The end of a dynasty

“All other great NFL dynasties fell into irrelevance after their reign. The Patriots have been great, but they’re not immune to the march of history.”


(courtesy of the ‘New England Patriots’ facebook page)

By William Keve, Collegian Columnist

Too many sportswriters have tried to proclaim the day when the party finally ends for the New England Patriots. This time is different. Super Bowl LII was Armageddon.

Patriots fans are spoiled. They’ve won five Super Bowls and nine straight AFC East titles, and only one player ties it at all together: quarterback Tom Brady. They’re the class of the NFL. They’re favored to win nearly every game they play regardless of injuries, home field advantage or who the unlucky opponent is. Most importantly, their dominance has outlasted even the word dynasty. The juggernauts of the 20th century almost never lasted more than a decade, and usually not more than four years. Compared to New England’s 17-year run, the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers and the 1990s Dallas Cowboys were a blip on the radar. Even when quarterbacks like John Elway, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning led great teams for more than 10 years, only Manning came close to Brady’s dominance, and Brady usually had the upper hand when the two met.

Every three-act structure has a climax and a resolution, and the Patriots 25-point comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI was the peak. The 2017 season has set the stage for a crumbling kingdom to fall amidst impossible expectations of division titles and trips to the Super Bowl each year. It won’t take a great collapse to the cellar of the NFL to ruin the Patriots. The team will just regress to the mean. There are 32 NFL teams, so in theory, fans should expect to win a title once every 32 years. The Patriots won five of them already this century. That outcome isn’t sustainable over the long term. All other great NFL dynasties fell into irrelevance after their reign. The Patriots have been great, but they’re not immune to the march of history.

As a Patriots hater, I relished watching Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Brandon Graham strip Brady of the ball in the Super Bowl this year and bring Patriots fans back down to Earth. I dreamed of a future where my own pathetic team, the Tennessee Titans, would be able to thrive in a football landscape without the Patriots. Plenty of dreamers like me are out there. New York Jets fans are tired of their abusive older brother. Pittsburgh Steelers fans want to finally have a chance at winning the AFC again. New York Giants fans want Eli Manning to beat someone else in the Super Bowl for the first time.

2018 and subsequent years are going to be different. Sure, Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are still employed, but the signs are there. Brady reportedly moved to exile his talented backup quarterback. Belichick just hoodwinked the Indianapolis Colts to ensure his replacement, Josh McDaniels, remained on the staff. The Patriots traded away their 2017 first and second-round draft picks for veterans to contend in the short term rather than build for the future. The Patriots went all in, but the Eagles were holding pocket aces.

To make matters worse, football is the ultimate team sport. 22 players take the field at once, and there are more than 50 on a roster. Every one of those players are overly specialized to the point that one offensive lineman couldn’t switch positions with another without forgetting most of what they know to learn a new job. That’s what makes football compelling to me. Every play features 11 teammates doing distinct things that come together to achieve a unified goal. Other sports can barely claim to scratch the surface of this kind of teamwork.

Quarterbacks always get too much credit when things go right and too much blame when they go wrong. That’s why Patriots fans bring up Brady’s legendary accomplishments rather than try to claim he’s the most talented player of all time. His trophies and records mean nothing next season. In 2018, the world expects a 40-year-old man playing on a surgically repaired knee to carry a below-average roster to win the Lombardi trophy when 31 other teams will be trying to end his career. The Patriots era started with Brady, and in 2018, it ends with Brady.

William Keve is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]