A sixth championship banner will be unveiled at Gillette Stadium Sunday night before the Patriots kick off their 2019 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As ever, Patriot Nation is smug, arrogant, and oh so satisfied.
I am convinced that the 21st- century Patriots are New England’s favorite team not just because they win, but because they reinforce the local notion that Bostonians are smarter than everybody else.
How smart? Get a load of this, America. The Patriots just signed Antonio Brown, the best receiver in the NFL and an egomaniacal misfit who acted his way out of Pittsburgh and Oakland in the last six months. It’s going to be all good with Brown now. In Foxborough, he will become an Eagle Scout — Mr. Team Above Self. He will suddenly be a guy who is all about winning and nothing else, simply because he has chosen to be part of the Patriot Way.
Blame it on Oliver Wendell Holmes if you must. The Harvard-educated poet and humorist (and father of the legendary Supreme Court justice) is credited with first referencing the State House as “The Hub of the Solar System’’ in the Atlantic Monthly, which begat Boston becoming “The Hub of the Universe.’’
Not exactly the same as “Do Your Job’’ or “No Days Off,” but pretty memorable nonetheless. Holmes put words to the widespread local assumption that we are intellectually superior. Massachusetts is home to more than 100 institutions of higher learning. We have high tech, deep think tanks, and, we’re convinced, the best medical community in the world. This gives us home field advantage in every battle of wits.
Assigning the Patriots’ 20-year dynasty to the genius of Bill Belichick fits our self-image of superior brainpower.
The Boston Celtics of the 1950s and ’60s were the first local sports franchise to feed our intellectual elitism. Those Celtics won annually not just because they had the best players, but because Red Auerbach and Bill Russell were smarter than their contemporaries. Red was the first American pro sports coach/general manager credited with “playing chess while the others are playing checkers,” and Russell — lacking the size and superhuman athleticism of rival Wilt Chamberlain — won because he was smarter and more cunning than Wilt.
Likewise, Belichick annually prevails by thinking of things before any of his contemporaries. He takes your rejects and turns them into All-Pros. He recognizes a player’s shelf life and discards stars one year before they spoil. He exploits every rulebook loophole, driving other coaches batty and keeping the NFL’s competition committee on high alert. Staring out from under his hoodie, Belichick melts the man on the other sideline, magically making his game-day rival forget everything the poor guy ever knew about football.
Einstein, Freud, now Belichick. Real men of genius.
In Oz’s fabled declaration of brilliance, the scarecrow holds his new diploma and says, “The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.’’
In the Emerald City of Foxborough in 2019, deep thinking is encapsulated in “We’re on to Cincinnati’’ or “It is what it is.’’ Belichick is a 21st century gridiron transcendentalist.
The Steelers defeated the Patriots in Pittsburgh last December before the Patriots perpetrated yet another playoff run that culminated with confetti falling on the handsome head of Tom Brady in Atlanta in February. It was the Patriots’ third Super Bowl victory in five seasons and the sixth in franchise history — a number matched only by the NFL-pioneering Steelers.
Since New England beat the wide-eyed Rams, 13-3, in Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots have endured some hits that would have shaken a lesser team. Less than three weeks after the Super Bowl win, owner Bob Kraft was charged with paying for sexual acts at the Orchids of Asia day spa in Jupiter, Fla. Kraft issued a public apology, hired a dream team of lawyers, and managed to make the case virtually disappear with a series of legal victories. If he is ever disciplined by the NFL, it won’t be until after the case (which could be buried in appeals for years) is adjudicated.
Rob Gronkowski, the greatest tight end of all time, formally retired March 24. Without Gronk, New England’s tight end corps is thin and weak. Julian Edelman is recovering from a broken thumb. A raft of assistant coaches — including defensive play-caller Brian Flores and vaunted “character” coach Jack Easterby — have joined other teams. Starting center David Andrews is out for the year because of blood clots in his lungs and top draft pick N’Keal Harry (ankle) will be out at least until midseason. The defense is getting older and will miss Trey Flowers. Veteran safety Patrick Chung is facing a charge of cocaine possession in New Hampshire.
Oh, and did we mention that the Patriots’ starting quarterback is 42 years old and his only backup is a fourth-round pick who has never played a down in the NFL?
None of that matters. Belichick always figures it out. The Patriots will win because they are smarter than everybody else, and the NFL’s sideline brain gap only grows wider. And now they have the best receiver in the sport, a major malcontent who will suddenly become Jimmy Chitwood from “Hoosiers’’ now that he plays for the Patriots.
It doesn’t end there. Once the games start, Brady will play pitch-and-catch with his running backs while doofus defenders will wonder how he got rid of the ball so quickly. Houston coach Bill O’Brien, who was a smart guy when he worked for the Patriots, will neglect to Do His Job when Brady converts a 28-yard pass play on a questionable “catch” that should be reviewed by officials. Needing to call time out to force a review, O’Brien will watch helplessly as Brady alertly rushes to the line and snaps off another play, making a review impossible. After the game, when asked why he didn’t call time, O’Brien will say, “It’s not my job.’’
This past week, when Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin (he’s never beaten Brady in Foxborough) was asked about New England’s offense looking different without Gronk, the Pittsburgh boss answered, “I hadn’t thought about that. I don’t have control over that. I’m sure they’re going to put together a plan that they think is going to be capable of producing victory, and whatever that is, is going to be whatever that is.’’
Perfectly passive. Exactly what the Patriots are banking on. Tomlin will never know what hit him Sunday. He will swallow stupid pills before the game. Like all the others, he will stand back and let it all be. And wind up wounded.
The Patriots’ path is set. Again. The clown show that is the AFC East still features the ever-inept Jets, Bills, and Dolphins reinventing themselves with new quarterbacks and coaches. The Patriots’ will cruise to a division title, a first-round bye, and a second-round home playoff game against a joke team like the Texans or Jaguars. Patriots fans will once again sit on their couches and chortle at the abject stupidity of every coach who goes up against Belichick.
The Super Bowl is Feb. 2 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. We expect the Patriots to participate.
It’s all academic.