Super Bowl LII and Fandom

This is a pretty easy statement to make, but Sunday night’s Super Bowl LII match up between the eventual champions Philadelphia Eagles and perennial contending New England Patriots was one of the top 5 Super Bowls I’ve ever watched live. Top on the list is the San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl XXIX demolition of the San Diego Chargers, to date the only Niners championship I can recalling having seen with my own eyes, followed closely by this year’s game, Super Bowl LI and the magical comeback, the Saints win over the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV and the gripping ending of XLIII the year before, with the Steelers’ last second victory via a Santonio Holmes sideline toe-tapper (for the record, the only SB loss in 49ers history comes in at #6, only because they lost; it would be #2 otherwise). I’ve watched a fair amount of football in my life, but as far as the intensity and entertainment factor goes, watching Nick Foles lead the Eagles to the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl win after so many people thought the team’s year was over after Carson Wentz went down with an injury in mid-December is difficult to beat.

The thrilling nature of the game started from drive #1, when Philly marched down the field, only to be stopped just short of pay dirt and settling for a chip shot field goal from rookie kicker Jake Elliott, a feat which New England’s offense quickly matched (by the by, this was the first time a Tom Brady-led Patriots offense had EVER scored in the first quarter of the Super Bowl). The offenses really never sputtered at any point in the game from there on out, as the two teams combined for the most yardage in any NFL game ever with 1,151 total yards; a defensive struggle it was not. The game featured only one punt (by Philly’s Donnie Jones for 41 yards at the end of the first quarter), four 100+ yard receivers, featured the 1st and 5th most passing yards by a QB in a single game, included passes thrown by four different players and overall saw the two teams combine to tie 12 and break 17 Super Bowl records. So yes, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say this was one of the best Super Bowl–nay, one of the best football games–I’ve ever seen.

Still this game was wildly divisive, mostly because of the presence of the Patriots, who have now been to a NFL record 10 Super Bowls as a franchise, including eight featuring the dynamic duo of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. They’ve been to three out of the last four, winning two of those, after having won three of four to start the dynasty back in 2002, 2004 and 2005 (they didn’t make the game in 2003). This 18 year run of being in contention–combined with a few scandals during the period–has led to the team becoming the NFL’s Public Enemy No.1 for most of the time that the Brady/Belichick pairing has been in place. I have a friend–a supposed diehard Steelers fan–who openly cheers against Tom Brady at the smallest opportunity, and even texted another friend “Fly Eagles Fly” after the game was over. I enjoyed watching the Eagles win, but mostly because a) overcame the adversity of losing their star QB and won it all anyway and b) they front office has shown how important team building is in today’s NFL (something I hope John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan were paying attention to). But the enjoyment was not in any way related to a dislike for Tom Brady, Bill Belichick or the Patriots organization; furthermore, I think anyone who does base their cheering interest solely because of the team’s previous success is just jealous.

I will admit that I have had two instances where I cheered for one team because of a certain dislike or disdain for the opposition: Super Bowls XLVIII and XLIX, both featuring the Seattle Seahawks. To me, this is the one caveat in the “I hate the Patriots” rule I’m going to suggest here: if the Pats are your teams’ rivals, then all bets are off. This is why I was the only person at the party I attended to watch the Pats/Seachickens game that was rooting for the AFC squad to take home the title, and why I cheered when the rest of the room groaned the second Russell Wilson’s pass ended up in Malcolm Butler’s hands instead of Ricardo Lockette’s. The year before, I watched as Seattle’s storied defense trounced the most prolific offense in NFL history, turning Peyton Manning into some third-rate QB en route to a 43-8 drubbing. The 12’s became even more insufferable than they had been before (with apologies to all my friends who are decent Seahawks fans). What I’m saying is this: I understand disliking a team, a fan base and really enjoying watching them not win games, especially championships.

Beyond that requirement, I think it’s pretty obvious to me what everyone else feels here in regards to the Patriots: it’s jealousy. It’s hard to really make an argument that they’re boring (all of their Super Bowl appearances have produced highly watchable, often exciting games, including several that game down to the final minutes or seconds of the game and the only overtime session in Super Bowl history), unless repeated success is boring. The thing is, you’d never make that argument anywhere else. Imagine someone saying “Oh man, my favorite band made another great, innovative album. How boring!” Is that even a thought people have? But when it comes to sports, one team being really good all the time gets that label. It’s mind-boggling to me.

I will say this: I know I’m jealous. My team was awful from 2003-2010, winning a total of 46 games in eight years, before experiencing a mini-renaissance during the Jim Harbaugh era where they went to three straight NFC Championship games and the aforementioned Super Bowl loss. Starting in 2014–Harbaugh’s last year–the struggle began again, with just 21 wins over four seasons, eight of which came in 2014; and while things are looking up, to call the 15 years since Steven Mariucci left tumultuous wouldn’t really be an understatement. So to be blunt, I’d be ecstatic if you told me that Lynch, Shanahan and Jimmy GQ were on their way to being contenders year in and year out until 2036, and would win several Super Bowls along the way. And I wouldn’t even care if  the rest of the football world thought we were boring or hated us.

I’m not trying to insinuate that you aren’t allowed to have your own feelings about the teams you root for and those you root against. I just feel like the general feeling of loathing felt toward the Patriots is misguided and petty. If you want to be excited about the Eagles win on Sunday, that’s great, I’m right there with you, in large part because of the narrative surrounding the victory, but it isn’t in any way connected to any negative emotions I have regarding the Patriots. Sunday night I was just a football fan looking for a good game of football. In that regard, I got more than I expected, and it was thrilling to watch.

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