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The team everyone loves to hate, Patriots in fact offer much to emulate

Why We Wrote This

From their famous work ethic to their steely mental discipline to their success working together as a team, the NFL champs have given a model for how to succeed.

Mike Segar/Reuters
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrated his team’s win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta Feb. 3.

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With six Super Bowl rings, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady now needs both hands to display them all. And Coach Bill Belichick, who already held the record for most Super Bowl victories as a head coach before Sunday, is now tied for all NFL championships, including those before the advent of the Super Bowl.

I’m not gloating, but here’s the point: Forget for a moment how obnoxious Patriots fans can be and how boring it’s become to see the Patriots in the Super Bowl year in and year out (almost). Instead, try to tap into what makes them so great. Study their work ethic, their ability to bounce back after a bad play or a loss, their success working as a team.

Brady is famous for his conditioning, his diet, and his competitive spirit, undiminished at the age of 41. Brady knows there’s nothing he can do about the haters. And when asked by a young fan last week how he deals with them, his answer was simple: “We love them back.”

This is a gloat-free zone. I promise.

Super Bowl LIII was a tad anticlimactic (boring, even) after all the hype – and for most of the nation, a huge disappointment. Jared Goff, the Los Angeles Rams’ young quarterback, and Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in the National Football League, were no match for the seasoned savants of New England, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

At 13-3, the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history, at least it wasn’t a blowout. But there’s no denying the other records: Now with six Super Bowl rings, Patriots quarterback Brady needs both hands to display them all. And Coach Belichick, who already held the record for most Super Bowl victories as a head coach before Sunday, is now tied at six with George Halas and Curly Lambeau for all NFL championships, including those before the advent of the Super Bowl.

Again, I’m not gloating, just setting the stage. Here’s the real point: Don’t hate; emulate. Don’t waste all that time and mental energy wishing curses upon the Patriots. Study their work ethic, their ability to bounce back after a bad play or a loss, their success working as a team.

Or to quote Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, appearing on CNN Monday morning after staying up all night, “Why you gotta hate? Collaborate.”

Dale Zanine/USA Today
New England Patriots linebacker Brandon King lies down in the confetti after winning Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta Feb. 3.

Team owner Robert Kraft is another key ingredient. He loves his players and coaches and lets everyone do their job. He also sees parallels between his success with the Patriots and with his other ventures.

“Even when you’re running a business, keeping continuity and having people keep their egos under control” is key, Mr. Kraft told CNBC last week. “It’s almost two decades we’ve been able to keep this thing running together.”

The Patriots drafted Brady and hired Belichick in 2000, and in just their second season together, they brought home the Vince Lombardi Trophy – the first NFL championship for a long-benighted team in a city spoiled by sports success. Suddenly, they were worth watching. I will never forget going to my one and only Patriots game, pre-Brady/Belichick, sitting in the stands in Foxborough in miserable sleet and watching them lose and thinking, “Never again.” Now, assuming Brady comes back next season as promised, I’d fly up from DC in a nanosecond.

Kraft also points out that Brady isn’t the highest-paid player in the league – far from it. Forbes ranks him at No. 8.

“The most important thing to him is to win and not to make money,” said Kraft, who is limited by the league’s salary cap in what he can pay his players. “It’s not like, whatever we don’t pay him, we put in our pocket. We use it to make the rest of the team better.”

Not that Brady is hurting for cash. In the 2018 season, he stood to earn $29 million, including salary, bonuses, and endorsements.

But there’s a more important life lesson in the Brady story: Work as hard as you can from Day One, and when given the chance to show your stuff, be ready. In 2000, he was drafted in the sixth round, 199th overall, and hardly looked like a future Hall of Famer. In the 2001 season, after an injury to the Pats’ starting quarterback, Brady got the ball and never looked back.

Now Brady is famous for his conditioning, his diet, and his competitive spirit, undiminished at the advanced age of 41. For both Brady and Belichick, the cliché that “age is just a number” truly does apply. Both have set records for being the oldest to win the Super Bowl in their respective positions, but instead of hating them for defying common beliefs about age, let’s do this: Forget for a moment how obnoxious Patriots fans can be and how boring it’s become to see the Patriots in the Super Bowl year in and year out (almost), and try to tap into what makes them so great.

In fact, Super Bowl LIII really should have been the Geezer Bowl: Brady versus the great Drew Brees (age 40) of New Orleans, if not for a missed penalty call in the Saints’ conference championship. Sunday’s game would have been a remarkable matchup by two men proving that time is an illusion.

I suspect another ingredient that fuels the “haters” is President Trump. Kraft donated $1 million to his inauguration and has dined with the president at Mar-a-Lago. Mr. Trump loves to love the winning New England team, a beautiful irony for a region that is hardly Trump country.

Then there’s the whole cheating thing. I won’t relitigate “Deflategate” or “Spygate” or that playoff game against the Oakland Raiders in 2001, when a controversial call in their conference championship game helped the Pats to their first Super Bowl win. No team could have come this far by cheating its way to the top.

Brady knows there’s nothing he can do about the haters. So when asked by a young fan last week how he deals with them, his answer was simple: “We love them back.”

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