How the Patriots Built Football's Greatest Dynasty

How the Patriots Built Football's Greatest Dynasty

After yet another Super Bowl title for the Patriots, their sixth since 2002, it's easy to forget how New England's run of success began. These are the origin stories of football’s marquee dynasty—from Robert Kraft’s humble beginning to the rise of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to the surprising stars of Super Bowl LIII.
February 04, 2019

This story appears in the Feb. 11, 2019, issue of Sports Illustrated. For more great storytelling and in-depth analysis, subscribe to the magazine—and get up to 94% off the cover price. Click here for more.


“Sports is a history of dynasties. Dynasties give people someone to rally around, and dynasties give people something to rally against. People want to see greatness.” — Geno Auriemma, UConn women’s basketball coach; 11-time NCAA champion

Inside a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta, bass thumps so loudly that the ground shakes. Ludacris is onstage, rapping about greatness, as Patriots owner Robert Kraft reclines on a white couch in the VIP area. A gold chain glistening with a jewelry heist’s worth of diamonds hangs around his neck.

It’s 2:35 a.m. Monday morning. Kraft rises and retreats to a small room, where he holds up the chain for inspection, the word CHAMPIONSHIPS encrusted in jewels. The rapper Meek Mill gave him the necklace on Sunday night, after the Patriots won another Super Bowl, 13-3 over the Rams, earning Kraft his sixth title in 25 years of ownership. Some dubbed the game the Boring Bowl, but in reality it was classic Patriots: Bill Belichick’s masterful scheme, Tom Brady’s impeccable timing, Julian Edelman’s heroics and, at the end, confetti falling on the field.

Kraft clutches the neckpiece, which weighs at least 10 pounds, but he’s in no hurry to unburden himself of it. “Championships,” he reads aloud, drawing out the S and noting that Meek told him to hang this on one of his trophies.

The party started hours earlier, with a few thousand guests crammed into this ballroom, and several dozen more of the most important members of Kraft’s dynasty packed into three separate rooms downstairs. Attendees wore silver wristbands for Brady’s private party, blue bands for Belichick’s and white bands to celebrate with Kraft. Garden hedges lead back to the private rooms, like some sort of imperial maze. All around the bars are open, the buttermilk biscuits laid out, the Chilean sea bass fileted. Kraft hands out 50-year-old cigars he saved for the occasion. The Lombardi Trophy rests on a mantle, smudged by kisses and by hundreds of fingertips that held it aloft back at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Edelman and his family settle into Kraft’s suite. The receiver wears all black, and he carries one of Kraft’s stogies in one hand, a full glass of whiskey in the other. Chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP!” break out and someone tells Edelman that Snoop Dogg, performing onstage, has requested the presence of the twice-star-turned receiver who caught 10 passes for 141 yards. Mic in hand, Snoop yells, “If you think Tom Brady is the motherf------ GOAT, make some noise!”

Upstairs, above the parties within the party, Kraft doesn’t consider the scandals from past seasons, or the internal tension that last year threatened all he’d built. He’s more focused on the totality of the franchise’s accomplishments and the underdog mentality his team adopted late in this run, going so far as to display quotes from critics on the TVs throughout One Patriot Place, emphasizing what now seems silly, this notion that the Patriots—the Patriots!—weren’t expected to win again. It’s that very totality, two decades of dominance—a run so long that his own fan base has become inured to the improbability of New England’s unprecedented success—that makes it easy to forget where all of this started. The humble beginnings. All of the factors that coalesced to create a dynasty that’s comparable to anything in the history of sports.

Of his reign, Kraft says in this quiet room outside the din, “I don’t believe it will ever be duplicated. Especially in the age of parity, I don’t think it will ever be done again.”


