According to legend, a defeated British army marched out of the siege of Yorktown in 1781 to the tune “The World Turned Upside Down.” It was a magnificently symbolic moment to cap off the Revolutionary War—the ragtag patriot army having shocked the world in defeating the greatest imperial machine of its age.
The New England Patriots don’t share much in common with their revolutionary namesakes, but they, too, know a little something about inverted worlds and challenged authority. Ever since Bill Belichick took over as head coach—turning a title-less laughingstock into a dynastic juggernaut—the Patriots have faced off not merely against their gridiron rivals, but the whole damn football world.
Every team wields the “us against the world” mantra at some point, of course, but few have mastered it quite like the Patriots. It is woven into just about every New England-centric story—sometimes loud and above the fold, other times as implied defiance.
Thursday’s opening night clash against the Steelers? They’ll be wearing that badge proudly.
The Deflategate controversy? It merely “emboldened Patriots Nation,” in the words of USA Today’s Ben Shields, fostering “an us-against-the-world mentality, and, by extension, strengthened the Patriots brand overall.”
In the wake of mounting accusations pointing to years of cheating and general untowardness, New England’s 2015 regular season stands to be a five-month totem to that very same defiance … just like it has been for the better part of a decade.
So to celebrate the start of another season of Patriots football, and in the interest of preserving history for future generations, let’s cull through the catacombs of New England media archives, to better catalog the team’s considerable history of chronic—and very much self-imposed—embattlement.
2001: The Birth of a Mantra
The Patriots have never been a team to back down from a challenge and they’ve certainly managed to shock people with their winning ways before—particularly in 2001, when they improbably found themselves in the Super Bowl as 14-point underdogs … But perhaps the best way for the Patriots to bring home another ring will be to get back to basics and play as if no one thinks they’ve got a chance.
Part of the beauty of this mantra is its inherent flexibility; it can literally mean—or be directed at—any entity one wants. Earlier Belichick teams weren’t hated as much as they were simply dismissed, but a good coach knows how to make the siege mentality work in any situation. That apparently includes rattling off three Super Bowl titles in four years with one of the world’s most fervent fan bases in your corner.
During that early-decade run, New England made the difficult, complex transition from “the world doesn’t believe we can win” to “they hate us ‘cuz they ain’t us.”
And they were just getting started.
2005: Patriots Shake Up World Politics
The owner of the New England Patriots claimed to have let Russian president Vladimir Putin get away with stealing his Super Bowl ring in 2005 at the request of the White House…
…Kraft recalled this week that someone from the George W. Bush White House told him that “it would really be in the best interest of US-Soviet relations if you meant to give the ring as a present.”
At this point, the cultural pull of Kraft’s suddenly fame-flush franchise extended far beyond the scope of the NFL. Indeed, it’s impossible to imagine the U.S. government cooperating with the Russians in anything resembling complete faith; except maybe to screw over the Patriots with a theft of valuable metal so brazen that even Mikhail Prokhorov slightly blushed.
2007: Peak Paranoia
Remeber when the Patriots were disciplined by the NFL for videotaping the Jets’ defensive coaches’ signals during an early-season game? Remember what happened after that incident? The Pats took no prisoners and dominated teams to the tune of a 16–0 regular-season record. Sure, the Pats had superb talent and adding receivers Wes Welker and Randy Moss heading into the season contributed in a huge way. But I’m convinced Belichick used Spygate as motivation for his players in an us-against-the-world scenario.
Until recently, this had been the Pats’ quintessential us-against-the-world campaign. They set a league record for points in a season, owing to an incredibly explosive offense incredible defense and—as any good vengeance-seeker might have—a polarizing penchant for humiliating enemies.
The crowning knife-twist: a 52–7 drubbing of future Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins. It felt like every team in their path was destroyed without conscience, and disposed of without so much as a shovel.
Except one, that is.
What happened to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII? Did they lose their us-against-the-world edge? How can such a dynasty successfully take on the entire football-worshiping world, year in and year out, yet fail to solve the sphinx-like riddle of a man who might easily be mistaken for a sweet potato farmer in the antebellum South?
2013: Uhh, This is Getting Out of Hand
Aaron Hernandez out here killin' errybody
With ex-Patriot Aaron Hernandez jailed and charged with murdering a 27-year-old associate, a Dorchester family dealing with that loss, and more skeletons dancing out of the Hernandez closet by the minute, it seems rather trivial to think about Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, and how the team is going to fare in wake of severing all ties with its Pro Bowl tight end.
But, with training camp now less than a month away, questions are already being asked in football circles about the Patriots thanks to Hernandez’ departure, and the significant hole in the offense left in his wake.
Many believe the Pats have become more vulnerable in the AFC East and in general with Brady now missing his three best targets in Wes Welker (in Denver), Rob Gronkowski (in limbo due to back surgery) and Hernandez…
…If you think about it, all the negative talk about the team and offense is just what the doctor ordered for Belichick.
He’s always been a master at galvanizing a team and using all the naysayers to his advantage. Can’t you just hear the “us against the world” mantra? The undermanned Patriots will have a collective chip on their shoulder, and that’s when Belichick typically gets the most out of his players.
There were quite a few of these articles, many of which are truly remarkable in their similarity, but make no mistake: this take is the pièce de résistance. Belichick’s Patriots have long thrived on deep-sixing the doubters … and what inspires more negative talk than having had a murderer on the roster?
It was pure genius. This Patriots team clearly was in transition, and the franchise hadn’t won a title since the 2004 season. How else were they supposed to summon that same win-fueling hurricane of hatred? New England has long lauded “The Patriots Way,” and, oh, did they find a way.
2014 AFC Championship Game
Another post on Boston.com claims that the Patriots are the underdog once again and that everyone’s rooting against them. In the article, written by “Obnoxious Boston Fan,” it compares the Patriots to the Yankees, the Heat and the Canadiens and says that this Sunday’s game isn’t Peyton vs. Brady XV — it’s Peyton vs Satan XV. Similar to the years when the Patriots were winning Super Bowls, Belichick will most likely use the “us against the world” mantra to motivate the team this Sunday.
“Peyton vs. Satan?” Whatever gave fans that idea?
The Patriots wound up losing that game—their second L in Denver during the Belichick era. But perhaps this is where the Patriots got some ideas about … thinner air?
2015: Return of the Kings
Deflategate afforded New England the perfect opportunity to unfurl their fire-frayed banner in the two weeks leading up to their Super Bowl XLIX triumph. But while many are quick to chalk up the Pats’ fourth Lombardi Trophy to Seattle’s truly Twilight Zone crunch-time playcalling, that’s not how it will be remembered in the Northeast.
Us. Against. The. World.
So, where does this leave the Patriots heading into 2015–16 slate? With so many fans brought to a frenzy over New England’s ever-growing cheating rap sheet, and with Brady #VINDICATED and back in the saddle for opening night, New England might finally find the fuel they need to tick off their final piece of unfinished business: 19–0, capping the greatest dynastic run the sport has ever seen.
Unless, you know, this guy’s waiting again at the end.