ATLANTA — So here they come again, America’s Worst Nightmare, The Pretty Boy quarterback who is still pretty after all these years and the diabolical spymaster in the hoodie who is still diabolical after all these years.
They arrive here Sunday, and the mere sight of them makes most of America feel more deflated than any of The Pretty Boy’s footballs during the 2014 AFC Championship against the Colts.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
In New England, the greatest football winners of all time.
In so many precincts outside New England, the greatest cheaters of all time. Starring yet again in a “Night of The Living Dead” remake, bloodthirsty ghouls stalking a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
The Patriots remain The Team We Love to Hate, and nothing will change during Super Bowl week against the New Kids On The Block, whiz kid Rams Sean McVay and Jared Goff.
When you make a list of all-time hated teams in sports, the Damn Yankees — 27 world championships, The Best Teams George Steinbrenner Could Buy, the big-market payroll — are the forever reigning champs (even with lovable Yogi and likeable Joe Torre and Derek Jeter).
The Patriots, the Yankees of the NFL, are next.
The Bad Boy Pistons flaunted their thuggery, but won just two NBA titles. The Broad Street Bully Flyers only won two Stanley Cups. The Cowboys are loved except by fans who resent them calling themselves “America’s Team” and can’t stomach Jerry Jones.
Magic and Kareem won five NBA titles, but how could anyone hate Magic? Michael Jordan won six, but he was hated more in New York because he kept denying Patrick Ewing. The LeBron Heat drew derision because of “The Decision” and self-induced hype that immediately followed. Alabama is a dynasty, but at least Nick Saban hasn’t had a Spygate or a Deflategate. Haughty Duke touches more of a nerve — think Christian Laettner, Grayson Allen and the Cameron Crazies — but Coach K hasn’t had a scandal, either. Who could possibly hate John Wooden?
Alas, the joke’s on us. Or should I say, you?
Because we all should have learned by now that hating the Patriots is a waste of everyone’s time. They ignore the noise. Or don’t care what anyone thinks. And conveniently use it as they see fit as Us-Against-The-World motivation. Remember how they rallied around Belichick after Spygate and had a perfect season until Eli Manning and the Giants somehow got them in the end?
Hating the Patriots simply hasn’t worked.
Hating the Bill Russell-Red Auerbach — ugh, that victory cigar — Celtics drove me crazy growing up a Knicks fan.
So I feel your pain. This has become an unhealthy obsession for most of you.
Maybe I can help.
Nobody passed a law that says you can’t embrace the Patriots.
Nobody passed a law that says you must hate the Patriots.
This would undoubtedly require you consulting a cognitive behavior therapy guide, but how much torture do you have to endure? How many visits to your shrink have you made?
So let’s start with Brady.
Instead of rooting time and time again for Father Time to sack him, intercept him, rough the passer, maybe you should congratulate him for finding the fountain of youth and playing the way no 41-year-old quarterback has ever played. For keeping a raging passion for the game he loves.
Instead of being jealous that he has a beautiful model wife — Gisele Bundchen — you should admit to yourself that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to Be Like Tom. Maybe even eat avocado toast like TB12.
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Instead of piling on him for Deflategate, you could cut him some slack because it was the first — and only — time he has ever cheated, as far as we know. He’s the GOAT with or without his deflated balls. And he did the time — four games, for crying out loud, Goodell — for the crime.
As for Coach Belichick, there is no need to mock him for his coma-inducing press conferences. Admire him for being so comfortable in his own skin that he can continue to trot out that ghastly public persona and continue to do it his way.
Joe Namath liked fur coats. Tom Landry rocked that fedora. Belichick prefers a hoodie. He’s no fashionista; he’s a football coach, and proud of it. Different strokes for different folks.
Spygate? That was 11 years ago. He hasn’t cheated since. Or at least hasn’t gotten caught, which would certainly be a testament to his genius. He’s the GOAT with or without the videotaping. And he paid his dues
How is it possible for the two of them to hunger for a sixth Super Bowl championship as if they have never won one?
We have witnessed a number of HOF coach-quarterback duos — Vince Lombardi-Bart Starr, Chuck Noll-Terry Bradshaw, Don Shula-Dan Marino, Bill Walsh-Joe Montana — but nothing like this, in a free agent-salary cap era that legislates against sustained excellence.
Rob Gronkowski? How do you not love a playful party animal like Gronk? It’s OK for you to admire him for playing hurt and wish him well as an action-hero actor should he decide to retire.
Josh McDaniels? Sure, he jilted the Colts a year ago, but why couldn’t you focus on what a tremendous show of loyalty it was to Belichick, Brady and Robert Kraft?
Brian Flores? What a job replacing defensive coordinator Matt Patricia! And he’ll soon be the Dolphins’ head coach and try to end The Curse of the Belichick Tree.
And how about recognizing what a family affair this is for the Patriots? You have Kraft and his son Jonathan embracing and high-fiving in their owner’s box after every step towards the Lombardi Trophy. You have the McCourty twins, Jason joining Devin for the first time.
Are Brady and Belichick supposed to stop trying to win because they’ve won five Super Bowls? Did Jeter stop after four World Series championships? Did Yogi stop after nine? Did Phil Jackson stop after 10? Did Wooden stop after nine? Did Jordan stop after five? Did the Jets stop after one? (Don’t answer that.)
The Rams? They left Los Angeles for St. Louis and left St. Louis for Los Angeles, didn’t they? The Patriots? Bob Kraft made sure they wouldn’t leave New England, didn’t he?
Greatest NFL dynasty of all time. Nine times in the Super Bowl since 2002. You’ll miss them when they’re gone, right?
Wrong. Who are we kidding? They’ve earned your hate. No one wanted them here.
At the pep rally Sunday morning in Foxborough, Mass. Brady led a chant of “We’re still here, we’re still here, we’re still here,” before tossing the mic.