Rob Tringali

"To have it happen over and over and over again is something to behold and treasure. More than try to rank it, you should enjoy it and you should appreciate it." — Bill Walton, former UCLA, Trail Blazers and Celtics center; two-time NCAA and NBA champion

Twenty-five years before this latest coronation and the gaudy CHAMPIONSHIPS necklace, Kraft began planning not just to create a dynasty, but to sustain one. This was February 1994, a month after he’d purchased the Patriots for $172 million. He flew with his son, Jonathan, to meet with 49ers president Carmen Policy, who by then had won three Super Bowls in San Francisco, and there they spent the whole day touring the team’s facilities, Kraft asking question after question about supremacy and philosophy and ownership. He wanted to know everything, Policy says—“but he was really, really interested in how we maintained [success].”

The most important topic the men discussed, however, was a new wrinkle that had just been introduced to the league, and that would redefine pro football: the salary cap. The Patriots, Kraft believed, could reshape the fortunes of their downtrodden franchise by exploiting the now-leveled playing field.

“Football back then was about who had the deepest pockets, and now it was going to be about who could manage intelligently,” says Jonathan Kraft. “My father said, ‘I like competing on those terms.’ ”

• BREER: The Patriots Out-Match and Out-Think the Rams for Title No. 6

Several years later Robert met with Policy again. The Patriots had experienced mixed success in Kraft’s time at the helm: two division titles, a Super Bowl reached and lost, and two departed coaches. Not exactly the dynasty he had planned for.

This time the discussion would be centered around a man who at the time had been fired by the Browns, where he was considered a failed head coach, and who’d then spent a year in New England before a tumultuous two-season stint leading the Jets’ defense. Now Kraft needed a second opinion. Policy spoke highly of Bill Belichick, who he considered bright and talented. But with all of the attendant drama, Policy considered the move risky and recommended a safer hire.

Kraft remained torn. Most NFL coaches at the time wanted to be fully removed from cap decisions, but it was obvious that Belichick firmly grasped the intricacies of the new system. Just like Kraft, Belichick thought he could manipulate it to his benefit. “My gut, my instinct, everything inside of me tells me he’s the guy we’re going to be able to do it with,” Kraft told Policy in the end. “And we’re going to do it together.”


John W. McDonough

“There is parity, payroll. The system is egalitarian. There are no unfair advantages. The Patriots are in their own category. I don’t quite know how to categorize it. It should be appreciated. Commended. One should use it as a measuring stick.” — Bob Myers, Golden State Warriors general manager; three-time NBA champion

Denis Leary couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You’re kidding me,” he told his friend and fellow comedian Lenny Clarke. “Bill Belichick?

This was 2004 and Belichick wanted to visit the set of the television show, Rescue Me, on which Leary and Clarke starred. Leary, a New England native and a longtime Pats fan, warned his friend: Belichick should expect a full 12-hour day.

Clarke had met Belichick four years earlier on a cross-country flight, months after the coach was hired in New England, and the two had formed the unlikeliest of friendships: the famously loud, uncouth comedian and the notoriously surly, reticent coach. From Boston to Los Angeles they were seatmates while Belichick prepared for his first NFL combine with the Patriots—the one after which he’d eventually draft an ungainly-looking QB named Tom Brady in the sixth round. In the air, Belichick poured through binder after binder of notes on seemingly every prospect, each one the size of a phone book.  “This guy was working like a mad f------ scientist,” Clarke remembers.

On the day Belichick ultimately visited the set, he arrived at 5 a.m., signed autographs and posed for pictures. But when Leary offered him a trailer, Belichick declined. He wanted to observe. “Do you guys mind?” he asked.

They did not, and so Belichick pulled out one of those little notebooks he carries on the sideline, along with a sharpened pencil and his Blackberry. He spent the rest of the day taking notes and asking a million questions. When do the lighting guys come in? Who’s the boss? How many guys work for him?

As the crew broke for lunch, Leary asked Belichick, “Are you thinking about becoming a director? Why all these questions?” Just fascination, Belichick responded. Process.

• BENOIT: How Bill Belichick’s Master Plan Unfolded

It’s easy—all the years and awkward press conferences later—to see Belichick as an emotionless cyborg. The guy who largely stands by himself during games. Mr. On To Cincinnati. But his TV cameo showed Leary what lay deeper, beyond the monotone and the closely-guarded secrets. “A psychological master,” Leary says.

