By: Bob George/
August 29, 2010

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The Red Sox have the Yankees. The Celtics have the Lakers. The Bruins have the Canadiens.

The Patriots have the Jets. No, they have the Colts. No, they have the Steelers. No, they have the Raiders. No, they have the Dolphins. No, they have...oh, never mind.

They don't have anybody, and they have everybody. Is that about right?

It's really hard to tell what the "grudge match" is that the Patriots have to face each year. Because of their rise to national prominence, they have become a "hated team" in the eyes of many outside of the six-state area, and no one team stands out. For instance, the Ohio teams hate each other ("You don't live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati!" are the immortal words from former Bengal coach Sam Wyche; Paul Brown never forgave Art Modell for how he took over the Browns team he created). Dallas and Washington hate each other as much as the real cowboys and injuns did in all your favorite John Wayne westerns, and in real life as well. Da Bears and the Packers are the longest running rivalry in NFL history, and no matter how well or badly those teams are doing, they are always big doin's in the upper Midwest twice every fall.

But the Patriots don't really have this sort of rivalry which is tied solely into one team. Instead, they have a lot of micro-rivalries, you might say. We'll do our best to portray each of them, and state their cases as to why they should or shouldn't be the Sparta to New England's Athens.


Why they should be Before there were the Patriots, the Giants were the team to root for in these parts. This changed gradually in the 1960s with the advent of the Patriots, and more completely in the 1970s when the Patriots moved to Foxborough and UHF reception came in better in western New England (the Giants came in great on VHF television in Hartford and Springfield). Every time the Patriots and Giants play, which isn't that often, it sparks a lot of interest in New England. And then there's that little game in Arizona which prevented a 19-0 season a few years ago. That devastating loss should have expunged any sentimental feelings for the Giants from years gone by.

Why they should not be They're in another conference, for one thing. They have teams in the NFC East which worry them a lot more than the Patriots do. Literally every divisional game they play is high anxiety. Good thing that the Cowboys and Redskins hate each other worse than they hate the Giants. There also may be some older hard line fans who still cannot let go of the days of Allie Sherman, Homer Jones, Spider Lockhart and Bob Tucker to the point where even the Super Bowl XLII loss still cannot make them forget those old Giants.


Why they should be Year after year of scheduling flukes (like Indianapolis, which we will talk about in a bit) kept pitting the Patriots against the Broncos every year through the 1990s and 2000s. And the Broncos simply owned the Patriots during the John Elway era. Elway, Terrell Davis and a host of other Broncos never lost to the Patriots in their career. From 1984 to 1998 the Broncos were 11-0 against the Patriots. Since 1998 the Patriots are 4-5 against the Broncos. The Patriots are 0-2 against the Broncos in the playoffs, both games being played in Denver. They played each other every year from 1995 to 2003. This is a team that simply had the Patriots' number, and the Patriots had no answer for anything the Broncos threw at them.

Why they should not be These teams simply don't hate each other. It was more frustration than deep seeded hatred which was the prevailing emotion in this matchup. The Bronco fan base seemed to be mostly good sports, rabid fans who love their team but didn't really begrudge you for your love of your own team (though the same cannot be said for some of their local sports writers). Besides, Elway didn't win the whole thing until the final two seasons of his career, and Davis was the real reason Elway got his rings, not Elway himself.


Why they should be Start with Jack Tatum and Ben Dreith and go from there. You might also throw in a Charles Woodson too. Tatum, who passed away recently, is perhaps the most hated Patriot opponent in franchise history for his vicious preseason hit on Darryl Stingley in 1978 which left the Patriot wideout a quadriplegic. Tatum represented everything evil about the Raiders and their dirty style of football, though Tatum's hit on Stingley was legal. Then you had Dreith's horrid roughing the passer call on Raymond Hamilton which stole a 1976 playoff win from the Patriots. The Patriots got back at the Raiders in 2001 with the Tuck Rule game, which negated Woodson's fumble recovery late in that playoff game. But basically you look at the Raiders and think about nothing else other than hate.

Why they should not be Since the Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay in 2002, the Raiders have been the armpit of the NFL. Drafting quarterback JaMarcus Russell out of LSU was a draft bust of Ryan Leaf proportions. Simply stated, the Raiders have been a lousy team and a lousy organization, handicapped by a long standing owner (Al Davis) who will not step aside nor acknowledge that the game passed him by a long time ago. The glory days of the Raiders are a bygone era, and it will be a long time before this team reaches prosperity ever again, with or without Richard Seymour.


Why they should be Division rivalry is the primary reason, without question. Dolphin fans believe that, thanks to the 17-0 1972 season, excellence in Dolphin football is an entitlement. They cannot deal with the fact that the Dolphins have not won a darned thing since Super Bowl VIII. Dan Marino lost the Super Bowl in his second season and never made it back to the big game, and the fan base cannot come to grips with that. Whenever things go well for the Patriots, the Dolphins and their fans still treat it as something unfathomable. There has never been any respect at all for the Patriots that has emanated from Miami. On the field, the teams play generally even. From 1986 to 1993, the teams went through a strange stretch where the Patriots won seven in a row, then Miami won nine in a row. Since the Bill Parcells Patriots came into prominence in 1994 through the 2009 season, the Patriots are 18-16 against Miami including the postseason. Even in prosperity, the Dolphins play the Patriots tough; the 29-28 Monday night loss at Miami in 2004 is still hard to explain. The home loss in 2008 which unveiled the Wildcat offense was an ambush of epic proportions, and it was of the most ingenious opposing game plans in recent memory.

