If you are a New England Patriots fan, you have heard them all.
Some use the term ‘obnoxious.’ Others prefer the moniker ‘fair-weather.’ There is even the dreaded label of ‘bandwagon.’
(And those are just the ‘family-friendly’ terms for Pats fans).
New England Patriots fans against the world
New England Patriots Super Fan Keith Birchall (a.k.a The ‘Silver Bullet’)
New England Patriots fans cheer on the defense at Gillette Stadium
Based on USA Today’s recent rankings, you may add ‘worst’ to the adjectives used to describe Patriots fans. As in… “worst fan bases in sports.”
You, Patriots fans, rank third on that list.
It should be fairly noted that the story’s author, Mike Freeman, expressed his affection for Patriots fans, reflecting that the ranking was more for the benefit of the legions of Patriots-hating fans throughout the country. Therefore, this rebuttal of sorts is in no way a negative shot directed towards him.
While some are having fun with the ranking — wearing it as a ‘pseudo-badge of honor’ (at the risk of breaking the fourth wall, I thought this one was pretty funny) others are trapped in a semantic debate of wondering whether Patriots fans are truly the ‘worst’ fans in sports — or simply a victim of the circumstance that is envy.
If envy is the culprit, then perhaps New England fans are more ‘hated’ than actually being bad fans. In fact, some have recently argued to the contrary. Earlier this month, Mike Lewis, host of Fanalytics podcast, used an analytical ranking system to declare the Patriots as the second best fanbase in the NFL.
So which is it? Are Patriots fans really the worst? Or are they simply the most hated?
Most hated? Probably.
Most envied? Likely.
Worst? Not quite.
Know your History, before you Hate
Since 2000, the Patriots organization has enjoyed an unprecedented level of success. However, the history of Pats’ fandom has not always been one of privilege. Despite the good fortune that surrounded Foxborough, Massachusetts for two decades, the history of the Patriots is one that involves defeat much more than victory.
Formed in 1960, owner Billy Sullivan made the then Boston Patriots the eighth and final franchise of the American Football League (AFL). Though fan attendance was often scarce, the team played the majority of its home games in Boston’s Fenway Park from 1963-1968. The team won its first playoff game in 1963, a division-clinching victory over the Buffalo Bills. They subsequently lost the AFL championship game to the San Diego Chargers 51–10. They did not appear again in an AFL or NFL post-season game for another 13 years.
Following the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, the Patriots were a punchline more often than a punching bag. Despite some moments of success, defeat remained their ultimate fate. In 1976, the Pats earned their first NFL playoff-berth as a wild-card team. In 1978, they won their first AFC East division championship. Still, New England was only able to muster three playoff appearances in their first 12 years. They lost in their playoff opener each time.
In 1985, New England returned to the playoffs. After a ‘Cinderella-like’ playoff run, the Patriots represented the AFC for the first time in Super Bowl XX. However, the era of good feelings for Pats fans was about to abruptly end. The Patriots were steamrolled by the Chicago Bears 46–10, in what remains one of the most crushing defeats in Super Bowl history.
After a first-round playoff exit in 1986, the team would not make the playoffs again for eight more years. During the 1990 season, the Patriots went 1–15. They endured three ownership changes over the next 14 years. Losing seasons continue to pile up. Finally, in what would have been the ultimate demoralization of the New England fan base, then-owner, James Orthwein announced that he intended to move the team to his native St. Louis, Missouri in 1992. To say the least, it was not easy to be a Patriots fan.
If you think that fails to sound like ‘entitled luxury,’ you are not alone.
The Tide Begins to Turn
Two years later, the Patriots fortunes began to improve. In 1994, Orthwein sold the team to local businessman, (and current Chairman and CEO) Robert Kraft. With Kraft at the helm, head coach Bill Parcells, franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe and a group of tough, talented players ushered in a new culture in Foxboro. Parcells brought the Patriots to two playoff appearances, including Super Bowl XXXI (which they lost to the Green Bay Packers by a score of 35–21.) Pete Carroll, Parcells’ successor, would also take the team to the playoffs twice.
