Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Why Are Patriots Fans So Damned Miserable?

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The angst has settled.

Or has it?

The New England Patriots, fresh off a tense, 27-25 win over their AFC East rival New York Jets, sit with a record of 5-2 nearly halfway through the 2014 NFL season. That has somewhat helped relieve Patriots fans of at least some of the creeping doubt that instilled its way into New England’s haphazard start to the season.

One week from now, the Patriots will host the Chicago Bears, kicking off a difficult stretch in which they will play against the aforementioned Bears, as well as the Broncos. Colts, Lions, and Packers, all teams more worthy of the cupcake schedule that New England doggie-paddled over the first seven weeks

Just don’t tell a segment of Patriots fans that their team underachieved against a favorable schedule to begin the year.

If it increasingly seems that there is a different niche of Patriots fans than there may be from the other major professional sports fans in New England, it’s a theory only exacerbated by their reluctance to admit anything other than continual excellence from Foxborough. Fair or not, those who cheer from zip code 02035, are generally lumped in with among the worst football fans in America, not because of their Philadelphia-Like neanderthal nature or even the easy benefit of their team’s dominance over the years.

No. It is primarily because of their inability to embrace criticism, a trait that many Patriots fans wear like a cloak of defensive armor even in the most innocuous places.Their radar is always up, always looking for that one denouncement in a sea of love.

Case in point: During Thursday night’s CBS/NFL Network broadcast, there was a bumper segment featuring the Patriots Hall of Fame, which, noted, is a well-done tribute to the history of the New England Patriots. But much like all convenient annals, the hall doesn’t exactly highlight the travails this franchise went through in the decades leading up to Bob Kraft’s purchase of the team in 1994. It’s a history the modern-day Patriots want you to forget, illustrated by Jim Nantz’s tongue-wagging over the team’s lack of playoff success in Foxborough prior to the Kraft era.

It’s a vastly different dynamic than exists among Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics fans. Despite the bandwagon, “alternative” hat syndrome that exists for each team, there also still exists a level of cynicism for each. It is one of the traits that, for better or worse, defines native New Englanders on the whole. It is the inbred nature that makes us more dubious than the rest of the country, always aware of the rough road that may lie ahead instead of whistling past the graveyard sunset. Without skepticism, after all, we are left vulnerable, impervious to popular ways and means continually forced down out throats.

In that regard, haven’t we kind of lost the New England Patriots as our own?

Despite 2004 and the pair of ensuing titles since, Red Sox fans still possess a sense of “wait ’til,’ particularly following the second last-place finish in three years. Bruins fans are notorious for losing faith in the team’s management, even after visiting the Stanley Cup Finals two of the last four seasons. Celtics fans…well, just good luck this season and the next decade.

But with the Patriots? It’s become a cult of sorts, a fan base in which denial of football deity is equal to treason.

It begs the question, why are Patriots fans so damned defensive to their own fault?

“I think they are, and with good reason,” said Bruce Allen, purveyor of Boston Sports Media Watch, a website dedicated to keeping the Boson media at bay, particularly when it pertains to the Patriots. “This franchise has been through an unprecedented period of success, especially in the salary cap era, while teams all over the league have risen and fallen the Patriots have remained competitive, no matter who they're playing. Yet, the team is constantly criticized, their success dismissed, their methods questioned. It gets annoying to fans who enjoy watching the team, and who know that the end cannot be that far off and who want to continue to enjoy what's left, to be subjected to media and fans who are racing to be be the first to declare the franchise's run of success to be over. This does not happen with other teams. It just doesn’t.”

I would steadfastly disagree with Allen in this regard. The Red Sox and Bruins (much less the Celtics) are continually dissected with great passion within the media and fan bases despite their recent successes.

David Ortiz, Peter Chiarelli, Will Middlebrooks John Farrell, Larry Lucchino, Claude Julien, Milan Lucic, Danny Ainge, John Lackey, Rajon Rondo…the list goes on. They are all local athletes who have received their fair share of notable criticism over the past few years, just as much as the Patriots and the Krafts have gotten. When you live in a Route 1 bubble though, you tend not to notice.

Patriots fans in general tend to have blinders on when it comes to the naysayers about other franchises, a self-imposed target on their back that was neither placed there by anybody, nor used for general target practice.

