Bob Kraft remembers a kinder time, an innocent time, a time when members of his dark empire were . . . liked.
The New England Patriots were so cute when they were losing.
“When I bought the Patriots I think there were 23 lawsuits (around the franchise) and nobody was thinking of buying the team,” he said. “They were all so nice to me those first few years. But once we went to the Super Bowl in 1996, everybody who was so kind and gracious changed. I’m just being honest. I think everybody loves a doormat in this league.”
This Super Bowl isn’t feeling the love. It matches New England, possibly sports’ most hated franchise in history, against the Philadelphia Eagles, who haven’t been good enough long enough -- maybe seven minutes -- to be universally disliked, but they’re attached to the globe’s most contemptible, trash-spewing and generally inebriated fan base.
New England and Philadelphia also ended the Falcons’ last two seasons. So they maintain a special level of disdain with Atlanta football fans. But hey, it could be worse. It could be Patriots vs. Saints.
Back to Kraft. He bought the Patriots in 1994. Two years later, they were in the Super Bowl. This title game will be their ninth since the 1996 season, and they have won five. But admiration for Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady generally is attached to some dark cloud, given the Patriots’ past cheating scandals.
The biggest reason New England is hated, however, is simply that they’re good. Nobody hates the Cleveland Browns. We laugh at bad teams. We accuse great ones. Nobody hated the Patriots for the first four decades of their existence, at least outside of Boston, because they didn’t win anything. If they were taping opposing team’s practices or deflating footballs, nobody cared.
David Andrews, the former Georgia center now with the Patriots, said, “I’m from Georgia and we’ve got Alabama down there. It’s the same thing. You learn to respect those organizations even though you might not like them, at least I have with Alabama.”
“I guess I’m on the right side of the hate now.”
The New England conspiracy theories are amusing. Depending on whether a penalty goes for or against them or they’re winning or losing a game or an NFL office decision, it’s either, “The league is out to get the Patriots,” or, “(Blank) happened because they’re the Patriots.”
The criticism bothers Kraft. But at this point he’s accustomed to it, and when your city is throwing parades for you, pain subsides quickly.
“I was at the Grammys, I got a little shout out, and they gave a little Bronx cheer,” Kraft said. “In a way, it was a compliment. I’d rather be on the receiving end than feeling it, you know? Remember, for 34 years I used to sit in the stands and it was a different experience.”
Does he feel it from other owners?
“Sure. And if we weren’t in the position we’re in, I would feel it toward whoever’s on top.”
Is it unfair?
“Unfair? Every roof has a leak. Every heart has some sadness. You just work through it. Somebody out there will take us down. I hope it’s not this Sunday. Look how close our games are. Last year with two minutes left in the third quarter, we had .4 chance of winning -- a 99.6 percent chance to lose.”
Yes. We heard.
How hated are the Patriots? Contempt is a difficult thing to measure, and it changes from era to era. But below is my top (bottom) five list for most vilified sports teams. Several other teams merited consideration and were close, including the Boston Celtics, L.A. Lakers, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders.
5. Duke basketball: Great school, great basketball program, great coach in Mike Krzyzewski, no argument. But the Blue Devils have long exuded that sense of, "The world would be a better place if it was run more like us," and there's been no shortage of perceived whiners, from Christian Laettner to J.J. Redick to Grayson Allen.
4. Dallas Cowboys: They're the exception to the you-have-to-be-good-to-be-hated rule. They haven't won a Super Bowl for 22 years and they've missed the playoffs six of the last eight years. But owner Jerry Jones' smugness level remains off the charts, and the organization's handling of domestic violence cases involving Ezekiel Elliott and Greg Hardy didn't help.
3. Alabama football: The Crimson Tide was put on three years probation in 1995 and five years probation in 2002 for recruiting violations. The NCAA said it considered the "Death Penalty." Let that sink in. Now Nick Saban just makes everybody miserable because he's winning championships: five in the last nine seasons.
2. N.Y. Yankees: There's a play called, "Damn Yankees," which puts them in a unique category. There's a long and rich history of disdain, mostly stemming from their 27 World Series titles. But they weren't accused of scuffing baseballs, corking bats, juicing players or stealing signs any more than the next team. They lack the alleged seedy underbelly of Hades' team.
1. New England: Spygate. Deflategate. Stealing signals. The Patriots do a lot of things right but their rapsheet follows them. Former Eagles and New York Giants defensive assistant Steve Spagnuolo reiterated charges on a Philly sportstalk station Tuesday, recalling when the Eagles lost to New England in Super Bowl 39 (won by the Patriots 24-21).
"The biggest thing we learned was make sure you have two signal-callers, not one signal-caller," Spagnuolo said, via Newsday. "Because they may have all of your signals."
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EARLIER: It’s a Super Bowl only penguins (and Minnesotans) could love