Why they should not be There are simply more teams the Patriots hate worse than Miami. Part of the problem has already been stated, that being the Dolphin history is not as good as south Floridians make it out to be. Marino's career was big numbers and zero championships, which is a huge disappointment for the Hall of Famer and his team. It could be said that Bob Griese had a better career than Marino had. Since Marino's teams were never the high achieving teams they might or should have been, it's hard to hate Miami as much as you would need to to portray them as a villainous rival. But Miami is a rival nonetheless, make no mistake.


Why they should be Again it goes back to the fans, and in this case the players themselves. While Patriot Nation to this day concedes the Giants played the better game in Super Bowl XLII, Steeler Nation will never concede the Patriots anything in the two AFC Championship Games the Patriots won at Heinz Field. Kordell Stewart made with his "Sometimes, the best team doesn't win!" diatribe after the 24-17 Patriot win in 2001, to go along with disgusted fans who had to sell their Super Bowl tickets and players who condemned the Steeler special teams instead of praising the Patriots. The Patriots walloped the Steelers in 2004, 41-27 in the AFC title game after the Steelers had ended the Patriots' 21-game win streak earlier that year on Halloween. Guys like Joey Porter condemned the Patriots instead of praised them, and the Steelers felt like it was their birthright to win that game too, especially after the convincing regular season win.

Why they should not be The Steelers have much more trouble with the AFC North than to worry about the Patriots every year. Since 1997 the Patriots are 7-4 against the Steelers, including 3-1 in the playoffs, and the only loss was the 7-6 game at Three Rivers Stadium where future Patriot Mike Vrabel strip-sacked Drew Bledsoe to seal the win. The Patriots have had the better of things between the two teams, both on the field and off. This is more about the Steelers and their fans being bad sports. Steeler Nation should be much more concerned about Baltimore than they should the Patriots.


Manning & Company have always played the Patriots tough over the years. (PHOTO: Icon/SMI)
Why they should be Worse than the Broncos, it seems that the Colts seemingly never left the AFC East. These teams are always playing each other. Going beyond the obvious rivalry of Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning, the Patriots had Manning figured out cold until the 20-3 Patriot win over the Colts in the 2004 Divisional playoff at Foxborough. Since that game, the Colts are 5-1 against the Patriots including the playoffs. You have the meltdown in the 2006 AFC Championship Game, the phantom penalty call on David Thomas, and Fourth And Two. You have to go back to 2002 to mark the last time these two teams did not play each other in either the regular or post season. These teams have emerged as the Celtics-Lakers of the NFL, the best matchup the league has to offer.

Why they should not be Maybe you still feel sorry for the city of Baltimore that the Colts bolted in 1984, which remains one of the most insidious acts an owner has ever perpetrated on their city (ditto for Modell and the Browns in 1995). Since the Bill Belichick era began in 2000, the Patriots have won three Super Bowls, the Colts only one. Manning is more like Marino than Brady in that he is famous for big numbers but not famous for lots of championships. The Colts threw away their chance at a perfect season in 2009 late in the season, and you almost felt sorry for them. From 1993 to 2005, the Patriots were 17-4 against the Colts. If there is one thing that the Colts lack in being a true grudge rival, other than being in another division, it is that they do not hail from New York.


Why they should be New York, and stop it right there. Actually, you might still hate Parcells for what he did in 1996 by bolting the Patriots, then in 1998 for stealing Curtis Martin, both cases involving intervention from then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the Patriots getting draft choices in return which all turned out to be busts. Then we stole Belichick from them and they got Shaun Ellis for their trouble. These two teams hate each other, and only Brady actually verbalized it. Rex Ryan is now the comic relief, coming up with the most unbelievable press conference sound bytes this side of Jim "Playoffs?!?!" Mora. The overall series stands at 50-50-1. Now that's a rivalry.

Why they should not be Here is the problem with the Jets being the hated enemy. Since their epic win over the Colts in Super Bowl III, the Jets really haven't done much of anything at all. They have languished as an afterthought in a city which worships the Giants and views them as the real NY team. Despite all that Parcells did to the Patriots in the late 1990s, all the Jets got for their trouble was an AFC Championship Game loss to Denver. Martin curses the Patriots but never got a ring while his ex-teammates won three. The Jets remain mostly about mediocrity. They don't have the championship pedigree of the Yankees, Lakers and Canadiens. Despite all the hatred between New York and Boston, the Patriots have more reason to hate the Colts than they do the Jets. But the Colts cannot boast about recent years any more than the Jets can, and the Patriots can outboast both of them.

So unless the Jets take it to the house this year, or the Colts finish the job like they should have last year against the Saints, you still don't have a clear cut single enemy for the Patriots. And even if one of these two teams does win a Vince in 2010, there simply is more history on the side of the Patriots in recent years. And even if you go back to the merger, there is no clear winner. The Colts' best years were in the late 1950s, and it was the Colts the Jets beat in Super Bowl III.

If forced to make a choice, this writer chooses the Colts by a razor's edge. But it's still the Patriots against the world, and maybe it's better that way.