Even the Revolution, Bob Kraft’s foray into professional soccer, receive a fair amount of the digression normally deemed illegal for his other football team.

If you happen to be a millennial Pats fan, good for you.

But you have no idea.

“I mean think about, someone who is 25 [years old] right now, has never really had a "tough" season with the Patriots, at least not 2-14 tough,” Allen said. “Do they know or care who Stanley Morgan was? John Hannah? Steve Grogan? I think when you're hearing the criticism of the current team from fans, it is generally from this group, who might feel the need to flex their "fan muscles" and rail about all the things the team is doing wrong and what things they should do, which are almost never right.”

In many ways, this speaks to Boston sports, and perhaps even the city, in general.

It ain’t what it used to be. But despite how pathetic it was, that’s not generally the best thing to rally around.

To be who you are takes a certain sense of knowing who you once were, an epidemic foreign to many present Patriots fans.

Pats fans have been spoiled. Think about it, if you’re a teenaged Pats fan, you were probably just learning to walk the last time the Bill Belichick led the team to a losing season. You know nothing of the Sullivans, little about Foxboro Stadium aside from the Snow Bowl, and have no general knowledge of Irving Fryar except from the recent news that he erroneously thought he and Mom were smarter than bank loaners.

This current run of Patriots’ greatness came so suddenly and has lasted so long that history has seemingly been lost on some. They have, in turn, become the whining, silver spoon fans that Patriots fans despised in their adolescence.

Cynicism runs through a New Englander’s veins, which is why you can oftentimes tell the frauds among us. They’re perennially waving a foam finger and singing “Sweet Caroline.” The majority of us used to scoff at those imported sit-ins. They have now become the majority.

“I think it should be pointed out that I think there are a couple different groups of hardcore Patriots fans, which is unique in itself, as I don't think the other teams in town have this dynamic,” Allen said. “There is a group that is appreciative of what the team has accomplished, and generally gives them the benefit of the doubt on things. The other group enjoys second-guessing and being critical, and is impatient for another Super Bowl title, which for them, is the only acceptable conclusion to a season. You do also have the bandwagon fans, which other teams in town do have as well. When the team is good, they're going along for the ride.”

The “second-guessers” used to be the norm. And a Super Bowl title was but a pipe dream.

In some ways, Boston’s dominance of greatness has ruined us as sports fans, and much of that “blame” is due to the Patriots. For obvious reasons, we tend to take playoff chases for granted, particularly when in regards to the Patriots and Red Sox, playing in leagues in which half the teams in question aren’t provided a yellow brick road to the postseason. Today, “excellence” is a trait that is demanded. Hope has been replaced by expectation, with a critical media in the crosshairs.

“You've got the two types of fans and when it comes to media, you've got different kinds as well,” Allen said. “With a few exceptions, they match up pretty well this way: The first group of fans thinks the ‘reporting’ side of the media generally does an OK job covering the team. They despise the ‘opinion’ side, who they feel only find fault with everything the team does despite its record of success. Despise may not be a strong enough term. That second group of fans feels the opposite. To them, the ‘reporting’ side are a bunch of homers, while their heroes on the ‘opinion’ side tell it like it is. Both fan bases have very strong feelings about these groups.”

There’s always going to be a dissenting opinion. And to be honest, in the realm of discussion, those are always welcomed and encouraged. Always.

But it’s where Allen uses the word “despise” as a totem of definition that the problem lies.

Fans have the right to erect a protective bubble around the team they root for, otherwise the word “fanatic” has lost all meaning. But so too do the ones that choose to raise issues and logical approaches regarding the team in question. Where that civil war began is anyone’s guess.

In regards to football, it’s a more natural phenomenon if only that they play only once a week, leaving six more days for open discussion about the rights and wrongs about a particular team’s approach. Such lambasting only lasts a day or so in other sports thanks to the every-day or every-other nature of the games.

It’s also a matter of 162 vs. 82 vs. 16. The smaller sample size will also have the more powerful microscope.

People will always rebel against general opinion. It’s our natural impulsion to battle against popular doctrine. Without that resistance, we’re left to the teams’ lapdogs telling us how awesome everything is.

I’m not sure where Patriots fans lost that aspect.

In any case, New England is 5-2, and Danny Amendola even has a touchdown.

Bring on the Bears.


Go team.

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