Sure, Belichick ostensibly failed in Cleveland, where he was 36-44 over five years. But he approached that tenure like the set of Rescue Me. And now, says Louis Riddick, who spent 13 years in NFL front offices, he knows his place in history, knows he’s the greatest coach of all time. “He is secure in who he is and what he’s done.”

Even at 66, the second-oldest coach in the NFL, he’s the same guy who early on hounded NBA GMs for advice on the salary cap, who argued with the clerks at hotels that didn’t have a VCR on which he could watch film, who installed sensory-deprivation float tanks at Gillette Stadium after visiting the U.S. Special Forces.

Back in the fall of 2007, when the Spygate videotaping scandal surfaced, right after the Patriots’ first game of that season, Belichick called Clarke on a Friday asking for a favor. He wanted the comedian to come talk to his team, because, as Clarke says, “it was really f------ tense there” and Belichick wanted to lighten the mood.

Clarke brought a video camera along, and he started off by holding it up, saying: “They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Evidently this is worth a quarter of a million dollars. Who is the f------ idiot that didn’t hit delete?” The room exploded in laughter. Clarke went on to roast player after player, with extra attention on Brady, who could only shake his head and laugh at the jokes about his sex life.

“Thank you—you just saved my season,” Belichick said afterward, and when the Patriots beat the Chargers the next day he gave his friend the game ball. “That’s his genius,” Clarke says.

To win a sixth ring a decade later, Belichick would have to match wits with a wunderkind coach in Sean McVay—33 years his junior, labeled the league’s newest football genius. He’d have to stop a No. 1-pick QB (and early-season frontrunner for MVP) in Jared Goff, and stifle running back Todd Gurley, one of the top offensive players in football. This Rams offense had been credited all year long with shifting the paradigm for how football could be played.

Instead Belichick made Los Angeles look more like the Jeff Fisher-led “7-9 bulls---” Rams that preceded McVay. Belichick and his defensive coordinator, Brian Flores, confused their opponents, swapping the man coverage they played most of 2018 with various types of zone. That switch forced Goff to hold on to the ball longer than he wanted, allowing the Patriots to pressure the young quarterback, sacking him four times and forcing 19 incompletions. That, says defensive end Adrian Clayborn, was precisely the plan, to rattle Goff by giving him both new and varied looks. On one third-quarter throw, Goff had Brandin Cooks wide open in the end zone. But he floated the pass just enough that cornerback Jason McCourty was able to close in, magically covering what seemed like half the field, and bat the ball away.

McVay admitted afterward: He had been “out-coached.”


Simon Bruty

“You hear players talk about ‘I was in a zone tonight.’ [Michael] Jordan could activate that. That was his gift. Brady has that too. Jordan didn’t play, he finished. Brady doesn’t play, he finishes.” — B.J. Armstrong, former Chicago Bulls guard; three-time NBA champion

One week before Super Bowl LIII, the original Tom Brady sat in a booth on the second floor at Boudin Bakery in San Francisco, with all of Fisherman’s Wharf—seagulls, crab stands, Alcatraz looming in the distance—spread below. He raised his son, the Tom Brady now famous across the world, not far from here, in San Mateo. Raised him to love football and the 49ers and the sublime quarterback play that defined the great NFL dynasty of the 1980s.

Young Tom didn’t play football until 14, and even then he didn’t play particularly well. He was the backup QB on the freshman team at Serra High and never took a single snap, instead moonlighting at linebacker. That team, the one he couldn’t start for, finished 0-8-1. He was named the starter for the next season, and before his first game he came home “beside himself,” Tom Sr. says. He told his dad, “I don’t know how to throw the ball.”

“I think it’s the first and only time he had stage fright,” the elder Brady says all these years later.

A million things happened between then and now, transforming that Brady into this Brady, breaker of records, wearer of “recovery pajamas,” consumer of the strangest diet in sports. His father wears the championship ring from New England’s first Super Bowl victory, XXXVI, on his right hand. That title seems like a lifetime ago. Those 2001 Patriots were huge underdogs—actual underdogs—playing against a Rams offense known as the Greatest Show on Turf.

