Monday, January 29, 2018

Do Dynasties Die of Boredom?

The Patriots arrive in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl later today. I'm so glad I'm not there to greet them. If I were, I'd still be a sportswriter, and what the hell would I write about this team for an entire week of pregame stories?

Set aside the horror movie/clever social satire of the NFL's decision to place both teams and all media within the Mall of America for a week. Nobody goes outside in midwinter Minnesota unless they have to anyway. No, the problem the Patriots pose for the diligent journalist is an acute professional dilemma. The root word of "news" is "new" and there is absolutely positively nothing new to say about the New England Patriots at their eighth Super Bowl in 16 seasons.

The obvious angle is to assess New England's place among the other dynastic powers of professional football history. Good story, at least I thought so the last time I wrote it, which was the last time the Pats faced the Eagles in the Super Bowl -- in 2005. That's 13 years ago.

(Here's my short answer on ranking the Pats. It depends on how you do it. I don't think any individual Patriot team in the Belichick-Brady era were as good as, oh, the 1978 Steelers or 1966 Packers. But if longevity matters, and what matters more to any kind of dynasty, New England stands alone at the top, a considerable distance above anyone else).

In that time, the Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox have all won championships and also plunged into seasons of complete failure before rising again. Those three franchises have generated new information to process and discuss. The Pats? Hey, they beat Buffalo -- again. They won the AFC East -- again. There comes a point in sports where accomplishment remains utterly admirable and yet loses the capacity to thrill. Hank Aaron's 715th home run was lead item national news in the US. He hit 40 more in his career. They were not news. They were numbers.

Or take a modern example, yesterday to be specific. Roger Federer, age 36, won the Australian Open, his 20th Grand Slam tournament victory. He added further proof he is the greatest tennis player to ever live.

And after about an hour's worth of "hey look at that" by tennis fans on Twitter, Federer's feat was pretty much ignored. Christopher Clarey, the Times' tennis writer, commented on how matter of fact Federer's two-week march to the title seemed to be. Roger Federer didn't NEED any further proof about his place in tennis history. Through no fault of his own, Federer didn't get to play either of his historic rivals, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. He was Ali mowing down a succession of George Chuvalo's. It's never easy to win, but it's even harder to make people care about wins they expect to see.

So it is with the Pats. Not their fault, but they don't bring anything new to the Super Bowl table. Nobody's going to find some unknown secret of Tom Brady or Bill Belichick's success. Neither Matt Patricia nor Josh McDaniels will offer any insight on their possible new coaching gigs. Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel didn't back in that last Pats-Eagles Super Bowl. There's a week until Super Sunday, and Globe columnist Tara Sullivan was reduced to writing about Stephen Gostkowski for today's paper. Gostkowski's a great kicker, but a placekicker story is close to a last resort. If she moves on to Ryan Allen, we'll know Sullivan's as stumped as I am as to how to make the Pats newsworthy.

I can think of one New England story I'd pursue were I at Super Bowl LII. There's a bunch of Patriot players who were in elementary school when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl back in 2002. What's it like joining a team that's been part of their football consciousness all their lives? What's it like playing with a quarterback from a different generation? It's an angle, but I also know none of the young players would be daft enough to give candid answers. Bill wouldn't like it.

The worst of it for the Pats is that if they lose next Sunday, the only people who'll be angry or grief-stricken are themselves. It won't affect the franchise's historical status, or Brady's or Belichick's, one iota. Patriot fans can be a whiny bunch to be sure, but the rest of football America would greet sackcloth and ashes from Pats' fans with ridicule rather than disdain. And in truth, any fan who'd react that way should be ashamed of themselves.

I don't expect the Pats to lose. I never do, seeing as they almost never do. But I don't expect their sixth Super Bowl title to thrill anyone but themselves. Fans will be pleased, but not moved. So I guess the above paragraph was wrong. Unshared joy is way worse than unshared sorrow.


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