New England Patriots: Full Circle?

RealFootball365.comSenior Writer IFebruary 5, 2008

"Ain't it funny how things come full circle?" was the question planned to lead an original version of this column.

That column would have been posted before a New England Patriots-Green Bay Packers Super Bowl, a now alternate-universe matchup weighed heavily with irony, i.e. old man Brett Favre returns to the big game to play the team he beat to win his only ring, except this time his team's outmatched.

"Ain't it funny how things come full circle?" That was the lead for the Patriots-Cowboys in Super Bowl XLII as well, with Dallas suddenly remade as America's Team again despite general dislike of Terrell Owens simply because the opposition was the universally reviled Pats. And don't forget the pretty-boy quarterback at the helm for the Lone Stars, a reasonable facsimile of Tom Brady now programmed to destroy the mentor.

With a minute left in the season's final game, with the career moment of Randy Moss finally catching a Super Bowl TD behind us, the rhetorical question seemed appropriate again. After all, New England had gone from double-digit underdog to double-digit favorite in six years, and in 2007 eclipsed the offensive marks set by the heavily favored St. Louis Rams of those years of Patriot innocence.

Call the 2007 New England Patriots "The Greatest Show on Field Turf."

Even the game itself played out like Patriots in a mirror: Throughout the contest, we waited for the Greatest Show to explode, to perform like that shock-and-awe machine we'd seen this season. And just as the Rams of XXXVI, New England's offense awoke in the fourth quarter, putting together a characteristic, and boom it was over.

Except those Rams lost.

Ain't it funny how things come full circle?

Worst of all for New England fans this week, and perhaps for some time to come, are the headlines, led by allegations related to that miracle game of plucky underdogs triumphant back in 2002. Surely, I'm not alone in feeling that bad times lie ahead for Bill Belichick & Co. As soon as that term "probe" is broken out, you know things are bad.

Whether you believe the official statement from the front office—"The suggestion that the New England Patriots recorded the St. Louis Rams' walk-through on the day before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 is absolutely false. Any suggestion to the contrary is untrue."—or not, the only fun Patriot fans figure to have until the preseason at least is salivating over that No. 7 draft pick.

There's a haunting quote or two in the Worldwide Leader in [American] Sports' woe-is-me piece on Kurt Warner, once thought to be Bradyesque in leadership qualities. (Or is that the other way around?)

Amid all the stuff about Warner wanting expansion into the probe vis-à-vis whether the Pats taped a Rams run-through before Super Bowl XXXVI, he talks about the effect the loss had on the franchise and his career.

Regardless of how quickly he came back from an injury he shouldn't have, Warner astutely notes that:

"I'm just one example of how our situation in St. Louis deteriorated after the loss of that Super Bowl.

"After we lost the Super Bowl, the organization went into a little bit of a downward spiral, as you see with a lot of teams that lose the Super Bowl. You see how career situations were altered after losing that game..."

He's right. Paths change, careers are altered. Junior Seau will probably retire as a prospective ringless Hall of Fame entry, and the allure of joining the Pats as odds-on Super Bowl favorite is perhaps a bit dimmer today.

Beaten dudes like Tedy Bruschi and perhaps Rodney Harrison have no reason to put battered bodies through another year of punishment for a team that has the league's fourth- or fifth-best chance of winning XLIII.

Then consider the Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Oakland Raiders of recent years. True, none of these had the pedigree or coaching staff these Patriots possess, but consider the dissolution that transformed these squads directly after going down on the final Sunday.

The truth is the last Super Bowl losers to make a repeat turn the following season were the 1990s Buffalo Bills, an anomaly to say the least. Before that, you have to reference John Elway's late-'80s Broncos.

When the Patriots went down to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship last year, I snarkily buried the New England dynasty in song. Paranoiac Belichick had plans up his hoodie sleeve, though, putting together a sweet offense and making his team play 60 minutes every Sunday, media image be damned. I was sorry to have written the piece by Week 1.

Then irony: That's when Spygate hit and subsequent charges completely original in sport and the NFL.

Have things come full circle for the once-underdog, now-reviled New England Patriots, then? Nah, not really.

It may be that the imperfect Patriots are in fact mortal, have peaked like few teams in NFL history, and will slowly fade from contention. Though the path the Patriots took to the top was unique and 2007 was indeed one for the books, the Pats as we knew them are forever altered, forever made human. 'Tis the way of all teams.

Ain't it funny?

Finding black humor in all the losses all year long at