On Saturday, The Round Mound of Rebound was The Boy of Dough in Foxborough.
Bob Kraft added Charles Barkley to the long list of distinguished guests that the Patriots’ owner has hosted at Gillette Stadium. While CBS deprived the viewers of any Barkley visuals during the game, the media was sure to find him after the game. It doesn’t matter that Barkley talks about basketball for a living, he’s someone who’s voice must be heard no matter the topic. Always one to stir the pot, Barkley had some choice words for New England fans when speaking to reporters such as WEEI’s Mike Petraglia and ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan (who’s known Barkley forever).
“It bothers me that y’all don’t appreciate them having a chance to win every year,” proclaimed Sir Charles, who was then asked how he knows such a thing. “Y’all don’t. Y’all don’t. In New England, y’all have a chance to win every year. I’m impressed with the Patriots organization because they’ve lost so many people and y’all take winning for granted. Y’all do.”
Finishing off his point with an exclamation, Barkley said, “Let me tell you guys something: When Bill Belichick leaves and Tom Brady leaves, y’all team is going to suck.”
It’s a sensitive subject, for a couple reasons. First, New England fans don’t like being questioned about, well, anything. Barkley’s stance implies that Patriots fans are blinded by expectations and entitlement to the point where they can’t take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Even the most neon of all pink hats would take offense to such a claim. New England fans are generally apprehensive of what will become of the Patriots after Brady and Belichick leave, but that fear isn’t a necessity for appreciation. Similarly, a lack of fear doesn’t equate to a lack of appreciation.
What Brady and Belichick have done is incomparable. In 14 years as coach of the Patriots, Belichick has now taken them to eight AFC Championship games. In 12 healthy years as a starter, Brady has been to eight AFC Championship games. That’s an insane percentage of success that should not be taken for granted. In that sense, Barkley is spot on. Thing is, it’s not that easy, certainly not as easy as Barkley’s direct comments made it seem.
How exactly does Barkley expect Patriots’ fans to appreciate it? I’ve been regurgitating that AFC Championship game stat all week, just to remind myself of the unparalleled success. Charles, I swear I’ve been thinking about the wins, championships, stats, and memorable games more often than you realize. I think about some of the random, memorable games and plays that get lost in the shuffle, yet are so meaningful to a sports fan. I think about David Patten’s head being out of bounds in Buffalo in 2001, allowing the Patriots to keep the ball, win the game, and secure a first round bye. I think about New England beating Washington 52-7 in 2007 and the Redskins crying after the game because the Patriots ran up the score. I think about the Patriots going into Soldier Field in 2010 and thrashing a 9-3 Bears team that would eventually host the NFC Championship game, highlighted by Brady faking out the entire Bears D and hitting Deion Branch for a touchdown as time expired in the first half. I think about these things from time to time because they’re incredible and innumerable and no other franchise can claim as many positive memories over the past 13 years. I’m just realizing how pathetic this could make me seem, but the fact is that sports are a part of life, so yeah, it’s something I think about.
Barkley’s words shouldn’t be taken personally, because in some areas, he’s correct. For one thing, kids under 15 probably lack an appreciation for what they’re seeing, even though it’s not entirely their fault. What else are they supposed to expect when their team is in the playoffs every year? Sure, they’ll appreciate it after Brady and Belichick leave, but it’s understandable if younger people have come to expect a division title and playoff appearance every season.
There’s also the faction of New England fans who are irrational and myopic. Believe it or not, there are plenty of loud, obnoxious Patriots fans who’d rather hoot and holler about Brady and Belichick rather than actually take a look and see what’s happening in front of them. Shocking, right? Kidding aside, it pains me a little as a New England fan when the dolts among us just yell and scream but couldn’t tell you in which cities the Patriots have played their Super Bowls, or who their defensive coordinators have been, or even name a memorable regular season victory.
On the whole, however, the appreciation is there. It’s hard to put into perspective, which is what I think Barkley was getting at. But the evidence is there. I mean, did Charles notice the hysteria taking place in the region? Did he turn on the local news, open a newspaper, or listen to the radio? It’s all Patriots, all the time. Football isn’t a way of life in New England like it is in Texas, but the Patriots have a way of carving out a sizable piece of the pie. Between the draft and training camp and regular season and stretch run and postseason, the Patriots are always on the radar, no matter what. Sure, some of it is bluster, but better that than silence, right?
Put me in the group that’s skeptical of what will become of the Patriots when Brady and Belichick are gone. I’m sure the owners will do a fine job getting the franchise back on track, but it’s not a certainty, the way annual division titles are. And yes, Charles, that fear helps drive me to appreciate what I have, but it’s not everything. I appreciate because I’m old enough to remember cement-shoes Drew Bledsoe, always getting sacked right before throwing the ball. Bledsoe was a savior for a time and revived the franchise, but as we learned, he was no Brady. I’m old enough to remember watching Curtis Martin run like hell for three years and then go to New York. I’m old enough to remember Pete Carroll, the same guy who’s favored to win the Super Bowl right now, being a middling coach who’s tenure was unmemorable aside from the fact that he’s the answer to the trivia question “Who was the Patriots’ coach before Bill Belichick?” I remember what mediocrity is like, so I know how to appreciate the greatness in front of me right now.
And then there are oblivious Pats fans. The rare breed who live in the moment and take to heart a little too sincerely the popular mantra of “One game at a time.” Some are pink hats, but some are legit, just delirious and happy to be here. These fans haven’t even considered life after Brady and Belichick because they’re too busy enjoying the present. Barkley would say these fans don’t realize what they have. As long as they watch the games, follow the team, and take some time now and then to reflect on how fortunate they are to watch maestros in action, that sounds like a bunch of appreciative fans to me.
Of course, we all slip up once in awhile. Saturday night, I found myself questioning Josh McDaniels’s play calling, begging for him to unleash Brady in the 3rd quarter when the game got tight. An hour later, I scolded myself. “You dope,” I thought. “How could you bitch about play calling during a game where they scored 43 points!? You’re an idiot!” I slipped up and I felt like a schmuck. Complaining about play calling during a 43-point showing sure sounds like a hallmark of a spoiled, unappreciative fan who expects too much. Then I realized, just because I appreciate and value my team doesn’t mean I can’t question it every so often. Also, I’m a neurotic pessimist. But yeah, appreciative and inquisitive can co-exist, as long as it’s kept in mind that Brady and Belichick are perhaps once in a lifetime geniuses who’ve stayed at the top of their games for over a decade.
For the few Patriots fans about whom Barkley was speaking, it’s time to wake up and open your eyes. But Barkley should know that the vast majority of New England fans have been awake, eyes wide open, and smelling the coffee for quite some time.