ST. PAUL, Minn. – There were decades, long before Bill Belichick and Tom Brady came to town, when nobody cared about the New England Patriots.
That’s not the case anymore. Duke basketball can move over because the Patriots have become the most hated team in American sports, and it’s probably not close. Of course, that wouldn’t be the case if they didn’t have five Lombardi Trophies. It’s better being hated than ignored.
“If they hate you, you’re doing something good,” Patriots running back Dion Lewis said with a grin at Monday’s Super Bowl media night.
“They’re good every year, always have a target on their back,” said linebacker David Harris, who spent 10 years with the New York Jets trying to beat the Patriots before joining them this season. “I’m pretty sure everyone hated the Bulls and Michael Jordan, because they always won.”
Make no mistake, most of the country wants the Patriots to lose in Super Bowl LII. It’s hard to turn everyone into Philadelphia Eagles fans for a couple weeks, but New England has done it. The Patriots seem to know that’s their role in this Super Bowl.
When players were asked what it’s like for them that everyone is rooting for the Eagles, it usually drew a chuckle or a nod.
And the Patriots being the sometimes robotic team they are – it’s one reason America won’t embrace them outside of the upper Northeast – they just don’t care about your hate.
“It’s one of those things that no matter how many people root against us, we’re all we got,” defensive end Trey Flowers said. “We understand that. We do it for the people in the locker room, the fans in New England, and each other.”
Imagine that. Most of the country is rooting against you, and it rolls off your back.
“You understand it,” Flowers said. “You don’t make it a big deal.”
There aren’t any other teams that evoke passionate responses like the Patriots. Casual NBA fans don’t appear to really hate the Golden State Warriors. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees make people angry when they’re great, but they’ve combined for one World Series appearance this decade. Alabama football is too machine-like to evoke any feelings whatsoever. But the Patriots? People hate them with a passion and tune in to see them lose.
Probably the only recurring character in sports that people love to hate this much is Duke basketball. If you see someone wearing a Blue Devils shirt, either they’re Duke alums, grew up in Durham, N.C. or have lost their way. Nobody roots for Duke basketball without a reason. The same goes for the Patriots.
As Super Bowl LII kicks off, the theme of the week is probably that everyone is sick of the Patriots.
“It doesn’t bother me,” running back Brandon Bolden said. “I don’t think it bothers any of us.
“It doesn’t matter who is for us or against us. We’re here for each other.”
Nobody is in the middle of the road with the Patriots. Fans in the upper Northeast (mostly) love them. Everyone else dislikes them and spends an inordinate amount of time trying to discredit their dynasty. Ask a friend, or go on social media. You’ll hear that officials favor the Patriots. You’ll probably hear that they’re cheaters. That will never die, even through the deflate-gate controversy with Tom Brady was flimsy at best and Spygate happened more than a decade ago. Still, on Monday Steve Spangnuolo, who most recently was the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator and interim coach, said when he was Eagles linebackers coach in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Patriots they felt the Patriots had their signals. The reputation is set.
“The biggest thing we learned was make sure you have two signal callers, not one signal caller, because they may have all your signals,” Spagnuolo told 97.5 The Fanatic’s Anthony Gargano and Bob Cooney, via Philly.com.
“I remember through the course of the game Jim [Johnson, then Eagles defensive coordinator] saying, ‘They’re getting our signals. They know when we’re blitzing … try to hide it.’ I remember distinctly thinking. ‘I don’t think so Jim, just concentrate on calling the game,’” Spagnuolo recalled. “In hindsight, he was right. When you go back and look at that tape, it was evident to us. … We believe that Tom [Brady] knew when we were pressuring him because he certainly got the ball out pretty quick.”
It’s hard to remember a Super Bowl in which most of America so passionately wanted one team to win … well, at least before the Patriots-Falcons game last year. A geo-tagged virtual map based on Twitter data, compiled by BetOnline, found that only four states are rooting for the Patriots in Super Bowl LII: Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and, randomly, North Dakota (maybe they don’t want the Eagles to win without favorite son Carson Wentz?). Whether you buy Twitter hashtags as evidence of who is rooting for the Eagles or Patriots, it seems accurate that 92 percent of states are against the Patriots. It might even seem a bit low.
But they don’t care about your disdain. They’re trained to block out all possible distractions and focus on nothing but winning games, just like head coach Bill Belichick does. It won’t even matter that the country will be rooting for them to lose.
“I honestly don’t think about that. It’s great to be on a good team,” said kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who has spent all 12 of his NFL seasons with the Patriots. “If people don’t like that, not my problem.”
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