When you're a Patriots fan, you don't spend too much time worrying. Sure, we breakdown all the numbers, we analyze the guts of the franchise and scrutinize their every move, but we do it out of passion and devotion, not out of concern or frustration.
Here we are again, heading into training camp with three-time champion and two-time MVP, Tom Brady. We got a pretty sweet deal going. There isn't too much to complain about.
There is, however, one small drawback to being a Patriots fan. We are totally incapable of being the underdog in any situation.
On the surface, that might sound like a good thing. But sometimes, it can be a real drag.
We maintain our "top dog persona" even when we don't win. It's ridiculous. We just lost the Super Bowl again, and yet we're still the team to beat.
No matter what we do, win or lose, there's a popular notion that the AFC and the entire NFL still goes through us.
The perception is that the Patriots are the king, and, therefore, the Patriots are the team to dethrone.
I don't like this perception. It's unwarranted. Do we have the king's crown right now?
While everyone else in the NFL is flying under the radar, we're hiding in plain sight.
If I could be any type of team, I'd be a "ninja team," because ninjas excel in the art of invisibility.
But we can't be invisible.
People fixate on us. Opposing teams are obsessed with us. Every enemy has already circled us on their schedules before the season begins. We take everybody's best punches.
That destroys any notion of invisibility on our part. You can't be a ninja when you're stomping around on hardwood floors in work boots.
In any "David vs. Goliath" scenario, we can never have the meaningful advantages that come with being "David."
The Giants have beaten us in two straight Super Bowls because they had an "us versus the world" mentality. That's a mentality that only a David-type team can have.
As long as the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era exists, we can never experience that mentality.
We had that mentality once, back in 2001. But that's long gone now.
At best, all we can do now is win because that's what we're expected to do.
I recently watched an ESPN video titled "Can the Patriots Run The Table?" In talking-up the Patriots, Skip Bayless predicts us being nearly perfect in the regular season and ultimately winning the Super Bowl.
I also read this preview piece on CBSsports.com, which predicts the Patriots battling their way to a 16-0 record this season. It's a wonderful read, chock-full of terrific insight and razor-sharp analysis.
In a way, all of these big predictions are nice and flattering. Obviously, I'd prefer any analyst to think of us as a good team rather than a horrible team.
But you know what would be even nicer? Having nobody thinking about us at all. Wouldn't that be a relaxing change of pace? Not having to deal with this burden or pressure?
But that's impossible.
The same CBS preview piece has the Saints going 9-7, the Steelers going 10-6, the Cowboys and Eagles going 11-5, the Jets and Bills going 7-9, the 49ers going 9-7, the Packers going 14-2 and the Giants going 13-3.
All of these teams get to fly under the radar and sneak-attack everybody else.
Meanwhile, the Patriots are going 16-0?
Well, that's just dandy. What are we supposed to do with such a "perfect" team? The only place for us to go is down!
We only have two options: Achieve what we're supposed to achieve because we're so good, or drastically underperform and fall flat of expectations.
This is a crummy spot to be in.
And here's the worst part: Whether we achieve it all or fall flat in 2012, the same expectations will be waiting for us in 2013.
A non-Patriots fan can't understand this kind of situation. Most fans would give anything to have a team like ours. I understand that, which is why it's sometimes difficult to talk about football with fans from other teams. When you talk about the holes or lingering issues with the Patriots, they roll their eyes, as if to say, "Get real, buddy. I'm a Jets fan. You don't know pain."
Can you imagine being a Giants fan and seeing your team continue to fly under the radar? How is that even possible? Those fans might be frustrated by the continuing disbelief in their team, but the truth is that their team thrives off people's disbelief. That's how they win championships.
The Giants break the shackles of their perception. The Jets succumb to the burden of theirs. The Patriots are stuck somewhere in between these two teams.
This "Goliath perception" does not help the Patriots win championships, but it certainly helps us perform beautifully in the regular season. We dominate at will. But then we hit the postseason and we break.
We lose to teams that we can beat. There's no reason why we couldn't have gone 1-1 against the Giants in those two Super Bowls. 1-1 isn't too much to ask for. But 0-2? Really?
Something needs to change.
For once, it would be nice if we could be a wallflower and just blend in. Take some of this heat off. Go with the flow. Fly under that radar and experience the air on a different level. Sneak up on teams and blindside them. Be the underdog.
I can't deal with another amazing regular season without a Lombardi trophy. The sheer normalcy of this pattern is beginning to irritate me on a deep level. Part of me is beginning to disdain the regular season because I know it's false advertising.
Of course, you know I'm being a tad dramatic. I love the regular season. I live for it.
But, man, it sure would be nice to see Brady lift that trophy again. I miss that feeling.
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