In the last twenty years or so of watching The New England Patriots, I have learned to never count out the team that Bill Belichick is coaching. I learned this lesson quite literally at the Super Bowl in 2017 between the Patriots and Falcons, when the Falcons led 21-3 at halftime and 28-3 towards the end of the third quarter. I took a lot of verbal and physical abuse merely walking to the bathroom at halftime of that game, enough so that between the uncomfortable altercations and the performance of my team on the field, I considered leaving the game early a la Mark Wahlberg.
But I decided to stay, and I was rewarded for it. What was deemed a statistical near impossibility (the odds of a Patriots comeback were literally 1 in 1000 according to statisticians) ended up happening before my very eyes. I witnessed what was perhaps the most amazing moment in sports history, or what was at least the greatest comeback on the world’s greatest stage.
Indeed, I have been fortunate to witness many such moments throughout my life as a Boston sports fan. There was the Red Sox coming back from down 3-0 in the ALCS against the hated New York Yankees, a team that eventually won its first World Series since 1917. There were championships by the Celtics and my favorite Boston team of all, the Bruins. For most of my adult life, all four major teams in Boston have been perennial contenders.
But this was not the case for the first fifteen years or so of my life. The Red Sox – who had not won a title since 1917 – were a doormat in the American League. The Celtics were suffering a hangover from the many great years of seasons past and fielded some of the worst teams in the history of basketball. The Patriots were so bad that the ownership almost moved the team out of Massachusetts. And the Bruins had not won a Stanley Cup since the early 70s.
A couple weeks ago, I watched The New England Patriots get completely dismantled at home by one of the worst teams in the league, The Denver Broncos. It was something I was not really used to seeing. After all, the Patriots had always succeeded no matter what personnel was in the game. This was still true even when Tom Brady was injured in 2008, as the team still went on to finish 11-5 under the tutelage of backup quarterback Matt Cassel. I have been accustomed to yelling some pleasantries at my television over the years, but rarely have I found myself doing it through the entirety of a game.
I was eager to write that loss off as an aberration. After all, the team had not practiced for two weeks due to some players testing positive for COVID. Indeed, many key personnel were missing from the game as a result of COVID. But this past weekend, I witnessed history repeating itself when the mediocre San Francisco 49ers came into Foxboro and issued my team a 33-6 defeat. The entire team – which looked so virile not long ago in a performance against the Las Vegas Raiders – now looked completely impotent, with former superstars Cam Newton and Julian Edelman appearing completely ineffectual.
Is it time to call Boston “Loserville” again?
I have been seeing a lot of pundits suggesting that this may be the case, and I would be lying if I said I was not concerned. But it seems a little premature to go that far at this juncture. Let me explain.
First and foremost, we should look at The Boston Celtics. This is a team that has been to the Eastern Conference Finals now for 3 of the past 4 seasons, including this past season. That is a pretty impressive feat, even in an NBA where players like LeBron James seem to monopolize finals appearances and trophies. Moreover, the team has a fantastic young core of players that only seem to be getting better and better, one of the best young coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, and perhaps the best General Manager in Danny Ainge. It is safe to say that the Celtics will be in contention for many years to come.
From there, we can go to my favorite team, The Boston Bruins. Fans were disappointed that this team could not make it out of the second round of the playoffs a year after losing a heartbreaking Stanley Cup Game 7 to the Saint Louis Blues. Moreover, the core of the team is aging and the window appears to be closing to make a run at the Cup, at least with the personnel who have kept them competitive over the last decade. Team leader Zdeno Chara remains unsigned and could very well leave the team or retire. Meanwhile, other top defenseman Torey Krug left in free agency to play for the Blues.
Scrutiny over the Bruins stems largely from a fanbase that has the utmost expectations for its teams. Truth be told, next year’s roster will not look very different, and that is a good thing when you are the team that wins the President’s Trophy, awarded to the team with the best regular-season record. With a plethora of young talent rising the ranks that should be NHL-ready this upcoming season, the Bruins are primed for several more great seasons as they still have the best top line in hockey and perhaps the best goaltender as well in Tuukka Rask.
The Red Sox were one of the worst teams in baseball this past season. Something people seem to forget about the Red Sox is that they have a habit of fluctuating quite drastically between best and worst in the league. They have won championships in 2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018, and yet in many of the years immediately preceding or following those championship years, you will find them fielding teams that were amongst the worst in the league. This is my way of saying that Boston as a market is too big to fail in baseball. The Red Sox at this point are a global brand and its ownership cannot afford to have too many losing seasons. Yes, the sting of losing a franchise player like Mookie Betts hurts, but it does not mean the Red Sox will not go out and spend money. We know they will and we know they cannot keep this team in the basement for too long without literal riots on Causeway Street.
That leaves us with The New England Patriots. I would love to be able to say that I know how the rest of the season will unfold, but I am not so sure any more. Some pundits say the Patriots are buyers at the trade deadline and will acquire a wide receiver. Others say they are sellers and that Stephon Gilmore will be on the move. The next week will be telling as far as what it means for this season. But beyond this season – Brady or not – it is hard to argue with the results of an ownership group and a head coach that has continuously gotten the most out of every player they bring into the fold. It is hard to watch twenty years of unparalleled success and a dynasty that might never be rivaled again and then say that you think not even a sliver of it could be repeated once more. The Patriots had the most opt-outs in the NFL due to COVID and they will receive those reinforcements back next year, primarily to a defense that was once by far the most dominant in the NFL. All this to say, it may or may not be a down year, but it’s difficult to say authoritatively that this is the end for the greatest mastermind in all of sports history, Bill Belichick.
Some may read this and say I am a homer. Maybe I am. Maybe I have not come to terms with a harsh reality. There is enough vitriol going around these days, and I guess all I can say is that I am glad that a lot less of it seems to be directed at Boston’s sports teams. I will know things are good again – for all of us – when people have the energy to feel that way again.