ATMBossLiesFantasyOxygenJulioSearchRoyalsSongE(mail)Sitting at a Boston bar early last Sunday morning, Nancy Brady handed me a Grey Goose and soda and posed a simple question. As she relishes the greatest season that her younger brother, Tom, has ever enjoyed – and the success of a New England Patriots team that seems to have taken football to an ethereal level – the unfailingly upbeat Ms. Brady can't help but notice the chill coming at her from all directions.
"Why does everybody hate us?" she asked. "When we won the first Super Bowl, we were the out-of-nowhere underdogs, and everyone seemed to celebrate it. Even when we won the other two, it didn't seem like people were that against us. But now … "
She stopped and smiled before continuing: "Now people are saying, 'Break out the Dramamine.' "
OK, that was a dig. Nancy is no shrinking violet, and if you don't believe me, ask the rowdy actress who only narrowly escaped from a Gillette Stadium luxury box after incurring her wrath a few years back. In this case, she was sincerely perplexed about why her team had become the Hate-riots, and over the next half-hour I did my best to give her an honest answer.
Now, for you unlucky souls who weren't part of our festive crew at Mistral, here are the six reasons that almost everyone hates the Pats:
1. Bitter Bill: Even the most cynical of football fans will readily acknowledge that Bill Belichick is a brilliant coach whose mastery of defensive strategy, character evaluation and building a team-oriented atmosphere is unrivaled. I'm one of those people who can attest that he actually possesses a personality and, at times, a sense of humor. But as his legend has grown, Belichick, rather than bask in his accomplishments, has appeared increasingly petty, vindictive and miserable. Watching him callously shove that photographer who was blocking his path to former assistant Eric Mangini following the Pats' playoff victory over the Jets – and, after the obviously insincere hug, pushing his way past another cameraman – was a major turnoff to many fans. His joyless blowoff of the popular Tony Dungy during their postgame handshake in November, whatever his reasons, showed once again that Belichick isn't all that stressed about how others perceive him. Just as Barry Bonds' prickly nature wins him no points with media members and most fans outside of San Francisco, the lack of warmth projected by Belichick (even in relation to his typically tight peers) causes anyone not already cheering for the Patriots to resent his success.
2. Reformed Randy: Until joining the Patriots in April, wideout Randy Moss was a symbol for everything most sports fans detest. Brazenly defending his "I play when I want to play" mantra, squirting Gatorade at an official in a playoff game, walking out on his team before a game ended … Moss, in Minnesota, was hardly an endearing figure. Then he went to Oakland and got even worse, ripping his employers with regularity and openly dogging it on the field. Yet after last season, Tom Brady actively wooed Moss and, once the receiver arrived in New England, he began lauding him for being a "great teammate" and a "great leader." Very few people, outside of some judgmental wackos from the religious right, have anything negative to say about Brady, but it's disturbing to hear the greatest player in football praise Moss in such over-the-top fashion. Belichick, too, chimed in, citing Moss' "professionalism" as a reason the receiver would fit in with the Patriots. Even worse has been listening to the rationalizations of most Pats fans, who would absolutely detest Moss were he a) on another team or b) on their team in a pickup game. Which brings us to …
3. Patriot Propaganda: Somehow, it's not enough that New England has the best owners, coach and quarterback, not to mention an accomplished talent evaluator (Scott Pioli) and a slew of really, really good players who understand and follow their assignments. The Pats also have to proclaim that their culture is superior. (And please, spare me your emails claiming this is a media creation; I've got the quotes to back it up.) It's true that the Patriots have a solid locker room full of respected leaders, and that's a major reason guys like Moss and Corey Dillon have put aside turbulent pasts and thrived in that environment. But this whole "winning with class" thing? Barf. First of all, the Pats talk plenty on the field – even Brady (Tom, not Nancy) got into with some Steelers last Sunday, the way Joe Montana used to in his early years. They talk trash before and after games as well, though usually under the guise that they were provoked by an opponent's disrespectful words. They also taunt; just ask LaDainian Tomlinson, who took such great offense to the postgame behavior of some Pats players after their playoff victory at San Diego in January that he called Belichick "classless." Never mind whether LT's comments were justified; just know that many outside observers – and players for other NFL teams – are of the opinion that the Pats' holier-than-thou self-image is garbage.
4. Dynasty Disease: Some of the negativity toward the Pats is a simple result of their amazing run of excellence, and in an era that is supposed to have built-in mechanisms against such sustained prosperity. Since the merger, at various times, the Cowboys, 49ers, Steelers and other big winners have felt the wrath of the masses purely for seeming unbeatable, in the same way that Notre Dame, the Yankees and the Lakers and Celtics have in their respective realms. Call it jealousy, boredom, a natural tendency to root for the underdog or a combination of all three – whatever. The bottom line is that the Pats have become so dominant that many fans of other teams are eager to see them fall.
5. Spygate Surliness: You didn't think we'd skip over the great scandal of 2007, did you? It's true that some people flat-out hate the Pats because, after a team employee was caught videotaping the Jets' coaches giving signals from the sidelines in the season opener despite a clear directive from the league banning such acts, they view Belichick as a cheater whose previous successes are thus tainted in the same way Bonds' (and now, apparently, Roger Clemens' and so many others' in baseball) were. But I'd say a larger group reviles Belichick and, to some degree, his players for the way they've reacted to "Spygate." Though he was fined $500,000 by the NFL, and the organization was docked another $250,000 and a first-round draft choice, Belichick never came clean. The coach tried to hide behind a technicality while insisting he hadn't intentionally violated the rule. Then, beginning with the team's Week 2 blowout of the Chargers, the Pats adopted an attitude that cast themselves as the aggrieved party – a "how-dare-you-question-our-excellence?" middle finger to the world.
6. Obnoxious Overkill: There has been a great deal of debate as to whether the Pats have run up the score in some of their lopsided victories, and rather than get into the validity of such charges, I'm simply going to note that the perception exists. It was one thing to score a gratuitous touchdown against the Cowboys, probably the league's second-most-hated franchise. But when New England appeared to pour it on against Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs in a 52-7 thrashing of the Redskins, a lot of people thought Belichick and his players were rubbing it in – and it rubbed them the wrong way. Again, it would be one thing if a team were perceived as running up scores against overmatched opponents. But when that team also attempts to position itself as the emblem of class, expect a serious backlash from the masses.
So there you have it: That's the best I can offer in the way of explanation. When I finished my soliloquy, Nancy Brady shook her head sadly. "I've been waiting for a dream season like this for so long," she said. "Tommy finally has these incredible players around him, and he's putting up numbers that silence all the people who always took shots at him for not having the stats. And we're undefeated. I just want to enjoy it."
So enjoy it, I told her. Who cares what anyone else thinks?
She shrugged, turned to the bartender and ordered a "Grey Goose and Haterade." Or maybe she didn't. The important thing is, she was smiling once more … as she should have been.