First of all, I want to apologize to KFC that most Pats fans aren’t shattered into pieces right now and I honest to god mean it sincerely. I root for all of Kevin’s teams, I genuinely want him to experience sports happiness, and right now his team is “not my team” and I just wish I could give him a second to grave stomp. I wish I was miserable so I could let him laugh at me and tell me I suck and have all the fun that comes with your friend’s squad losing. But I can't.
I don’t feel that way because of course this is going to be a weird break-up, it’s unprecedented. The championships that the Patriots won were unprecedented, the records the set and the milestones they achieved were unprecedented, it was all UNPRECEDENTED. Caps lock. There were 20 years of dominance from a franchise in the era of free agency and there were a few people you could look to, to thank for that. Obviously, our reactions are going to be abnormal.
It’s the first true “I want to see you happy even if it’s not with me” break-up that’s ever happened in the history of the world. What we gave to each other is something that no other player or fanbase has ever given to each other. The experiences shared, the championships provided, and the love lauded are something that has never been shared before. So yes, we love our hometown team and we also love the people who took us to heights that were, before, unimaginable. Literally unimaginable. I can’t stop the connection to the team that my father and grandfather taught me to love, but I can’t stop loving the players who showed me how great fandom could be.
Fans of other teams will tell you this makes you “not a real fan.” They’ll say that you don’t get to cheer for both, and I get where they’re coming from because I thought the same six months ago, but where they’re coming from is a place of ignorance. They haven’t experienced it. Again, this is UN. PRE. CE. DEN. TED. No one has been through this. They haven’t had guys put you on their back and take you to the top of the mountain SIX TIMES. They haven’t had a guy who stormed the field every Sunday and gave you goosebumps, whether you were in the stadium or watching on TV. They haven’t had a guy who transcended and defined the sport or position. They haven’t had an undisputed GOAT who gave you his greatest when you didn’t even have to ask.
Fans of other teams are going to scream “WHY DON’T YOU HATE HIM?! I HATED MY PLAYER WHO LEFT AFTER SUCKING DOWN 100 MILLION DOLLARS AND PROVIDING NOTHING!!!! YOU SHOULD TOO IF YOU REALLY CARE!!!!” They’ll call you a scumbag and a fake and a fraud, but they just will never get it. They cannot fathom a perfect business transaction. You gave me your all, I gave you my love and money. I bought tickets to see you, I bought jerseys to promote you, I bought beers to make me cheer you harder, and you brought me victory. Week in and week out, we both got what we wanted, for one to two decades depending on who we're talking about. It was constant. Not everyone gets that symbiotic of a relationship, but we did.
Why shouldn’t this end break new ground? The beginning did, Bill sat the highest paid QB in the NFL for a fourth on the depth chart guy. The middle did, it was over in 2012, the cliff was nigh, then the Patriots won three more Super Bowls. Of course the end is going to be something the world has never seen. I’m going to root for the Bucs and I’m going to do so unapologetically.
I’m not angry Brady left, I get he had a job for 20 years and wanted to see something new. I’m not angry Gronk left, he didn’t play here to begin with and he wanted to be with his friend. I’m not mad that Bill Belichik is kinda a motherfucker to deal with and people get sick of him, because that motherfuckerness has brought 6 Super Bowls and maybe more. I’m being rational. In the world of sports, being rational can sometimes be the irrational thing to do, but I’ve never pretended to feel something I don’t and right now I feel no animosity towards any of those people. If you haven’t had guys who gave you EVERYTHING they had then then you probably won’t get it, but I never once questioned the commitment of Brady or Gronk. They gave their time, mind, and body to New England for a decade or two and in doing so brought us 3/6 championships. I cannot possibly ask them for more than that.
It’s funny, when they were still Patriots I often thought they were mine and I couldn’t possibly let them go for fear of losing them forever. But once they were gone, you realized they’re still yours. The emotions didn’t really change. They will play in Tampa for a few years then they will retire and be forever remembered as Patriots. It’s something you’re so scared of until it happens and then you realize, for both of them, “Know what? His statue will be here. His legacy will be here. It’s not as bad as I thought, this will be fine.”
It’s always gonna be fine. That’s the sports world we were raised in. One day it won’t be fine, probably, but until that evidence presents itself I’m gonna stay relaxed.
Plus, they’ve kinda given me a gift. A few years ago I wrote that the Patriots broke the NFL. I said they ruined it because I didn’t care what happened during the regular season, the AFC Championship was the first game that mattered. I said I couldn’t watch other games because the teams were too bad and it was like I was watching a different sport. But now I’m kind of excited about the unknown. I’m ready to go to battle with an untested quarterback and a coach without his GOAT. I’m ready for war and I’m ready to be the actual underdog. I’m ready to tell the rest of the AFC East that they better fucking win this year of else they’ll need to shut the fuck up forever. I’m ready for every down to matter, every game to matter, and to maybe be actually irrational about stuff.
Then, when that game ends, I’ll put on my Bucs jersey and cheer on the man who’s brought me more happiness than anyone in my life.