It’s typically wise to avoid discussions of fan etiquette. These conversations arise from an irrational place and can quickly descend into something truly unrecognizable from typical human behavior.
However, it feels necessary to mention this, before ducking and covering for the inevitable backlash: Booing the Patriots at home, as Patriots fans, feels particularly ridiculous. I may even go so far as to say that there should be a two-year, self-imposed ban on booing the Patriots from the time of their last Super Bowl win. And that is extraordinarily generous since enough people out there seem eager to get to it.
The team lost Sunday to the Chiefs, 23-16, which was their second straight loss and third over the course of five games. New England is now 10-3 and—gasp!—now only the second seed in the AFC (still with a first-round bye). At halftime, after a particularly punchless two quarters of football and after a particularly conservative end-of-half strategy, the players were reportedly sent off the field with a verbal middle finger from a fanbase that has enjoyed more spoils and riches than any other over the last three decades of professional football.
The fans’ counter-arguments are as follows:
• Well, the Patriots are playing bad.
• The team has a coach who constantly preaches living in the present—so why shouldn’t we?
• There’s now a standard that has been set, and this is our way of letting them know they are not playing to such a standard.
• I buy a $200 ticket, which entitles me to drink as many Miller Lites as I want and, subsequently, act and eat like I am not allowed to at home.
• But people in Philadelphia do it all the time.
All of these are fair, except for the fact that this coach and quarterback have revolutionized football (and do you really want to be compared to Eagles fans?). Until a few weeks ago, we were talking about a defense that was so innovative and difficult to crack that they might end the season as the best in NFL history. Nearly every season, the Patriots struggle during a time when they cocoon themselves, lose a few games and emerge with a game plan that is designed to slice through the heart of every playoff opponent’s core strength en route to at least the conference title game.
Maybe wait until you’re positive that won’t happen before expressing your unhappiness? At least that long?
Life is about perspective. Remember, there are high school-aged fans who can’t even fathom a world in which the Patriots don’t enter the season as a Super Bowl favorite. Similarly, there are Lions fans in high school who are probably no longer Lions fans because of the franchise’s perpetual ability to do horrible, self-destructive things on a regular basis. Those fans are allowed to boo because there is something real and visceral there. With bad, historically unsuccessful franchises, there is something worth raging against.
In New England, booing the Patriots feels a little like short-changing your waiter at Per Se because the gougère felt a little doughier than last time. And even in that scenario, I’m more inclined to side with the unhappy diner because they’re paying outrageous prices. A Patriots fan can watch the best team in football history play the Miami Dolphins in three weeks, in a playoff tune-up game, for almost the same price as projected attendees of next week’s Jaguars-Raiders game. Those poor, misguided souls.
Back in 2014, I covered a Patriots playoff game and listened to a wobbly Charles Barkley in the locker room blast fans of the team for not properly savoring the sustained greatness they’d witnessed for so long.
As he eloquently put it: "When Bill Belichick leaves and Tom Brady leaves, y'all team is going to (expletive) suck. You take it for granted. You do take it for granted. You're like, 'We have to win the Super Bowl, or our season sucks.'"
And while Barkley is not the person that you’d like to trust on a lot of things, he might be right here. When Belichick and Brady are gone, there is no possible way it gets better from there. Ever. Speaking personally as someone who has never rooted for a team that won a World Series, National Championship, Stanley Cup or Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy in their sentient lifetime, I would advise you save the boos for the moments when the Patriots start resembling the rest of the intellectually backwards league they have dominated for so long. When, in 2031, head coach Pat Shurmur is surrender punting from deep in his own territory while trailing 31-3 in the second quarter.
Then, it will be warranted. Then, you can boo.
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