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February 15, 2008
Seeing The Patriots In A Different Light
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

It's not likely that, if you were in attendance at Aloha Stadium on Sunday, you were one of the many in the crowd who booed the Patriots.

But after seeing the Super Bowl, did you want to?

It's been an interesting week-plus since the debacle in Arizona, where the Patriots suffered the most mind-numbing defeat in team history. The Patriots took a rare opportunity to go 19-0, a chance which was a virtual lock given how superior the Patriots were on paper to the New York Giants, and completely and totally gagged. The Patriots allowed the Giants to beat them in virtually every phase of the game, and the 17-14 win by the Giants relegated the 2007 Patriots to the status of the "worst 18-1 team in NFL history".

The Patriots at one time used to be known for chokes, a la the Red Sox. Back in the 1970s, the Patriots figured to win more than they did. Ben Dreith's bad call in 1976 at Oakland scuttled the best hope at glory, but the 1977 and 1978 teams grossly underachieved. Chuck Fairbanks and his exodus to Colorado pretty much did in the 1978 team, but it was still a great team which could not beat Houston in the playoffs at home. And don't forget the 1980 team, which won 10 games but failed to make the playoffs because they did not play just a little bit better when they needed to.

But this choke tops them all. No Patriot fan claiming sanity expected the Patriots to lose the Super Bowl. This is not to take anything away from the Giants and their win. The Giants deserved to win Super Bowl XLII one hundred percent. But to bet against the Patriots winning the game was foolhardy at best.

And it has to have left you with the most foul taste in your mouth this side of castor oil. You can make wistful with all the wonderful October thoughts the Red Sox gave you as they opened camp in Fort Myers this week. But the bad taste from the Patriots will not go away. Your state of shock may have passed, but the mere thought of your Patriots going 18-0 and not going 19-0 is awfully tough to accept.

It also may have changed the way you perceive this team. The national opinion of this team is down in the gutter. What is your opinion of them? Only a little bit better?

What is tough to do in these days following the Super Bowl is watching features and game films on the Super Bowls the Patriots did win, and balancing those memories with the fresher and harsher memories of a week ago Sunday. It may have caused you to view the Patriots differently, just as Super Bowl XXXVI forever caused you to look at the Patriots as a first class organization or the 2004 World Series caused you to stop looking at the Red Sox as chokers.

At the epicenter of all this potential reputation fallout has to be Bill Belichick. He has undergone a tough year as head coach, which is rather odd considering he came within 39 seconds of skippering a 19-0 championship team. For someone who came within an eyelash of authoring the finest coaching season in NFL history, Belichick will instead be more remembered for his problems than his accomplishments.

The year began with the SpyGate controversy, and it still won't go away. Despite his paying the heaviest fine in league history and his team losing one of its first round draft picks, this subject came up again during Super Bowl week. Senator Arlen Specter (R -- Penn.) questioned NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on why he destroyed evidence, and questioned the validity of the Patriot win over the Senator's favorite team in Super Bowl XXXIX. Then the league began making eyes at former Patriot video assistant Matt Walsh, and whether or not the Patriots videotaped the final walkthrough for the Rams at Super Bowl XXXVI. Belichick's huffy exit at the end of the Super Bowl didn't exactly help his national perception.

So here are two Super Bowl wins that are being called into question. How does this make you feel, especially when you see Belichick and the Patriots in all these America's Team features on the NFL Network? Do you at all feel that any or all of the previous Super Bowl wins were tainted? At any point do you think the Patriot legacy is not really what it is?

If not, then you might be feeling other adverse feelings. Like how painful it is to watch the Patriots when they did close the deal one week after they failed to win the Super Bowl for the first time under Belichick's watch. Instead of watching with pride with "we did it again!" thoughts that might be coursing through the subconscious of your brain, you look at these banner seasons and are reminded that a perfect season went up in flames, along with what seemed to be a sure championship to boot.

Even worse, you may be thinking along these lines: What if the Patriots one day again go 18-0 and come within one game of going perfect? How will you feel then? Skeptical? Indifferent? Cynical? Will you ever trust the Patriots to come through with the big win like you used to? This is now the third year in a row the Patriots suffered a playoff loss where a win was expected (yes, even three years ago in Denver, many experts figured the Patriots would win). The "magical" days of the Patriots could very well be a thing of the past.

People were looking at Bill Parcells differently because he never won a Super Bowl without Belichick. Now, Belichick has not won a Super Bowl without Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. This is not to suggest that anyone out there wants Belichick to retire tomorrow, but it is something to chew on. Belichick remains the best in the business, but things would be better if these controversies that dog Belichick go away permamently, and that Belichick gets his next Vince and soon.

You perhaps think that nothing at all is wrong other than one measly loss in the biggest game of the year. It could be that you look at Super Bowl XLII as a minor blip on the radar screen, and that next year things will be okay. The Patriot dynasty is by no means a thing of the past, though the defense does need some retooling and reconfiguring. The Patriots are already favorites to win Super Bowl XLIII. You might just be able to put this year's debacle behind you and move on.

But make no mistake. The Patriots had a chance at a real unique NFL legacy and simply blew it. And it is tough to look back at all the good memories without thinking about what the Patriots let get away in 2007.

The best thing that could happen to the Patriots in 2008 would be for them to lose, and lose early. Not a lot of losses, of course, but maybe one or two losses to keep them in contention for a playoff bye. Then the Patriots could focus only on winning the Super Bowl and not going for perfection. It was a cruel lesson for all to learn, that a Super Bowl win will always be more important than trying to become the first 19-0 team in NFL history.

Only when that next Super Bowl win comes will everything be right again.


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