Although the days of embarrassment had passed them by, Patriots fans still found themselves among the back of the pack in the NFL fandom pecking order. Fans of teams like the New York Giants, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins would often look down on the Patriots as being “JV (Junior-Varsity)” or “bridesmaids.” Despite their then-recent success, NFL fans, as a whole, still looked at the Patriots as ‘second-fiddle.’
During the 1990s, Patriots fans often lamented their lack of ability to find team merchandise, even in their home state. The shelves of pro sports shops were often reserved for Boston’s Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins. Being a distant fourth in their own backyard almost certainly ensured that they would never find national acclaim.
However, anyone in the New England area can tell you that hometown pride runs deep. The desire to cheer on the hometown team was always there beneath the surface. The true Pats fan was just waiting for something to bring it all together.
When Tom met Bill
Since the arrival of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady in 2000, the Patriots have become one of the most successful teams in NFL history. They won 17 AFC East titles in 19 seasons. During that span, they did not endure a losing season. The franchise has also set numerous notable records, including most wins in a ten-year period (126, in 2003–2012), an undefeated 16-game regular season in 2007, the longest winning streak consisting of regular season and playoff games in NFL history (a 21-game streak from October 2003 to October 2004.) They won eleven straight division titles from 2009 to 2019. The Brady-Belichick regime owns the record for most Super Bowls reached (nine) and won (six) by a head coach-quarterback tandem. Currently, the team is tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers with six Super Bowl championships.
Unsurprisingly, New England’s fanbase has become the epitome of privilege. A generation of young adult fans have known nothing but playoff berths and frequent championship parades. 28-3 is not only recognized as the big game’s greatest comeback, it is also a staple of Bostonian game day fashion.
In short, Pats fans remain enthralled, while the rest are appalled.
Bravado is Born
To be fair, the New England fan’s swagger can be insufferable. After all, few, if any, have sympathy for a braggart. The image of both Belichick and Brady displaying their extensive collection of championship rings has understandably grown tired beyond the walls of Patriots Nation.
However, the triumvirate of Kraft, Belichick and Brady gave rise to a fan base that has yet to fade with a diminishing of the team’s success. Since Brady’s departure at the conclusion of the 2019 season, the tide has begun to turn. As a result, 31 other fan bases have begun to prematurely rejoice in dramatic fashion. From those within their own division, to those of other AFC rivals, those who dislike the Patriots and their fans are relishing the chance to revel in the team’s demise.
To their credit, Patriots fans knew that their success would not last forever. Yet — to use one of the team’s former playoff rally cries — they are ‘still here.’
From defending the team’s legacy against a sea of delusional, envy-driven and uninformed rhetoric surrounding ‘Spygate’, to the ridiculous inaccuracy that was ‘DeflateGate,’ New Englanders always had their team’s back.
And, they always will.
Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Robert Kraft, New England Patriots
New England Patriots Bright Future with Mac Jones?
Accordingly, Patriots fans should not be faulted for basking in the glow of their success. Fans of the 31 other NFL teams would certainly be as enthusiastic (and at times, annoying) in their fandom, as Patriots fans, if given the opportunity.
Based on that assumption, might it be considered hypocritical to refer to this fan base as ‘obnoxious’ or ‘entitled?’
Quite simply, the answer is ‘yes.’
Otherwise, it is fair game to label the rest of NFL fans as ‘envious.’
Therefore, when any entity calls Patriots fans the ‘worst,’ remember that bravado may breed hate. But, loyalty may make them great. There are still many Pats fans who have previously watched their beloved Patriots lose. In fact, they probably saw them lose more often than they saw them win. They have heard their team called the “Patsies” due to ridicule, rather than jealousy. However, they stuck with their team through the bad times. As a result, they have earned their right to enjoy the good times.
It may be perceived to be easy to be a Patriots fan. Still, it has not always been that way. The fans who had suffered before, are simply enjoying the ride. For the new generation, they are ready to support the next iteration of Belichickian Patriots led by quarterback Mac Jones. Training camp practices will be overflowing with fans. The Gillette Stadium seats will again be filled.
The tide-turning culture of winning now flows in New England ‘red, white and blue‘ through the veins of Patriots fans…and they will continue to celebrate it.
You can’t blame them.
Any other fan base would do exactly the same.
Some are doing so at this very moment…despite having enjoyed barely a fraction of the Patriots’ success.