Dynasties used to be regular occurrences in professional sports. Whether it was the Boston Celtics in the NBA, Montreal Canadiens in the NHL, New York Yankees in MLB, or at various times the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers in the NFL, there would regularly be at least one team that stood head and shoulders over others in their era and would string together impressive and lengthy runs of championships. But over the last few years, only one team has consistently proven itself worthy of being called a dynasty. Like or loathe them, that team was and is the New England Patriots.
A national story that ran last week said that outside of people in New England, there was only one place where more people would be rooting for the Patriots rather than the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. That was in North Dakota. Otherwise, folks were solidly behind the underdog Eagles, a team that hadn’t won an NFL title since 1960 and was one of 13 franchises going into Sunday’s game that had never won a Super Bowl. That number is now down to 12, as the Eagles scored the climatic points with 2:21 remaining and held on to upset the Patriots 41-33 in Minnesota.
In many ways it was an oddball contest. Despite the Eagles having the top-rated defense in the league and the Patriots being in the Top Five defenses in points allowed, offenses set records for yardage, and had both teams not missed extra points early and the Eagles blown three two-point tries, there might have been even more points scored.
Yet in the end, it took a strip sack of Tom Brady and the resultant fumble recovery to finally give the Eagles a bit of separation. Most unlikely was the fact Nick Foles, who wouldn’t even have been on the field except for an injury to the Eagles’ star Carson Wentz, ended up as the game’s Most Valuable Player. Foles will most likely end up starting somewhere else next year, but he performed heroically. Meanwhile the Patriots were dealing with a postgame controversy, with benched cornerback Malcolm Butler openly claiming he could have changed the outcome, and embattled coach Bill Belichick maintaining his decision not to play Butler was “because I felt the players in the game gave us the best chance to win.”
Still, when all the smoke and rhetoric from Super Bowl LII has cleared, here are some undisputable facts. The Patriots as an organization have been in more Super Bowls than any other NFL team (10). The duo of Belichick and Brady have appeared in eight since 2000. They have won 15 AFC East titles in 17 seasons since 2001, and never had a losing record. They have amassed so many records it is astonishing from most wins over a 10 year period (126 from 2003-2012), a 21-game winning streak from October 2003 to October 2004, nine straight division titles from 2009-2017 and the most Super Bowls reached (eight) and won (five) by the same coach. The Steelers hold the record for most Super Bowl wins with six, but the Patriots are tied with the 49ers and Cowboys for second.
Yet that consistent excellence has also earned them a large degree of scorn and suspicion, fueled by such incidents as “Spygate” and “Deflategate,” though the latter is largely considered way more a function of a power struggle between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft than a legitimate issue. The “Spygate” was taken far more seriously, despite the fact sign stealing remains something common in pro sports. But the Patriots were accused of injecting a high-tech angle into it, and their critics stamped the “cheater” label on them, one that remains in some circles.
No one knows whether the Patriots’ amazing run will continue, but Las Vegas has already established them as 4-1 to win next year’s Super Bowl. Brady maintains he is returning right now, and it seems Belichick will at least serve out the two remaining years on his contract. You don’t need to be a Patriots’ fan (and I’m not) to acknowledge or appreciate their overall accomplishments and one thing is pretty clear: chances are quite slim in this age of parity that there will be another team or another coach/QB combo on the horizon anytime soon who will equal or top the exploits of the Patriots, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.