The Evil Empire has stood at the mountaintop for ages, defying the NFL’s rotating wheel of success. It’s unnatural, it’s unprecedented, and it’s so incredibly infuriating. Patriot success seems inevitable year after year, and it is easy to become resigned to that fate as a fan. It’s hard to keep the faith. I would know.
I grew up in northeastern Connecticut, right on the border of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, prime Patriots territory. In my young nineteen years of life, I’ve grown up through the Patriots dynasty and been surrounded by New England diehards all my life. When I was just two years old, Brady won his first Super Bowl against the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams. Who knew at that time that New England would soon grow into the most dominant dynasty in the history of professional sports.
Those weren’t the dark ages then. The most trying times were ahead in recent memory. But let’s backtrack to some of the good moments for fans of the 31 other clubs in the NFL.
My very first memory as a football fan came the night of Super Bowl XLII, the undefeated New England Patriots vs. the underdog New York Giants. Earlier in the season, my small eight-year-old self had picked up a children’s book from the library written by Tiki Barber, star Giants running back at the time.
I had been indifferent to football before this. In fact, I kind of hated football. I distinctly remember trying to pry my dad off the couch each Sunday afternoon to play catch with no avail. In hindsight, I can’t blame him at all, right? I might fill those same shoes one day. But after I read Tiki Barber’s children’s book I decided to become a Giants fan from that point forward. (Apparently, Tiki and Ronde Barber have written a collection of kids books, so I couldn’t find which one I read.)
And as fate would have it, my first season of NFL fandom resulted in the most storied finale in Giants franchise history. Of course, I was not as invested in the game action as I am now; plus, I was still trying to pick up the rules and nuances of the game, but it was still pretty freaking cool. I vaguely remember David Tyree’s helmet catch, although I couldn’t appreciate its greatness at the time. I know I went to bed really excited, and it probably took me a while to fall asleep.
My dad, Bills fan for life, still makes jokes to this day about how I was 1 for 1 in terms of Super Bowls and years of fandom while he’s still 0 for 50 with Buffalo. After three more seasons, when I was eleven, I decided to convert. I made the decision myself and became a Bills fan prior to the 2011 season. I didn’t face any pressure from my dad. In fact, it was quite the opposite. He was adamant that I should keep being a Giants fan or even convert to the Patriots.
Looking back on it, he was probably looking out for me. He didn’t want me to suffer the same pain he did in the ’90s. It was an unselfish act of unconditional love on his part. Unfortunately, I was too foolish to listen. I think my adolescent self probably just wanted to be like my father.
My dad grew up in the suburbs of Buffalo with three brothers and adopted the Bills as his team. As far as I’m concerned, I have no real ties to the city of Buffalo. My dad’s side of my extended family still lives there, but I visit infrequently, and I can’t say I know the city too well. It doesn’t matter though. Looking back on it, I think I made the best decision I could’ve made. Most importantly, I’m not associated with the pretentious crowd of Pats nation.
For one, I’ve grown up with a bit of grit and I know failure, unlike my Patriot fan peers. To get a feel of the spoiled nature and privilege of Pats fans, one has to be subject to their environment. And what more perfect environment than a high school of teenage Bostonians growing up in the midst of the title town era. It’s a perfect experiment, and it’s incredible what observations are to be made.
All bases of sports fans are cults, but I’d make the case that New England’s is especially volatile. Being a Bills fan in New England puts you at the butt end of every joke. That’s understandable. I get it. I can handle it in stride.
My fascination is what the drug of success does to these young fans: bloated egos, feeling indestructible, incredible overreactions to the smallest of hiccups on the road. It can be torture observing from the inside, and there’s only one thing that can give me solace: tuning into Patriots sports talk radio the Monday after a loss. It’s hard not to snicker listening to the personalities gripe about the impending doom of the organization. New England sports radio really is a different world.
Honestly, I’m worried for these fans. Especially the generation of kids my age that know nothing other than Brady, Belichick, and Super Bowl rings. All good things must come to an end, and I can’t wait to see what happens when the Patriots dynasty finally crumbles. Will they be able to cope with failure in the sports world? I think not.
With that thought, I can’t overstate the importance of Sunday’s game for the future of the AFC East hierarchy. If the Bills somehow pull out a victory, they will have proven they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. I wish the Patriots and their fanbase the best of luck Sunday afternoon. They will surely need it.