Flash forward 17 seasons, past four more Super Bowl wins (and three defeats), past the trade last season of presumed successor Jimmy Garoppolo, past the friction of the 2017 season with Belichick. Coach and quarterback came to something of a truce this season, with Belichick allowing Brady’s health guru, Alex Guerrero, full access to the quarterback and to the team facility while leaving treatment for the majority of Brady’s teammates up to the Pats’ medical staff.

New England’s last championship game did not end well. Brady threw for 505 yards and three TDs against the Eagles but still lost 41-33. Afterward he stayed up all night, analyzing what went wrong. In the months that followed he did discuss retirement, just not in the way you might think. Brady has long expressed a desire to play until he’s 45, and he entertained no thoughts of moving up that timeline. Instead he debated what “retire” really means, how in other cultures many people choose not to retire at all.

• JONES: For Super Bowl Win No. 6, Tom Brady Passes Around the Credit—and Ends the GOAT Debate

The season started slowly, with two losses in the first three games, but Brady moved through it all relatively unscathed for a 41-year-old quarterback. “The thing that was hard about this year was the unevenness of the journey,” says Brady Sr. “We’re looking like we’re missing a few cylinders, then you start to have major worries. But they weathered it.” Brady did suffer a minor MCL sprain in his left knee in Week 10, on a reverse catch—but by the time the injury was reported, in January, it had already healed.

This Patriots season, like most Patriots seasons, built toward a crescendo. Brady ceded throws to a renewed run game. He saw the funk that fell over the locker room after a shocking Week 14 loss at Miami, the game decided on a miracle hook-and-ladder play. That defeat bled into the next week, when New England fell to Pittsburgh on the road. Suddenly, the Patriots no longer seemed invincible; they almost lost their usual playoff bye.

Yet, unlike in previous Super Bowl seasons, there was no controversy over deflated footballs, no family member fighting cancer (Tom Sr.’s wife, Galynn, has been healthy in recent years), no thumb gash that required 12 stitches, like last winter. “This run was calmer,” says Guerrero. “We talked about this. Like, ‘I can’t believe we don’t really have any issues to deal with.’ Zero body issues. No emotional issues. Home life is great. Work life is great. Meanwhile, everyone’s saying he’s falling off a cliff!”

That feeling of Zen, that unique ability to access the zone, was evident in the fourth quarter on Sunday. After a night on which the Rams mostly flummoxed Brady, there he was on the decisive drive, finding Rob Gronkowski twice, first hitting the tight end up the right sideline for 18 yards, then two plays later lobbing a pass down the left sideline for 29 more, down to the Rams’ two-yard-line. Perfect throws. Perfect timing. On the next play, running back Sony Michel plowed into the end zone, giving New England a 10-3 lead.

This time it didn’t feel quite as inevitable, as Brady sometimes looked mortal and the defense picked up the slack. It was more redolent of the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win, 17 years ago, when Brady walked into the huddle, a 24-year-old sixth-rounder, and calmly told his teammates: “We are going to go down the field and win this f----- football game, and become world champs.”


John W. McDonough

“The biggest thing is the ability to separate one season from the next season. It’s so easy, when you are having success, to roll them all together and say, ‘We just have to do what we did last year.’ That was our mistake with the Rams. The Patriots have constantly reshaped.” — Kurt Warner, former Rams quarterback; Super Bowl XXXIV champion

The two coaching wunderkinds met in 2013, when Brad Stevens, then 36, moved to Boston to lead the Celtics and quickly befriended Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ 37-year-old offensive coordinator. They played golf together and sent sympathetic text messages after playoff defeats. But it wasn’t all suburban-dad friendliness. They also spent countless hours debating strategy, discussing management, leadership and how best to reach their players. And here, two topics came up often: 1) How coaches should handle success at a young age and 2) How to evolve. “The best teams—his best teams—are always flexible,” says Stevens.

