Yesterday I touched down in my hometown of Portland, Maine. As I stepped off the plane, the anticipation around me was palpable. The Patriots logo appeared everywhere around me — scarves, hats, gloves, coffee mugs, cell phone covers, jackets, sweatshirts, earrings, everywhere you could possibly think. For 24 hours, I was back in Pats nation. I was home.
Today I’m back in New York City. Back to being one of the hated fortunate few. Back to crowding into my bar surrounded by fellow Pats fans, ready to cheer our team on every single play, every single minute. Being in Pats Nation, and then being back here and seeing the stares at my Corey Dillon jersey made me realize something.
It made me realize why we win.
It’s easy to view this Super Bowl as a storming of the castle. The scrappy rebels uprising against the throne, here to steal the crown from the head of the King. To dethrone the Monarch once and for all. I’d say those are my words, but they’re the words of Eagles Right Tackle Lane Johnson.
“Hey, Tom Brady. Pretty boy Tom Brady. He’s the best quarterback of all time, so, nothing I’d like to do more than dethrone that guy.”
While the ABC News article I read that quote opens by saying “The Eagles aren’t putting Tom Brady or the New England Patriots on a pedestal”, Lane Johnson just proved otherwise. He throned Tom Brady. Johnson, the Eagles, the Media, everyone have already decided that the Patriots are the rulers in this story. To them, this is a David vs. Goliath tale and they’re approaching it accordingly. There’s just one problem:
This is not a David vs. Goliath story.
Any Given Sunday
Every year when the season begins, the Patriots are at or near the top of the power rankings. In the eyes of the league their past performance proves their right at the top of the food chain each and every year. For 31 teams, no matter how many statements to the contrary, they have one eye on New England. The expectation is that at some point, you’ll be playing New England in the playoffs. The NFC too. They assume the Pats will be their Super Bowl opponent. The league expects to be a challenger to New England’s supremacy.
Someone should really tell New England.
Why do the Patriots win every single year? Because unlike everyone else, they don’t look at past performance as an indicator of future success. Bill Belichick‘s “We’re on to [literally anyone]” isn’t just a great catchphrase, it’s a philosophy. Everyone loves to say the words “any given Sunday” as a way to say “anyone can beat the Patriots”. The Patriots use “any given Sunday” to say “we can beat anyone.” Do you see the difference? Any given Sunday, the Pats fight to add another victory to the win column. The other team tries to steal a win from the Patriots. When you place someone higher than yourself, you have to not only fight to beat them, you have to beat your own image of them as well.
The Patriots are in your head. You’re not in theirs.
You worry about the Patriots. You stress about the Patriots. Pittsburgh lost to Jacksonville because they couldn’t stop talking about the Patriots. Jacksonville lost to the Patriots because they rested, for just a second, when they needed to press on the gas. The Patriots win because the only thing in their head is football. A win in week 6 doesn’t mean a win in week 7. An undefeated start to the season doesn’t predict a Super Bowl berth. A Super Bowl victory in 2017 doesn’t mean a Lombardi in 2018. The Patriots approach every season like they might go 0-16. Everyone else approaches a season assuming the Pats’ll win 11.
The fans are the same way. “Patriots fans are spoiled.” “They’re entitled.” “They’re bored of winning.”
No we’re not.
We are never bored of winning, because we approach it the same way our team does. Any given Sunday, the Pats need to fight for their win over every opponent. We celebrate each and every victory because we’ve bought into the Patriots Way. We don’t buy into the team’s mystique that the rest of the league has, we view ourselves as equally capable of losing as we are winning.
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The misrepresentation of Rocky IV
Eagles fans (and Stallone himself) are pointing to their team as Rocky, and painting the Patriots as Ivan Drago. The Patriots, are treating both teams like Balboa. That’s why they’ll win. That’s why we’ll bring home the Lombardi tonight. The Eagles think they’re here to “dethrone” the Patriots. The Pats view the Eagles as equals. Both teams start at 0 points, and even if you score 14 in the first 10 minutes, all that matters is the score at the final whistle. Also the original comparison is wrong. Which team’s NFL history shows a pattern of taking a large beating, going down early in the match, but showing resilience and grit to knock out their opponent with just seconds to go in the Final Round?
It’s certainly not the Eagles.
Victory is earned, not a right
Tonight the battle for the Lombardi will be waged. Both these teams have earned the right to compete for the final victory. Being the #1 seed in the AFC/NFC is no easy task, and neither of these teams is under or overmatched. They have their strengths, they have their weaknesses, and when the final whistle blows, however long that takes, one team will have earned the right to hoist the Lombardi.
If the Eagles lose, they’ll bemoan missing their opportunity to defeat Goliath. They’ll talk about how they missed their opportunity to prove themselves worthy of taking down the best. They’ll spend time looking at tape, figuring out what went wrong. If the Patriots lose they’ll talk about how they weren’t worthy to win, against a better opponent. Then they’ll start getting ready for Week 1. Because the Patriots know that any given Sunday they have to earn their victories. Everyone else thinks that any given Sunday they have to earn the right to take on the Patriots.
The NFL, the Eagles, and their fans are focused on the fifteen straight ten win seasons, the five Lombardi trophies the Patriots have won since 2001, and how this will make their sixth. The Patriots are focused on just one. This one. They’ll think about the other five in the offseason.
Everyone spends so much time making the Patriots out to be Goliath, they forget to be David.
That’s why the Patriots win, and that’s why they’ll bring home the Lombardi tonight.