Bill Belichick pictured with devil horns.
Tom Brady portrayed as arrogant and self-absorbed.
The entire team described as a rolling, heartless machine.
These are just some of the things we've read or heard about the New England Patriots over the last several months.
Look, I totally get it. I'm a rabid Oakland Raiders fan. If anyone deserves to hate the Patriots and Tom Brady, it's me and my fellow Raider fans. Why? I have two words for you: The Tuck. If it weren't for one of the worst calls in NFL playoff history, the Brady and Belichick legend might never be what it is.
I detested Brady, Belichick and the entire NFL after "The Tuck". (We call it something less printable in the Raider Nation and it ends with "-ed" and starts with an 'F'.) And I hated the fact that Brady won the Super Bowl because he and his team didn't have any business being there.
Here's the thing: That's not how I feel now. I don't hate the Patriots. In fact, I'm rooting for them to go undefeated. Kinda sick and twisted, I know, and you're probably wondering why. Let me explain.
Back in the 1980s, I hated two men. One was QB Joe Montana, the other was President Ronald Reagan. I hated Montana and the white collar, chardonnay-sipping, gouda-eating fans that adored him. But I'll be honest, I was bitter because my Raiders had left me alone to move that hellhole that is Los Angeles. I lived in a Bay Area no longer consumed in Silver and Black, but in awful red and gold. As for Reagan, well, I was a dyed-in-wool Bay Area liberal who hated and was intolerant of any and all things Republican.
But I was wrong, very wrong about both men.
I begrudgingly accepted and even somewhat mildly rooted for the Niners during the later years of their dynasty. I was able to appreciate Montana's greatness. But only during his later years. It was the same thing with Reagan. I had a full-blown case of Bush Derangement Syndrome, only it was RDS. And I quite simply didn't appreciate the history being made by both men at the time.
Today, things are different. I see Montana as the single greatest NFL quarterback of all time. I now also believe that Reagan was one of our nation's greatest presidents. I realize that the hatred I had for them was wasted, misguided and immature, even stupid.
Now back to the Patriots--the now 17-0 Patriots.
What they are doing is truly something to marvel. I believe that an undefeated season in 2007-8 is a far, far more impressive feat than having an undefeated season in 1972. No offense to the '72 Dolphins, but the talent pool is deeper, the athletic skills of players are better, there are more teams, more games to play, and nearly impossible to fathom media pressure and scrutiny.
Most important, there is league parity. The NFL is simply not designed for one team to reign supreme. Don't believe me? Go back and look at the last 15-20 Super Bowl winners and note how many different teams have made it to the Big Game. The Falcons, Eagles, Titans, Rams, Seahwaks, Buccaneers, Packers, Colts, etc. each of them making their first appearance or their first appearance in a long time. Then go back and look at the first 20 Super Bowl winner/appearances--Cowboys, Steelers, Vikings, Niners, even the Raiders--every year the seeming same teams appeared over and over. Borrrrrring.
That doesn't happen anymore. Unless you're the 2007-8 New England Patriots. They've won 3 out of the last 6 Super Bowls. They've been to 5 of the last 7 AFC Championship games. And they go into this Sunday's game an obvious massive home favorite over the San Diego Chargers.
Finally, there's Tom Brady. Where do you begin with this guy? During the Pats-Jags game last week they were showing replays of passes, and it was amazing to witness how quickly Brady went through his progressions as he dropped back to pass. (To the layman, that's scanning the coverage of his receivers as they run routes.) You can almost hear his brain going "Covered...covered...covered...open! Bam!" I haven't seen anything like it since Montana.
Brady's got what Montana had, too: He just knows how to win. He never panics. He never looks worried. It's that unwavering and overwhelming confidence that trickles down and across his teammates. The fans know it, too. With each passing game, I'm really starting to believe he just might be better than Montana.
It's all left me speechless (sort of) and cheering. None of this should be happening. It can't be. Not in this day and age. But it is. And it's really, really something that every football fan--be they rabid, average or passive-- can and should enjoy.
So go ahead, be a Patriot. Even if just for a game or two.