For McDaniels, adaptation remains a lifelong theme, the central tenet for both his own personal management style and for the Patriots’ famous Way. Growing up in Ohio as the son of a legendary high school football coach, Thom McDaniels, Josh watched his father adjust his offense every season. Thom’s teams would throw more often when a quarterback's arm warranted an air attack, or hand the ball off 30 times when the talent called for it, or maybe install the option. The key, Thom says, wasn’t just to utilize his players’ strengths—it was to utilize those strengths while attacking the opposing defense’s weaknesses.

And that, says Josh, is “the genesis of everything we do.”

McDaniels started as a grad assistant for Nick Saban at Michigan State in 1999, then worked his way up from a Patriots personnel assistant to O.C. in five seasons before being courted as the Broncos’ coach in 2009. His time there lasted less than two seasons. Eleven wins and 17 losses.

• ROSENBERG: We’ve Seen This Patriots’ Super Bowl Victory Before—and We Should Appreciate It

After that firing McDaniels flew home to Ohio. He told his parents he’d spoken to Belichick, who asked if his mom and dad were doing O.K. Belichick also told McDaniels to learn from the experience, and so he created an Excel spreadsheet, lessonslearned.xls, where he reviewed everything from the length of his meetings to his roster-building approach to his development of assistants. If he ever took a head job again, he promised to implement all those changes.

McDaniels returned to New England in 2012, Belichick taking him back the way Bill Parcells had rehired him after five losing seasons in Cleveland. Belichick told him: Keep evolving.

McDaniels planned to become the Colts’ coach around this time last year, after Super Bowl LII. Only, the Patriots lost to the Eagles and then, in the days that followed, something about the Indy offer—some things—didn’t feel right. McDaniels won’t discuss exactly what changed his mind, but several people close to him and to Patriots ownership confirm that McDaniels met with Kraft for several hours last February. Kraft told McDaniels that he desperately wanted him to stay, emphasizing the coordinator’s long relationship with Brady and his importance to the franchise, offering a contract that would pay more like a head coach’s, at over $4 million a year.

Thus began another offensive evolution. The Patriots knew they wouldn’t have Edelman, their top pass catcher, for the season’s first four games after he’d been suspended for violating the league’s PED policy. They knew they lacked a deep threat and that Gronkowski was no longer the same explosive, transcendent tight end of his prime. They needed to buy some time, to keep games close, to best utilize what they did have. “The Patriots,” says Thom McDaniels, “basically view September as an extension of training camp.”

In that time they reconfigured yet again. They traded for Trent Brown, the heaviest player (and one of the most physical right tackles) in football, then moved him to the left. They drafted Michel, a versatile playmaker from Georgia, with the 31st pick, marking only the second time Belichick has taken a back in the first round.

The answer to all their concerns, says NFL analyst Trent Dilfer, “was to run the ball, use bigger linemen, utilize Gronk as a blocker, don’t take a lot of risks, keep games close—and trust Brady to bring us back if we get behind.”

On Sunday, after the Patriots had mustered only three points in 10 possessions, McDaniels proved adaptable once again. With the Rams’ dominant D-line allowing coordinator Wade Phillips to keep extra defenders in coverage, McDaniels went big, shifting into a jumbo package with rarely-used tight end Dwayne Allen. The result: the game’s only touchdown drive.

Shape-shifting, just like his dad taught him.


John W. McDonough

“Edelman is Mr. Playoff. He is the heart of the offense. I thought what we did [in Indianapolis] was special. What they are doing, we will never see again.” — Reggie Wayne, former Colts receiver; Super Bowl XLI champion

Julian Edelman lounged on a plush sectional in the living room of a $5.5 million West Hollywood mansion. Feet up, shoes off, his view encompassed a chef’s kitchen, a tree-lined pool and a waterfall that doubles as a projector screen. This was July 2017, five months after he made the Catch That Changed Everything—between three defenders, using the leg of one and the arm of another, plucking the ball half a millimeter from the turf in a play that spurred an epic Super Bowl LI comeback against the Falcons.

The former community college QB, turned Patriots special teamer, turned Brady sycophant, turned Brady best bud had, at this moment, officially become a star. In the previous few months he’d done the late-night talk show circuit and posed naked for the cover of ESPN’s Body Issue. He was also in the beginning stages of writing a sitcom based on his life, with a six-episode arc already drawn up and a tentative title, Mr. Irrelevant. This marked a dramatic departure for the receiver whose origin story reads like the Labors of Hercules.

