Patriot Fatigue is a national affliction.
Outside of New England, we’ve all become a bit nauseated at the sight of these guys in the Super Bowl year after monotonous year, a numbing, inevitable exercise that’s transformed America’s greatest sporting event into nothing more a quaint backyard game hosted by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Since there is no known cure, the hardcore football faithful might want to mimic those who tune in today for nothing more than the commercials and Justin Timberlake’s halftime show — and tune out before the end of the game, thereby avoiding any chance of coming down with another Patriots’ celebration.
At this point, it would probably be more appropriate to award the NFL champion a bronzed hoodie rather than the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But true fans, please — if only for a moment — appreciate what is happening here.
This is undoubtedly the greatest dynasty in NFL history, a team that long ago raced past Lombardi’s Packers and Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain and Montana’s 49ers. No one has come close to maintaining such a level of excellence for the better part of two decades, so it seems downright reasonable to proclaim, without a hint of hesitation, that we’ll never see their likes again.
Don’t limit it to football, either.
The Patriots very well could be the greatest dynasty of them all, in any sport. Sure, we’ll get objections from the New York Yankees and the Boston Celtics and the Montreal Canadiens, but many of their titles came in a totally different era, before expansion and free-agency and salary caps and longer playoff grinds, all of which were supposed to ensure more parity.
Those rules apply to everyone else.
Not the Patriots.
“I think everyone in the league sort of envies their success to some extent, and rightfully so,” said Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson, whose team will try to take down the Patriots this time around. “They’ve been there, done that many times, and that’s something that every other team would love to have.”
Those who focus solely on this Groundhog Day-like moment miss the bigger picture.
It all began way back in 2001, just days after the horror of 9/11, when Brady took over as quarterback for longtime starter Drew Bledsoe, who went down with an injury after signing a 10-year contract extension.
With their unheralded, sixth-round draft pick leading the way, the Patriots went on to capture the first of what has grown to five Super Bowl titles.
But, in a sense, those crowns are merely the toppers on an enormous cake.
More impressive in our eyes are the 17 straight winning seasons, only one with fewer than 10 victories. More impressive are the 15 AFC East championships, including the current run of nine in a row. More impressive are the 12 appearances — and eight triumphs — in the AFC championship game. More impressive is staying on top with an ever-changing cast of characters, accumulated through all manner of signings, trades and late-round draft picks.
Ever changing, that is, except for Belichick’s singularly focused coaching genius and the 40-year-old Brady’s age-defying excellence on the field.
For those looking for a respite, don’t count on it anytime soon. Even that scathing ESPN article, which alleged a major rift between Belichick and Brady (and was quickly denied by all), sounded a bit like wishful thinking.
Asked if he’s thought about how long he wants to coach, Belichick gave a typical response.
“My focus is on Sunday,” the 65-year-old droned. “That’s my window right now.”
Brady was downright defiant about his desire to keep playing.
“Why does everyone want me to retire so bad?” he said. “I don’t get it. I’m having fun. The team’s doing good. I know I’m a little bit older than most of the other guys, but I’m really enjoying it.”
Of course, there are those that will say the Patriots cheated their way to the top, and there’s no denying they claimed a virtual monopoly on “gates” with accusations of spying on opponents and deflating footballs.
And, sure, they’ve carried themselves with all the smugness of a team that knows it’s better than everyone else. For instance, their most recent championship rings came with 283 diamonds, a karated commemoration of New England’s historic comeback from a 28-3 deficit in last year’s Super Bowl.
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, whose team was on the wrong end of that comeback, was not amused by the not-so-subtle jab. In August, he confronted his New England counterpart, Robert Kraft.
“I said to Robert, ‘You didn’t have to do the 28-3 in the ring,”’ Blank said in a New York Times Magazine article chronicling the 2016 season. “It kind of (ticked) me off.”
The Falcons won’t get a chance at revenge. Not this year, at least.
They were eliminated on the second weekend of the playoffs by the Eagles.
The Patriots, to no one’s surprise, are back again.
Yeah, it’s getting a little old.
But, before you flip the channel Sunday, take a moment to savor the greatness.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry