Sometimes a plane is more than just a plane.
When it’s owned by the New England Patriots, it is — depending on whom you ask — a practical investment, a middle finger, or an opportunity to make air-pressure jokes.
Ever since news broke this week that the Patriots had become the first NFL team to buy its own airplane – two, actually – the world has divided along familiar lines: those who love the Pats, and those who find deep, evil symbolism in basically everything they do.
“If you had Robert Kraft’s money and you could fly into town with five Lombardi trophies on your tail, of course you would,” said Nick Stevens, a comedian and radio host who plays the role of rabid Pats fan Paul “Fitzy” Fitzgerald in a popular Internet series. “They’re the dynasty. They’re America. They’re the country on top, and they want the rest of the league to know they’re just a bunch of struggling former Soviet republics that can’t catch a break.
“It just goes hand in hand with the dominance, the luxury, the opulence, the awesomeness – everything that everyone hates about us.”
The team says that the planes, two Boeing wide-body 767s they referred to as new “airkrafts” (get it, Kraft?) in an Instagram post, were purchased for boringly practical reasons.
The cost of chartering planes has skyrocketed in recent years, to the point where owning a plane – even for a team that could potentially only have to play 10 road games in a season – makes long-term financial sense. The team isn’t saying how much they paid. A new one goes for somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million, though used versions can go for quite a bit less, as low as $5 million.
And then there is the practical aspect of moving some of our largest humans from one place to another. Offensive linemen and coach seats have never worked well together, so the planes have been retrofitted so that all the seats are first-class in size, and many of them fully recline, according to reports.
It is this aspect that has won the most praise from many former players who now work in the 24/7 world of sports talk radio.
“That’s what happens when you have all those Lombardi trophies, is you can do things like that,” said Mike Golic, a former lineman who is now co-host of Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio. “For the players’ sake they’re going to travel in comfort. Because that was always a thing when we got on our chartered planes – who got the first-class seats.”
Of course, this being the Patriots, the move provided lots of low-hanging fruit for the online commenters who just love to hate Tom Brady and the boys.
“A plane is better than a blimp since it cannot be deflated,” wrote one Twitter user, part of a chorus of Deflategate-related jokes.
Others went further back, to Spygate, and asked why it wasn’t a U2 spy plane or a surveillance drone.
Many made a joke about how the Patriots have long owned the Jets.
And still others took it as an opportunity to take a shot at their own sorry teams, pasting their team’s logos on sinking ships and crashed planes.
Then there was the fact that the team bought not one but two planes. (The second is a backup, the team says.)
“What does the Evil Empire need two planes for?” said Emily Tomlinson, an avowed Patriots hater from Virginia. “One for the players and one for their egos?”
But perhaps the biggest source of criticism had to do with the five Lombardi trophies that are painted on the tail of at least one of the planes. The haters hated it and thought it reeked of Patriots arrogance.
Many Patriots fans also questioned the move, though for practical reasons.
After this season, they pointed out again and again on social media, the Patriots are going to have to repaint the tail to add a sixth trophy.
Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.