I was one of the lucky ones. I was born in Rhode Island.
Your Ocean State citizenship carries certain benefits few people outside of New England can understand. You get to drive with the grace and aggression of a Morlock, then accuse *other* states of having bad drivers. You eat a specialized cuisine of garbage food no one outside state borders has heard of, no one outside state borders wants, and you insist is special, endearing, and delicious (pizza strips, clam cakes, hot weiners, Rhode Island by-god clam chowder).
You unite with your fellow statesmen to claim outrage over the tiniest of slights, especially unintentional ones. You turn up your nose at Scarborough Beach in favor of Narragansett because you’re better than that. You also walk 12 minutes to get there because you’re not gonna pay for parking what are you talking about get outta here, guy.
And, most importantly, citizenship means you never have to apologize for being a Patriots fan.
Rooting for New England is a tremendous, rewarding experience. You know how you felt when you watched seasons two and three of The Office? It’s like that spread over the course of 17 damn years. Only in this version, Michael Scott never leaves, Andy Bernard remains a rage-filled sycophant, and the name Nellie Bertram is never uttered. The dips in quality are negligible, and every Sunday is appointment viewing.
This makes up for all the awful parts.
There are children across the nation who, at eight years old, don’t understand there can be an AFC Championship Game without the Patriots. Familiarity breeds contempt, which is how I will choose to frame the overwhelming, justifiable hate New England gets.
In SB Nation’s FanPulse poll of 1,970 fans this week, 69.4 percent said the Patriots were the team they most wanted to see lose this weekend. No other team got even 12 percent of the vote.
1. Patriots: 69.44 percent
2. Saints: 11.88 percent
3. Chiefs: 9.9 percent
4. Rams: 8.78 percent
When asked what Super Bowl 53 matchup they’d like to see, 41.9 percent said the Chiefs and Saints, and 41.2 percent said the Chiefs and Rams. That left only 12.34 percent who wanted to see the Patriots vs. Saints, and 4.6 percent hoping for the Patriots vs. Rams.
Yes, it’s all the winning, you see! Not the Deflategate scandal that consumed headlines and derailed sports talk for what felt like a decade. Not the Spygate scandal that preceded it. Not the team’s ties to one of the most divisive presidents in modern American history. Not the New England fans who brigade fans and writers — especially female writers — at the merest suggestion of disrespect.
And definitely not the fact the Patriots are filtering that hate into the idea they’re somehow underappreciated en route to their ninth Super Bowl in 17 years.
No, it’s the winning that’s permeated across the region, an inescapable poison that’s calcified our facial expressions into the smug smirks that make us so goddamn punchable. It’s this kid and his ever-expanding bragging rights sign:
It’s the fact most great underdog stories and football narratives — Donovan McNabb in 2005, the top-seeded Chargers in 2007, the Falcons and their 28-3 lead in 2017 — were cruelly ripped from this world at the hands of Brady and Bill Belichick. The Patriots are the undead horde that keeps staggering toward the rest of the NFL’s band of survivors, ever dangerous, eminently hateable, and seemingly unkillable.
It wasn’t always like this.
Rooting for the Patriots was once a struggle. New England was one of the shittiest franchises in the NFL. Literally; the old Foxboro Stadium, with its aluminum bench seats and neglected concrete shell, would occasionally eject sewage from too-small bathrooms and into concourses in an effort to make the product on the field look a little bit better by comparison.
It didn’t work. From 1960 to 1993, the franchise made only six postseason appearances. The Patriots’ high-water mark in that span was a 46-10 Super Bowl XX destruction to the Bears that saw William “Refrigerator” Perry score as many touchdowns as the entire New England offense. Selecting the Pats in Tecmo Super Bowl was effectively a declaration of your intent to lose horribly (and/or see an 8-bit John Stephens get carried off the field and put on digital injured reserve).
Drew Bledsoe’s arrival — fresh on the heels of a 2-14 season — helped, but the team was still a threat to exactly no one. You were still just as likely to find Giants fans across the Ocean State as you were Patriots fans. The classic Pat Patriot logo never graced old NFL Films VHS tapes of the league’s greatest games or best plays, only the “football follies” tapes you’d receive — along with a football phone! — when you subscribed to Sports Illustrated.
But growing up in New England means you’re no bandwagon fan, even if you switched alliances to the team in Foxborough sometime around 1997. You suffered through years and years of being the pre-Jaguars Jaguars before earning your success. You’re Andy Dufresne, reveling in freedom after crawling through 500 yards of shit to get there.
Admitting my Patriots fandom as a current resident of Wisconsin typically comes with a hedging “I know, we’re the worst.” That’s followed by a quick mention of having to watch Hugh Millen throw passes that spun like helicopter blades or seeing Bledsoe melt down in rare playoff games (he had a 6:12 TD:INT postseason ratio!) to a face that clearly checked out at several sentences earlier.
That changed. Then Tom Brady came along, and we embraced the underdog. He slayed the Greatest Show on Turf Rams. He won two more Super Bowl rings in the three years that followed. He turned the Patriots into everything New England hates by making them the Yankees of the NFL.
And we embraced that too, because winning is winning, and winning is awesome. Championships tainted by Spygate and Deflategate didn’t feel any different than the ones that came without controversy. The duck boat parades through Boston didn’t take shorter routes or have fewer people. No one sang moderately-remembered 80s hits any quieter while the rest of the world loudly accused the Patriots of playing dirty.
Instead, that galvanized us. The pressure of that hate compressed Patriots fans into a tiny ball. New England was black matter made of disrespect and “they hate us ‘cause they ain’t us” chants. If the world was going to hate the Pats no matter what, what difference did a little rule bending and some kinda-sorta-maybe cheating make?
I’d like to say Patriots fans stopped caring about how the world viewed their team beyond the five banners hanging at Gillette Stadium, but anyone daring to criticize New England on social media would easily refute that. 17 years of success weren’t enough to erase the four decades of gridiron futility that preceded it. Fans in the Northeast, ground down to dust by 87 years of an inferiority complex with New York, grew a sixth sense to detect even the slightest hint of disrespect. For a very, very long time, that’s all we knew. It’s a learned behavior — a habit we’re unable to quit.
So yeah, Patriots fans are the worst. We root for the greatest dynasty in NFL history but somehow remain insecure enough to make Tom Brady feel like an underdog heading into his ninth Super Bowl (his team is a 2.5-point favorite, by the way).
But we earned that shit. We know it, somehow, pushes our team to legendary heights. We’re still so unsatisfied we’re willing to roll 35,000 deep just to watch our team leave for its fourth Super Bowl in five seasons. A sea of families and New England scumbags alike, standing shoulder to shoulder, united in our love of one team and our hatred of everyone else’s, braved the cold just to hear Tom Brady spout some infomercial nonsense about our team, and we ate it up because NO ONE ELSE COULD EVER (EVAH) UNDERSTAND. We take nothing for granted, because we’re well aware of how easily we can become those 1960-1993 Patriots again.
Being a Patriots fan means dealing in a currency of disrespect. The hate only feeds that. And once you figure out the exchange rate, you begin to realize how rich you really are.