clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The hatable Patriots have some lovable players

New, comments

Some thoughtful guys get lost in the team’s public image.

HOUSTON — Patriots defensive end Chris Long doesn’t want his son to play football. After winning the Super Bowl, the son of NFL great Howie Long sat at his press conference and said that he hopes his child doesn’t follow into the family business.

“There’s more money to be had in other stuff, like rocket science,” he said.

A few feet away from him, Martellus Bennett sat with his daughter Austyn Jett Rose in his lap. Reporters asked him questions, but it wasn’t Bennett who answered them. It was his little girl, who grabbed the mic to tell the outstretched tape recorders that her dog’s name was Wendy, and that Wendy recently peed on the rug.

“She did?” Bennett asked. “When? I didn’t know that.”

The mood of the nation after the Patriots won the Super Bowl was as though 73 percent of the country had just gotten left at the altar. Only 27 percent of Americans were rooting for New England, because New England has built a ruthless, efficient organization whose head coach says things like “as great as today is, in all honesty, we're five weeks behind in the 2017 season,” after winning the Super Bowl. Bill Belichick couldn’t care less if this bores you. He is here to create trained football assassins.

But the mood inside the room where Patriots players were talking about and basking in their win was celebratory, obviously. Long, Bennett, Julian Edelman (who razzed the NFL for its rules about catches), and many the players spoke warmly about their teammates and families. They were introspective, interesting.

As an organization, the Patriots are known for being notoriously tight-lipped and refusing to address what they don’t want to address. They give virtual middle fingers to the press in the form of shallow answers. The message from on-high is, quite literally, do your job. Just don’t talk about it too much. Tom Brady and Belichick certainly don’t give us any more information than they have to.

But what often gets lost in the nation’s hatred of the team as an entity is, I think, an appreciation for the Patriots players who do show their personalities. Sure, even fans who hate New England can admit that these guys are really good at football. But they don’t have to like them. The Patriots are not the free-wheeling Seahawks when it comes to celebrating individuality — the team’s message is tightly guarded. Most of the country therefore sees the team as an amoeba, a mass of dream-shatterers working for an Evil Empire that always prevails. Even when they’re down by 19 goddamn points in the fourth quarter of a football game.

Inside that Death Star, however, not everyone is Darth Vadar. In actuality, some of these guys give a lot more of themselves than public perception allows. Bennett gets the most attention, because he’s the player who marches to the beat of his own drum more so than others. But Julian Edelman says some weird stuff, too: He compared Logan Ryan to an annoying mouse the other day. So many players lit up and joked around about Edelman’s incredible catch. They’re goofy. They’re humans.

Even when it comes to politics, Patriots players aren’t all towing the party line: Long, at Super Bowl media night, said that he doesn’t agree with a lot of what’s going on in the country and he intends to speak publicly about it at some point. Bennett said he wouldn’t go to the White House to celebrate his team’s victory. If you listen carefully, the people who make up Belichick’s army of football machines aren’t quite as mechanical as their reputation allows.

This isn’t to say the Patriots deserve your love, or even your pity. Their win over Atlanta crushed the majority of Americans, and to whine about how New England’s players aren’t getting enough goodwill would be like bitching about the taxes on your multi-million dollar haul after you just won the lottery.

But it was interesting to be in a room on Sunday night with so many men, elated at their win, and know that most people in the country were weeping into their empty Bud Light cans. This stunning comeback didn’t have the joy attached to it the way it probably would’ve had it been executed by literally any other team. In fact, outside of New England, the most concentrated amount of football happiness was probably in that cement-floored room in the bowels of a football stadium in Houston, Texas.

Most of the attention after this win will be on Belichick and Brady. Is Brady finally the undisputed G.O.A.T.? Has Belichick proven himself to be a gridiron genius enough times over now that we can just mail a hoodie with the sleeves cut off to the Hall of Fame and call it a day? The history books are being written as we speak, but they probably won’t contain any quotes from the coach and the quarterback that we haven’t already heard them say.

But behind the team’s public facade, there are thoughtful guys with their kids on their laps telling the world how they really feel.