Apocalypse When?: How the New England Patriots Dynasty Will End
After Rodney Harrison clutched his second interception and mockingly flapped his arms, flying around Alltel Stadium, it was confirmed.
After Bill Belichick and his father Steve were bathed with Gatorade, there was no doubt.
Any shadow of doubt is forever put into light by NFL Films, showing Willie McGinest holding a mock copy of the next day's Patriots Football Weekly, with radio play-by-play announcer Gil Santos putting a stamp on Super Bowl XXXIX.
"Back-to-back, three out of four! Yes, it's a dynasty."
The New England Patriots, led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, are this decade's dynasty. Any other claim can be refuted with strong statistical information. The question is not whether they are or not.
The question is: When will it end?
Conventional wisdom points to 2010 as the last possible year for the Patriots to be put in that realm. After all, logic calls us to group NFL dynasties by decade. The Packers had the birth years of the '60s, the Steelers ruled the '70s, the 49ers took the '80s as their own, and the Cowboys became America's team in the '90s.
Even in sports other than football, decades have their mark. Basketball saw the Bulls become bigger than the league from 1991-1998, and no hockey team has been more dominant than the Red Wings the past 10 years.
With the second decade of this century approaching us much too quickly, the prognosticators are questioning the longevity of the Patriots' dominance.
Brady is coming off a Million-dollar-man type of surgery. Key players such as Tedy Bruschi and Randy Moss are watching their teeth grow long. How long can Belichick keep it up, at least before getting bored with winning?
Patriots fans are all pushing the bill that the 2009 season is theirs, and it probably is. They argue the dynasty has not reached its climax yet.
They would rather look at the here and now, not the inevitable future.
As George Harrison once wrote, all things must pass.
How will the Patriots' time in the spotlight come to an end?
Patriots Go the Way of the Bulls
Think back to the summer months of 1998. Michael Jordan has just hit his final shot of his Chicago career, winning his Bulls a sixth NBA championship.
It's a bittersweet moment for Bulls fans everywhere, as their celebration took the form of both a birth and a Jewish funeral—the joy of something new coming to town filled the city, as they knew they were celebrating the life of their dynasty.
They knew it was coming to an end.
Sure enough, Jordan and head coach Phil Jackson retired. With them went Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, and several other key role players.
Why would the Patriots dynasty end any differently? Only they know when enough is enough, but eventually, Brady and Belichick will be satisfied with their accomplishments. Whether it's on a high note of a championship like the Bulls, or on a low note, they will leave the league.
It's tough to see either Brady or Belichick leaving with the other still on the team. They have meant too much to each other's careers, and they, at least from the naked eye, look like they mean too much to each other's personal lives.
The world knows that as long as the Patriots have Belichick and Brady, they are always a legitimate contender. The converse of that would be that without the two, they would be pretenders.
When one of them leaves, the other, along with the core of the dynasty, will leave with him.
Brady Joins the Greats, but Not in a Hall...Yet
What do Jordan, Roger Clemens, and Brett Favre all have in common? They have all retired as one of the, if not the, greatest to play their respected sport, only to come back on a different team.
Prepare to add Brady to that list.
When the three men above decided to come back, the diagnosis for what appeared to be insanity was a love for the game and an intense drive to win. Brady fits that mold.
He told Peter King of Sports Illustrated that he wants to play until he's 41, because he "doesn't like anything else." Forced by his brain to retire, Brady will fall into the same trap so many have fallen into. He will want to play again, but it won't be in a Patriots uniform.
The safest bet, assuming they still can't find a franchise quarterback, is on the San Francisco 49ers. Growing up in San Mateo, California as a fan of the local team, idolizing the man he has been compared to throughout his NFL life, it would be safe to assume Brady would love a chance to see himself in red and gold.
He won't last long, because he won't want to stay long. After a brief un-retirement, Brady will fade into the sunset, and Patriots fans, now rooting for a mediocre team, will not lose an ounce of respect for him.
Unless, of course, he comes back a Jet.
It Officially Ends
The foregone conclusion is that both Belichick and Brady will, one day, be enshrined in pro football's Hall of Fame. Due to Brady's comeback, he will have lost the chance to be enshrined with his coach in the same year, but it will happen.
When their busts are bronzed and sitting next to them on the stage in Canton, Patriots fans will swallow the bitter pill of reality that neither of them will be back. They will celebrate the years they spent, but watching them speak on stage will make them yearn for those years back.
Somewhere around this time, the Patriots bring Brady back to Foxborough, and his No. 12 is retired.
Belichick is honored before 70,000 standing and applauding fans in another game.
The true Patriots, Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi, and others, are brought in for another celebration of the dynasty years. The nostalgia lasts for a few months and then wanes into the back of northeast America's minds.
Maybe the Patriots won't go this route. Perhaps in the middle of the playoff run in 2012, the Mayans will be proven as prophets, and the world will come to an end.
At the very least, Patriots fans won't have to see their own world crash down around them.
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