x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Why it is not easy to root for the New England Patriots

Bill Belichick's fierce determination to win and the perfection of Tom Brady mean it is not always easy for neutrals to back the Super Bowl contenders.

Bill Belichick's controversial past as coach of the New England Patriots makes it hard for neutrals to warm to him.
Bill Belichick's controversial past as coach of the New England Patriots makes it hard for neutrals to warm to him.

Your most cherished NFL teams got washed off the Super Bowl trail. Your least loved did, too, leaving you with no one to root for or against on Sunday.

As the Americans might say, you've got no dog in this fight.

So, time to go shopping for a substitute.

For the New York Giants, it is challenging to work up much fondness or contempt. The coach, Tom Coughlin, is as bland as soft jazz. The quarterback, Eli Manning, inspires no passion either way, though he earns points for coping with being Peyton's kid brother.

The New England Patriots? Now there is another story, one that weaves in conflicting elements of admiration and antipathy, centred on their coach, quarterback and fans. Here is a breakdown of each.

-----------------------

Naysayers of Bill Belichick, the coach, would never use his name in the same sentence with "class". Except for this: he can be a first-class jerk.

He notoriously belittles players in team video sessions.

He scoffs at the public's right to know, muddling the weekly injury report which other teams treat seriously by listing players with mild headaches that one aspirin would relieve.

He has cheated. In a league that permits bending rules until they nearly snap, Belichick was fined a maximum of US$500,000 (Dh1.84 million) in the 2007 case known as Spygate for filming the New York Jets' signals at a game. His team were docked a first-round draft pick.

He pours it on. Long after the Patriots have put away their foes, Tom Brady, the quarterback, remains in the game, rubbing it in with downfield passes. Brady's back-up, Brian Hoyer, barely logged enough minutes to throw one time.

His anti-establishment nature is carried to extremes, as evidenced by the sweatshirt hoodie that is more suited to high school fashion.

Yet, his innovations are fun to watch; witness the Patriots' play-off opener, when they deployed a tight end at running back, a wide receiver at safety and enough offensive sets to crash a computer.

Most players, who once swore under their breath at him, swear by him once they have moved on. In private, he drops hints of a personality, showing concern for the struggling, deriving enjoyment from something other than pounding a team into submission.

At a party, Belichick climbed onstage with a friend's rock 'n' roll band and belted out an old tune, according to an ESPN article.

Of course, he confiscated all video evidence of the performance.

-----------------------------------------------

Brady wields none of Belichick's personality flaws. Otherwise, he would not keep the company of women such as the actress/model Bridget Moynahan, a former girlfriend, and model Gisele Bundchen, his current wife.

Most of the animus toward Brady is rooted in male jealousy. Why else would he be ridiculed for having the audacity to sport a mini-ponytail in the off-season while dancing at a street carnival in Rio de Janeiro with Gisele?

We tend to inspect too closely for defects in one who makes his job seem so effortless and who lucked into looks that land him on People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People list.

Keep in mind that Brady had to overcome the stigma of being a sixth-round draft pick. Like Brian Hoyer this season, he completed one pass as a rookie before impressing the coach.

As for flinging the ball in the fourth quarter with three-touchdown leads, well, you try telling Belichick. "Hey, hooded one, if you refuse to take me out, at least let me take a knee."

How many quarterbacks with too many trophies to count still accept tutelage from their schoolboy mentor? Who, in Brady's case, suffers from diabetes that was expected to end his life last year?

Answer: one.

Admittedly, there are grounds for envy. Brady, with an income of $31m last year, he was the household's second biggest wage earner, according to Forbes magazine. Mrs Brady brought in $46m.

-------------------------------------------

No professional franchise's fan base is entirely warm and fuzzy.

It is not that Patriots fans lean toward cold and scuzzy, but too many Bostonians lack appreciation for a team game planning for their sixth Super Bowl since 1997.

They treat football as a bridge between seasons involving their precious Boston Red Sox baseball team.

Or "Sox", as they gallingly call them. (Hello. Chicago White Sox. Heard of them?)

Until 2004, Red Sox fans blamed the absence of a World Series title on a curse, ignoring poor management and lousy players as the real cause.

Having won twice since, they now consider the Red Sox as the axis of the baseball universe. In fact, given the ridiculous sums of money spent on player salaries, there should be more championship flags flying at the crummy, spectator-unfriendly Fenway Park, which is treated as a shrine when it should be greeted by a wrecking ball.

There are other decent baseball teams in other cities, most of which express the proper gratitude toward their accomplished football brethren.

Greater Boston has a team that would knock your socks off. They should win on Sunday, which might help you pick a fill-in dog in this fight.