“Then it fell off a cliff,” says his father, Frank. “Just like that. Over.”

On a routine cut in the Patriots’ third preseason game that year, against the Lions, Edelman tore his right ACL. Frank, watching back at home in Mountain View, Calif., says he knew immediately that his son’s season was done.

Julian was devastated after years of crawling and clawing through anonymity and rejection and heartbreak. Frank, too, was heartbroken. But he wasn’t worried. After 31 years of indoctrinating Julian in “our process,” as Frank calls the family way—this being a guy who suffered a heart attack in November 2016 and was back at his auto body shop fixing cars two days later—he knew his son didn’t snivel, didn’t quit, didn’t feel sorry for himself. “Jules has will and perseverance as strong as a man could have,” Frank says. “The only option we had was to move forward.”

Since Julian was in grade school, Frank would sit in his office, take out a notebook and jot down his own sayings. Frankisms, the family calls them. Then he’d walk into his son’s room, notebook in hand, and force the boy to listen. They were aphorisms that father used to motivate son through any trials, a sort of guidebook to life. (Getting there is hard; staying there is harder. And so on.) But after the injury, Frank didn’t dust off the notebook. He didn’t have to.

“All the bulls---, all those sayings, all that stuff is gone now,” Frank told Julian. “Now it’s just you.”

As the Patriots machine rolled on without him, making it to another Super Bowl before narrowly losing, Edelman watched other receivers step up and fill his role. That used to be him, the one who once slid into the starting lineup on account of someone else’s injury. The desperate Julian Edelman, the hungry Julian Edelman, the Julian Edelman who is so manically immersed in the game that it leaves him no time to shave, was back. His family call this mindset “the Abyss.”

• VRENTAS: History Hung in the Air, and the Patriots Grabbed It

 Almost a year after the injury, as Edelman neared his return, the NFL announced his ban for the positive PED test. Right away Frank flew to Boston to console his son, who he says felt humiliated, completely removed from the team. Unfortunately, father told son, there’s nothing we can do, and so Frank spent two days just hanging out in Julian’s condo, watching movies. Julian later published an apology on his Instagram account.

On the Thursday of Week 4 this season, before Julian’s last game away from his team, Frank flew back to Boston again. Early that Sunday father and son went to a field and worked out together, with Frank reprising his role of coach. “Full circle,” he says.

While Julian uncharacteristically dropped a few too many passes early in his return, Frank laughed off the critiques that came. He reminded his son that he’s not 22 anymore, that his gift is his quickness and that, after his injury, he needed to play smarter. In their talks, one movie scene came up frequently, from the Tom Cruise vehicle Days of Thunder: Cruise’s character, a racecar driver returning to his sport after a vicious wreck, is driving toward another multi-car pile-up, smoke billowing over the track, and he has to go full-throttle through the crash.

As the season turned from December to January and Julian started to feel more like himself, Frank told his son, “It’s time, you’re ready. Accelerate through the smoke.”

With Sunday night turning into Monday morning in Atlanta, here was Edelman, the last Patriot left in the locker room. A cigar dangles from his mouth as he sits shirtless at his locker, fingers running through his unkempt beard. He asks a Patriots staffer if the team bus is really leaving him behind. (It is, a consequence of the endless interviews required of the MVP.) As he finally walks out of the empty locker room, the lights shut off behind him.


Rob Tringali

“Everyone wants to see the demise of this franchise. I promise, you are not seeing this [type of success] again. You better celebrate Tom Brady, Bill Belichick. Celebrate the brilliance we’ve seen.” — Terrell Davis, former Denver Broncos running back; two-time Super Bowl champion

The trip to San Francisco, the salary cap wizardry, the Rescue Me cameo, the last-minute retention of McDaniels and the comeback by Edelman—these all coalesced into a Super Bowl seized by New England in ways both typical and not. This one was different in that the Patriots won ugly, with defense, behind a brilliant plan that Belichick hatched last week in the basement of the Hyatt, in windowless meeting rooms with concrete white walls. It was similar in that Belichick, with a 41-year-old quarterback and just a single All-Pro, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, still devised a way to win.

