The most memorable bad guys are the ones who are unapologetic about who they are. The Wicked Witch of the West. Hannibal Lecter. Darth Vader. Thanos. Anton Chigurh — iconic movie villains who will outlive us all, and not because they’re the embodiment of one-dimensional, mustache-twirling evil. It’s because they know exactly who they are and what they want. They are powerful. They frighten us. They enrage us. And damned if they don’t make us feel alive.
That’s the upside about the Patriots being back in the Super Bowl for the, by my calculations, 498th time in the last two years. (How is that possible? I don’t know. Please don’t check my math.) They give everyone outside of New England a very clear rooting interest: anyone but the Patriots. That’s how we endure this together. The Patriots are our common enemy. Let it unite us. Let it fuel us. Let it be our therapy.
That’s a defining characteristic that the Patriots and their fans should wear with pride. Everyone knows they’re as inevitable as the heat death of the universe. Everyone knows when the heat death of the universe comes, the Patriots will somehow be left standing, as immortal as the cockroaches who will live beside them to rule the new world.
They shouldn’t shy away from that. They should embrace being the heel. The worst thing they could do is disingenuously play a role that we all know isn’t theirs to play...
Instead, the Patriots keep insisting they’re the underdogs.
“I know everyone thinks we suck and, you know, can’t win any games.”
In case you were wondering, that was their 20th playoff home win in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era and one that sent them to their eighth straight AFC Championship Game.
The Patriots relished in the idea of proving their “doubters” wrong in the week leading up to the conference championship against the Chiefs. All because No. 1 seed Kansas City was a sliiiiiight favorite at home — breaking a streak of 69 games in which New England had been favored with Brady at quarterback.
And that’s despite the fact that no one, especially not the Chiefs, dared to call the Patriots true underdogs.
Julian Edelman even posted a video — and was selling shirts — with a hashtag sentiment exactly zero football fans felt:
Then, immediately following their overtime win against the Chiefs that sent Brady to his ninth Super Bowl — and mere hours after Brady referred to himself as “the baddest motherfucker on the planet” — he said:
"I'm too old...you're too slow...we got nothin'"— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 21, 2019
"Unreal, bro." pic.twitter.com/7b2V9q6K6M
Tom Brady said he was as emotional after the game as he has been in some time. Asked what led to those emotions, he said, “The odds were stacked against us.” pic.twitter.com/VTyWuqq5ob— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) January 21, 2019
The most endearing thing the Rams did after their own overtime win was admit they got a favorable call from the refs. They didn’t insult our intelligence. They didn’t pretend that what we saw with our own eyes wasn’t real. They didn’t lie to us.
The Patriots, who opened as 1-point underdogs against the Rams, are now favorites with a line that keeps climbing. Because we know that they’re never a long shot, they’re never counted out, they’re never overlooked — even when they try to gaslight us about how no one believed in them.
Tom Brady posted a smug-looking video with Gronk that is EXACTLY the part the Patriots play in all this.
It might be tough to watch this, but the gleeful, self-satisfied, privileged smirk shared by Brady and Gronk here epitomizes the Patriots most of us are entirely too familiar with:
Play roshambo among yourselves to decide if Brady or Gronk perfects the “cat that ate the canary” look more, reminding us that, yes, here they are once again and you can’t do a damn thing about it:
Finally, a moment, however fleeting, of realness.
They know who they are. They aren’t the underdogs. They’re the team everyone else is chasing. They’re the team everyone else hates. Choosing Diddy’s “Bad Boy for Life” as the soundtrack just proves that they know exactly what they’re doing.
That should makes us feel better, because at least it’s honest. They’re not trying to BS us, or themselves, with tales of make-believe skeptics who never thought the team that’s appeared in four of the last five Super Bowls would get this far.
They’re not the heroes of this story. They’re the villain. If only they would own it more than they do.