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How many losing seasons would it take to make the Patriots likable again?

It’ll take decades before the Patriots are ever a sympathetic team again.

Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Imagine it’s the year 2030.

Tom Brady is 53 and — even though he looks 35 and is probably still better than your team’s starting quarterback — is finally retired. So is 78-year-old former coach Bill Belichick and all but a couple members of the team that won Super Bowl 53.

The New England Patriots are trash now. They’re just horrible.

They never found a worthy successor to take over at quarterback, and the roster imploded after the departure of Brady and Belichick. Now the team wins just a few games a year and can’t get out of the cellar of the AFC East. The city of Boston is miserable.

Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful world to live in? It’d be justice for a nearly two-decade run of dominance with nine trips to the Super Bowl, six Super Bowl wins, and a spot in the AFC Championship in what’s gotta be at least 37 straight seasons.

Am I bitter? Yes, I guess I am.

I’m sure Patriots fans find this whole “winning everything always” thing to be a blast, but the rest of us are pretty sick of it. Watching the Patriots atone for their sins* by just being flat-out terrible for a long time would be so cathartic.

(*Those sins include a few things that you could argue were cheating, but mostly it’s just that they win too much. Stop it, already.)

So how much atonement would it take before we’d be willing to forgive them for dominating this long? I asked Twitter and the answer is: Pretty much forever.

Once upon a time, the Cleveland Browns were a perennial champ. They won five straight years between 1946 and 1950. Then after three straight championship losses, they won two more in 1955 and 1956.

Now they’re a sympathetic group that got pats on the back for finishing 7-8-1 this year, instead of 1-15 or 0-16. The Patriots would have to be consistently bad for a long, long time to get that kind of treatment.

There’s a good chance the day that the Patriots are terrible never comes, though. At least not in the consistent way they were for the first 30 or so seasons of their existence.

Belichick’s wheeling-and-dealing has always left the team with a bunch of draft picks and a comfortable salary cap situation. Seriously, somehow only the Bills, Raiders, Cowboys, and Jets have more cap space for the 2020 season.

They’ll probably come back down to Earth whenever Brady retires, but it’s doubtful they’re going to have an 0-16 season or replicate the Cleveland Browns’ current 16-year postseason drought. On the other hand, the NFL’s parity makes good teams turn bad all the time — and vice versa. So it’s still reasonable to dream of a world where the Patriots are the new Browns.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful and so very overdue?

Eventually the day will come when there’s a generation of football fans who aren’t old enough to have watched Tom Brady play. They’ll never truly understand why so many of us old folks still hold a grudge against the Patriots. And that’s fine — we’re still never, ever forgiving you for this dynasty, Boston.