and their nauseatingly perfect life together. Brady and his mysterious trainer. Brady and the Fountain of Youth.
Belichick, Spygate and Deflategate.
Belichick’s mumbles and grimaces. His hoodies. Brady’s California coolness and the high opinion he has of his style sense.
The complicated relationship between the two men, which some say is built on respect and others say is built on resentment.
They’re insufferable. They’re also great.
If you’re going to have two weeks between the championship games and the Super Bowl, you need the Patriots. Otherwise, you’re stuck reading about Andy Reid’s coaching tree or Drew Brees’ passing efficiency or something else that will cause your forehead to hit the cereal bowl.
The Patriots stir up feelings that no other team can. In the AFC Championship Game, Brady wore a sideline coat that seemed to get bigger as the game wore on and the temperature dropped. By the fourth quarter, he looked like a warming hut. The coat became a Twitter sensation, with his enemies wondering whether it was full of deflated footballs. I’d like to think it was filled with our hate, which is the wind beneath Brady’s wings.
We can despise him all we want, but did you see Tom Terrific lead the Patriots to touchdowns on their last three possessions against the Chiefs? It was magnificent. He stood in the pocket like a lord admiring his estate and threw pinpoint passes to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.
By the way, I don’t like Gronkowski and Edelman for their inherent Patriot-ness, either.
There’s something bigger going on here, and it speaks to an elemental part of sports – the whole us-vs.-them phenomenon. People need someone to root against almost as much as they need someone to root for. If you root for the Bears, you get to despise the Packers in equal measure. And vice versa.
Your hero is my villain, and you’re an idiot. That sums up the current political discourse in our country, but we’ve been doing this in sports forever. Notre Dame, the Yankees, Muhammad Ali, Duke basketball – take a side, then aim your big artillery at the fools who see things differently.
Most of the time, it’s healthy. Most of the time, it’s fun. But this being the world we live in, full of imperfect human beings, it can turn ugly. It’s why we see parents getting into fistfights at youth sporting events and why it’s getting harder to find sane people willing to be referees and umpires at those games.
The Patriots are a safe place for hate. They’re so big and so successful that nobody gets hurt when the abuse flies. They don’t even acknowledge anyone else’s existence. They’re above you and your offspring and your future generations. The nose ever in the air is another reason to hate them.
I’ve always smiled at the attempts to humanize Belichick. You’d have an easier time trying to make a police baton seem nice. A blowtorch couldn’t defrost that face. So why do we even try?
He’s exactly what he presents himself as. Humorless. Conniving. And brilliant as a football coach. He says nothing of substance at press conferences, leaving reporters to parse his pursed lips. Yet we can’t look away.
This will be the Patriots’ fourth trip to the Super Bowl in the past five years. They have won two of the past four. Together, Belichick and Brady have won five Super Bowls.
They’re cads, scoundrels, bad seeds.
And if the Rams were to reduce them to rubble on Feb. 3, that would be just dandy.
Brady is 41 and says he has no intention of retiring any time soon. I hope he sticks to that vow. We need him and Belichick. We need the Patriots. They give a huge percentage of the country an ideal to believe in — that, if we all hate something enough together, maybe there won’t be room for hate anywhere else.