The Patriots controlled the clock and the game in the first half, and yet, because of a Brady interception and a missed Stephen Gostkowski field goal and heavy pressure from the Rams’ front, they carried only a 3-0 lead into the break. Cameras captured Brady on the bench, angrily flinging a white towel but not waving the white flag.

Gilmore eventually made the play that clinched this latest title, late in the fourth, settling below an underthrown Goff pass for an interception. The pick, he says, overstating the degree of difficulty but not the significance, “was the best play of my life.”

• KLEMKO: How the Rams' Best Chance Was Broken Up Deep

Such exploits were exactly why the Patriots dedicated $65 million over five years toward the former Bills star in free agency before the 2017 season. They knew he’d played quarterback on the same South Carolina high school team as athletic marvel Jadeveon Clowney, and that their coach, Bobby Carroll, considered Gilmore “by far the best athlete” on that team. It took almost a full season, Gilmore says, for him to grasp the complexity of New England’s defense, but it helped this season that Belichick and Flores ratcheted up the aggressiveness, playing to Gilmore’s man-coverage strengths, as he finished second in the NFL with 20 passes defended. Late in the season, McCourty told Gilmore,You're the best cornerback in the league, hands down.

Shortly after Gostkowski added a late field goal in Atlanta, sealing the victory, Patriots players lingered on the turf, clinging to the nobody-believes-us theme they’d invented and pushed on one another. Later an employee carted the Lombardi Trophy around the locker room. Someone grabbed a boom box the size of a small fridge and carried it around, blasting Mo Bamba while Kraft handed out his cigars.


Rob Tringali

“Our success, relative to what the Patriots have done—or any other dynasty for that matter—pales in comparison. I don’t think anyone can properly put it into perspective how great they have been.” — Troy Aikman, former Cowboys quarterback; three-time Super Bowl Champion

After the Patriots won their second Super Bowl, in 2004, Kraft continued studying the concept of dynasties. He approached Aikman, who’d started a second career as a broadcaster, and the two men discussed how the Dallas dynasty of the 1990s self-destructed, through a bitter rivalry between an out-front owner, Jerry Jones, and a headstrong coach, Jimmy Johnson. Aikman told Kraft that, if they could go back, Jones and Johnson might have appreciated what they had created, instead of letting their egos get in the way.

Years later, on the eve of this latest championship appearance, Kraft gathered his closest friends for a private party. Meek Mill made a late, surprise appearance, mingling with Jon Bon Jovi and Martha Stewart. All around Kraft saw what a modern sports dynasty looks like: the celebrity friends, expensive suits, unlimited drinks. That’s when he and Meek discussed the chain and all that it meant, should the Patriots triumph again. “If they win,” Meek said, “they’re the best dynasty in the history of sports.”

Then they did win, and in some ways it felt like a capstone, an emphatic statement that meant more even than the previous titles. For years, Belichick and Brady had been described as the best coach and the best quarterback of all time. But their sixth title spoke to something greater—something less about any one part of how they ended up here and more about the totality of this unparalleled run.

To the surprise of no one, Brady confirmed his plans to return for another season. Gronkowski (through Instagram, of course) cast doubt on the possibility he might retire. Edelman planned his trip to Disney World, bracing himself for the fresh wave of interviews, starting at 6 a.m. His glass of whiskey remained full as Ludacris rapped and Kraft attempted to put his 25-year tenure in perspective.

“I try and learn from the guys above me,” Edelman finally says inside the Kraft suite. “They’ve been here, doing it a long time. It’s unbelievable. I mean, six times in 25 years.”

He pauses, then shifts right back into Patriot Mode. “I don’t know why, but I’m still in the heat of it. I’m not really thinking about those things right now. It may sound kind of bad, but I don’t have time to just sit back when I still want to do more.”

These are the Patriots, their dynasty both fully formed and seemingly without end. The celebration will continue well into Monday morning. Then, right back to work.

 

 

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)