The Patriots aren’t in the Super Bowl, and it will be at least 10 years since they won anything that mattered. Except, you know, all those games. Ask a Cleveland fan what they would have given for this season. Then think of Joe Flacco’s ugly face, and take it all back. Then take a giant hop over the Red Sox’ season and land at next year’s Patriots season opener, the next real game that matters.
Dealing with decline is difficult, and the Patriots have largely spared us by refusing to decline. Bill Belichick runs a volume business, and he has given us volume. There is more yet to come; if there was going to be decline, it would have started by now. The end will be abrupt, unexpected, and suddenly being a Patriots fan will mean a whole new thing. Some people, invariably, will not like it.
It will never be better than this. Think about what will happen to San Antonio, post-Duncan and Popovich. Think about the sheer churn the Patriots have imposed on NFL history, and the team’s outsized share of the last 11 seasons among its competitors, for victories and airtime. The Patriots are the sixth-most valuable franchise in sports, fourth-most valuable in American sports, and third-most valuable in the NFL. When I was young and licensed NFL gear was harder to come by, you could almost never buy a Patriots jersey out-of-state. If Eastbay offered up just one, I’d be all over it.
That was why Drew Bledsoe was such a big deal. By 1998, he was easily the best skill-position Patriot who ever lived, which seems categorically insane now, but there we were. And that’s where the story ends, really. Tom Brady has been the Patriots’ choice to start and finish games every day since September 23, 2001, and you know his story. He belongs to the world, but we just get him for a little while. That little while is already longer than we had any right to ask for, and I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter if I think I’m greedy for asking for more, or trying to be content with what I have, they’re just going to keep on winning and winning and winning. And then they won’t, it’ll be over, and we’ll talk about it long past the point anyone cares. It’s a feel good story, and one that has a happy ending, no matter what happens from here on out. We won’t be able to resist.