Super Bowl LIII: Not the Patriots Again!
The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College.
The New England Patriots have again punched their third consecutive ticket to the Super Bowl. As Americans ramp up for this much-anticipated game, the sentiment for both the casual observer and religious supporter, is seemingly unanimous: not again!
The year changes, new players enter the league, seasoned players retire – yet the Patriots always seem to be playing into early February. It’s easy to accept this as an inevitable outcome. The Patriots have become a Super Bowl fixture. However, as we look forward to the upcoming game it is important that football fans understand what has unfolded. Simply put, this is not normal. This is not an inevitability, but rather an anomaly. The only difference is that this anomaly has spanned nearly two decades.
The Super Bowl matchup between the Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams is almost poetic. The dynasty, and this 18-season Patriots run, began during the 2001 season – a time when many freshman currently on campus weren’t even born. At that time the Patriots were outsiders and their future upside was unimaginable.
Ultimately, Super Bowl XXXVI came down to the wire as Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 48-yard field goal to defeat Kurt Warner and the then-St. Louis Rams – who were called “The Greatest Show on Turf” – as time expired. If questioned later that night, many Patriots fans would have likely been content with that singular win and the elation of the moment. Head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady had other thoughts.
It’s easy now to think of the Patriots as the model of a consistent team. However, apart from the Brady-Belichick duo, everything in the Patriots facility is liable to change. The 2018 season can be used as a case study to further illustrate this point. This year alone, the Patriots
have recorded 26 separate and distinct transactions in an attempt to address the receiver position, according to ESPN. The number of transactions involving this singular position are unusual. This is because personnel stability is believed to be the key to success and longevity, yet the Patriots frequently cut bait and move on to the next player.
Belichick has walked a very precise line between caring for players enough to motivate them, while not caring too much to the point that rational decisions are impossible. A prime example of this from recent memory is the Malcolm Butler scenario. Butler was the cornerback responsible for the miraculous game-winning goal line interception against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Only two years later, the unlikely hero had become a household name, but he was wearing a different shade of blue for the Tennessee Titans. The decision was not personal, but merely a matter of value.
It is also true that the Patriots benefit from many players taking marginally lower salaries.
For this, Belichick cannot take all the credit. The lion’s share must be given to Brady. His heroics on the field garner his praise while his financial situation is often ignored. One might reasonably assume that the quarterback with the most Super Bowl wins ever, playing in an era in which the salary cap more than doubled, would be the highest-paid player. That’s not the case. Business Insider reported that Brady sacrificed career earnings of $60 to $100 million – although it is also true that he still collected just shy of $200 million during that same time span. However, this act is hard to trivialize. It gives the Patriots incredible leverage in negotiations because their best, and highest paid player, is taking a sizable salary reduction.
Belichick was raised under the tutelage of Bill Parcells, a legendary and distinguished coach, where he learned how traditional football is to be played. Even now that he has complete control of his own team, he has stuck to many classic facets of the game. However, Belichick has evolved those theories to the point that the organization operates like a shrewd New York City hedge fund, each player functioning as an asset. Belichick and his team of coaches operate as portfolio managers, looking to find value on the margin. They find players like Chris Hogan, who had spent time on all three AFC East divisional teams. Hogan was an athlete who played lacrosse in college and was overlooked by many teams, yet with the Patriots, he was able to break out in an AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers while amassing nearly 200 yards from scrimmage.
When the Super Bowl is finally played on Sunday, take a moment to realize that what we are witnessing is not normal. Some fans wait years for even the chance to play in this game, let alone feel the satisfaction of winning it all. The Patriots are heading to their ninth Super Bowl in twice as many years. As this second decade draws to a close, they are pitted against the same team that started it all. No matter the outcome, the Pats have already left an indelible mark. Just don’t tell that to either Belichick or Brady. They have no interest in leaving anytime soon.