One of the biggest stories going in to this 2016 NFL season was the big New England Patriots question. Could the team play well while Tom Brady served out the four games of his Deflategate suspension, and could they readjust after the star QB who's helped lead the team to four Super Bowl victories came back from missing those first games of the season?
By winning the first two games of the season agains the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins, the Pats have shown that, yes, they could win without Brady. After all, it's coach Bill Belichick who is the heart, mind and dark soul of the team, and not any one single player. We all know that by now. But they played those two games with Jimmy Garoppolo calling the plays to the offense, at least he had a few seasons of studying under Brady. Now it looks like Garoppolo, who sprained the a joint in his throwing shoulder during Sunday's victory, will be sitting in tonight's home game against the equally undefeated Houston Texans, and rookie Jacoby Brissett will be taking his place.
This is a big deal.
As Tyler Tynes at SB Nation points out, Brissett will become the first black quarterback to ever start for New England. When you take into consideration the area's history of racism, Tynes starting suddenly becomes an even bigger deal than just a rookie starting the third game of the season for a Super Bowl favorite. As Tynes notes, "It's taken 57 years, and the Patriots have only ever dressed six other black quarterbacks: Onree Jackson (who never played in a game), Condredge Holloway (who never played a game), Eddie McAshan (who never played a game), Michael Bishop (whose only game was in relief in 2000), Rohan Davey (the 2004 MVP of NFL Europe) and Jay Walker (who also never played)."
There's history, and then there's the weird factor. New England is so desperate for quarterbacks, that in the event they need an emergency backup, Julian Edelman, the team's wide receiver, would be called up to take over. Edelman played quarterback for three years at Kent State, and he was also his college team's leading rusher in his college year.
Like the New York Yankees anytime or the Golden State Warriors in the last year, the Patriots are the NFL's evil empire team. They're the franchise that, unless you're a fan, you sort of hate their guts because they come from a city you hate, they spend insane amounts to get the best players or, in the case of the Patriots, they just win and win and win. They, along with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, have four league championships in the 21st Century. The biggest differences are that the Boston area, unlike San Antonio, have enjoyed maybe one of the greatest sports runs of the last 15 years, with the Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins also winning championships. That, and Belichick often looks like he should be giving orders to Darth Vader on how to run things. All told, the area's bad track record with racism, Brady's questionable footwear and choice of friends, and the fact that there are kids in college who have never known what it feels like to live in a world where the New England Patriots aren't just in the hunt for a division title, but the pre-season pick to win the whole thing make them a team that it's fair to hate.
There's another side to that. One that you don't get with many teams that are as easy to hate as they are to envy: New England is constantly interesting. On one hand, there's the fact that the team has been caught cheating before. They will do anything to win from deflating footballs to spying on their opponents. But as anybody who watches professional wrestling can tell you, the bad guy is often the most interesting wrestler there is, and the Patriots are basically the Ric Flair of football. They will be the dirtiest player in the game, but when it comes down to it, as we've seen so far in this very strange season, they will still find a way to win no matter who is or isn't playing. You can hate that all you want, but at the end of the day, like a great champion said, "To be the man, you gotta beat the man," and somehow, through it all, the Patriots are still the team you need to win against if you want to be the best.