I get the satisfaction the rest of the NFL gets in assuming, if not outright declaring, that the Patriots’ reign is over for good, that the dynasty of all NFL dynasties is finally deceased after almost 20 years.
Hey, maybe it is over. One probably could even say it is, given that Tom Brady is now a Buccaneer and some longtime admirable Patriots, including Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung, have opted out of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Me, I’m never declaring them anything less than a playoff contender so long as Bill Belichick is around. I remember what he did in 2001, and all that he’s achieved since. Last season ended badly, and the degree of difficulty for true Super Bowl contention undoubtedly has increased, unless Cam Newton is about to have a ’99 Randall Cunningham/‘13 Peyton Manning type of renaissance.
I know this, and everyone else who has been following the NFL for the last two decades should, too: Sleep on Belichick’s Patriots at your own peril.
Of course, it’s more fun for many to declare them dead, and certainly more comforting to cast them out of sight and out of mind. I get that. I remember doing it with the dynasty Yankees in 1999 … and 2000 … and 2001, when they finally did lose. There’s not much that’s more human than dreaming about all the ways your tormentor might get his comeuppance.
What annoys me is not that the Patriots are being spoken of in the past tense. It’s the failure to appreciate the magnitude of their achievement, especially from those who know firsthand how brutal and unforgiving the NFL can be on a week-to-week basis, let alone year-to-year.
You’d think they recognize how incredible it was, given how long they’ve waited for it to fade.
Yet here we are, with Tyreek Hill of the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs saying recently on an ESPN program that the Chiefs aren’t just thinking about repeating as champs. They’re thinking about becoming a dynasty and chasing … the Michael Jordan-era Bulls?
“Why not go seven rings?” said Hill last Thursday on ESPN’s “First Take.” “Right now we’re just chasing Jordan, so that’s what we do. So I’m going over five” – the number teammate Chris Jones predicted they would win – “and I’m saying seven.”
Now, Hill is not the first professional athlete to count his championship rings before the games have been played. The silly little pep rally LeBron James and the Heat threw to celebrate his signing in July 2010 (yep, it was that long ago) was so over the top in premature self-congratulations (“not one, not two, not three rings …”) that his two-title tenure there feels like an underachievement. They essentially had their championship parade before they even played together.
Hill and the Chiefs have won one title. One. They stand where the Patriots did in 2002 … with one ring, a brilliant young quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) helming it all, and a bright future that carries at least some uncertainty because everything in the brutal NFL carries uncertainty. They are in an enviable spot, but there is no guarantee that their promise will continue to be fulfilled. One cruel Sunday can change even the best-laid plans.
The Chiefs do know how hard it is to win once, having dealt with a devastating AFC Championship game loss to — hey, look, it was the Patriots — to end the 2018 season before getting over the hump last year. They have no idea how hard it is to win twice, or three times, and coming close to claiming six rings, let alone seven, should be downright unfathomable.
You’d think at the very least Hill and friends would remember to align their bold goals with the achievements of the two-decade dynasty from their own sport.
They are where the Patriots were in 2002. And the run for the Patriots, if it indeed is over, lasted more than another decade and a half beyond that. It amazes me that other NFL franchises don’t marvel at how the Patriots sustained that excellence.
You know what the best-case scenario for the Chiefs is? That Mahomes stays healthy, the majority of their core players stick around (Jones got his own nice payday after Mahomes’s record-setting $503 million deal), general manager Brett Veach drafts extremely well and is unemotional about parting ways with fan favorites … and the Chiefs end up being half of what the Patriots have been.
The Patriots weren’t — aren’t — just a dynasty. They were in essence two dynasties, the first three championships (2001, ’03, and ’04) and the next three (2014, ’16, and ’18) bookending a stretch of excellence (2005-13) in which lousy luck and other forces conspired to remind us just how hard it is to win a single Super Bowl.
Maybe, if everything goes right — and remember, the window is tight with key players like tight end Travis Kelce and safety Tyrann Mathieu becoming free agents after 2021 — the Chiefs could collect a couple more Lombardi Trophies in the next few years, and get into that conversation with the ’90s Cowboys as a three-title dynasty. But that is the absolutely best-case scenario.
There is no evidence that any current NFL franchise has the acumen and discipline to turn over the roster and adjust on the fly like Belichick’s Patriots did time and again as the dynasty evolved and shifted.
There were the early veteran-laden, defensive-focused teams with Richard Seymour and Ty Law and Tedy Bruschi. There was Brady’s evolution into an elite passer and then the best quarterback there has ever been, with favored targets ranging from Troy Brown to Deion Branch to Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman. Sure, Brady was the constant, but the Patriots never resisted change, even if it meant saying goodbye to one favorite champion after another.
The Chiefs have a wonderful core now. To become a dynasty of the Patriots magnitude — that is, a dynasty unequaled in the annals of the NFL, for now and most likely as long as this sport lasts — it requires multiple cores.
The Patriots won their first Super Bowl in the 2001 season. Seventeen year later, with the same coach and quarterback and an ever-changing cast of admirable contributors, they won their sixth. It’s unprecedented, and I’m fairly sure it cannot be imitated.
The Chiefs? A Patriot-like dynasty? I’d say get back to me on that in 2037, Tyreek. But you’ll be long gone from the league by then. And I suspect we’ll know the truth about how short your team fell much, much sooner than that.