Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series introducing Boston’s professional sports teams. With the NFL season just getting under way, here’s a look at the New England Patriots. This piece was originally published last fall, but has been updated for the 2011-2012 season.
When I moved from the homeland of future Washington Nationals’ star Chien-Ming Wang (that would be Taiwan) to New England over ten years ago, I suppose the Patriots were my “new home team.” However, sports loyalties are complicated. My father converted (some people would say “matured”) from a Yankees fan to a Red Sox fan over the course of his life, and I’m still not sure how he did it. As the Red Sox faltered last year, I make concerted efforts to attach myself to a playoff-bound National League team (the Phillies): I wear their hat, follow them in the standings, but still struggle to attach myself to this team.
When I came to New England, I didn’t become a Patriots fan. Sure, I might have done so over the years, just as I converted to the Red Sox in 2003, leaving behind the St. Louis Cardinals. However, when St. Louis Rams’ third-string quarterback Kurt Warner soared to stardom with Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt, on a team that had seemed hopeless going into the 1999 season, I fell for the team of my early childhood. When the Rams prepared to play the Pats in February 2002, I was merciless in my trash-talking of the Patriots around my friends (all Patriots fans). When the Patriots won that Super Bowl on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri, I was deeply scarred by the loss.
Objectively, I like the Patriots. They are team-first, unselfish, and no-nonsense — much like the post-2004 (or more completely, post-Manny Ramirez) Red Sox. Everything that is wrong with pro sports, they are not. However, I do not, by any means, consider myself a Pats fan. I was in the Indianapolis Colts’ corner during the 2003 AFC Championship game at a snowy Gilette Stadium. I delighted in David Tyree’s unforgettable grab that ruined the Patriots’ perfect season in the 2008 Super Bowl. When the Ravens shocked the Patriots in last year’s wild-card matchup, I was thrilled.
I can jump on the Bruins and Celtics bandwagons, am hopelessly devoted to the Red Sox, and would even hope that the Revolution might someday beat the Houston Dynamo and capture the MLS cup if you cared to ask. I can tell you a bit about the Patriots; just don’t expect me to root for them.
The Patriots have been remarkably successful over the past ten years, a run that began with the hiring of coach Bill Belichick in 2000 from the New York Jets. Belichick is revered throughout New England for his approach to the game and his emphasis on the team ahead of the individual (for example, he would never cater to Brett Favre’s every whim and desire). He engineered three championship runs (2001, 2004, 2005) with former Michigan Wolverines’ quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots appeared destined for still greater success during the 2007 season, winning all sixteen regular season games and two playoff games before losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. Last year, the Pats secured the top seed in the AFC with a 14-2 regular-season record, but lost in their first playoff game against Jets.
This season, the Pats still face tough divisional competition. Chad Henne and the Miami Dolphins, despite being overmatched in their season opener against the Patriots, showed potential. The Jets are enthusiastic and talented; they made it to the AFC Championship game with quarterback Mark Sanchez each of the past two years. The bright spot for the Patriots is the passing offense; the receiving corps appears solid, as Wes Welker, Deion Branch, and new addition Chad Ochocinco provide superstar quarterback Tom Brady with plenty of options. The Patriots also haven’t bothered to acquire a marquis running back since Corey Dillon retired, a weakness on which some teams are sure to capitalize; running backs Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis will play a secondary role to Brady and his receivers. Defense remains a problem for the team, and the Pats will rely on their offense scoring enough points to cover up for any weaknesses.
Get to know the team
You might tunnel through a wall before you find Patriots tickets at reasonable prices while the Pats are winning (tickets start at $65 face value, but usually sold out), but they can be seen in high definition on CBS every weekend, including their second game of the season this Sunday, when they play the San Diego Chargers at 4:15 p.m.