Once upon a time the New England Patriots were known as a collection of lovable losers. We used to hold them in high regard and disdain at the same time. Not in the same way as the Red Sox, for whom New Englanders can never run out of conversational tangents about. They always seemed to be a team going nowhere, but you just had to love them. Once upon a time, Steve Grogan was the epitome of New England's work hard and try to persevere mentality. He was the man and no matter how many times they tried to sit him on the bench and bring another quarterback in to lead the team, everyone wanted Grogan.
Ah, but that was long ago and far away. In 1985/1986, the Patriots astounded critics by taking an improbable regular season and playoff run to Super Bowl XX. However, as luck would have it for these lovable losers, they would run smack into the infamous '85 Chicago Bears in the New Orleans Superdome and get beaten into submission. There are few fans back home in New England that don't remember looking at the face of a shellshocked Tony Eason, the golden boy picked to displace Steve Grogan at the time, cowering in fear and pain as the Bears' defense kept coming at him.
Lean years would follow that Superbowl debacle. Tony Eason never recovered from the treatment he received at the hands of the Bears and probably still has flashbacks. Even the proudest Patriot of all times, John Hannah would run out of gas. In true New England style, the greatest player the Patriots ever had was an offensive lineman.
The next golden boy to arrive on the scene would be Drew Bledsoe. The Patriots' first round draft pick in 1993, the former Washington State hero would arrive on the scene with more fanfare than any New England quarterback before him. The team would build around him and highly regarded head coach Bill Parcells and find its way to a second Superbowl appearance. Again, they would be thrown down and dismissed, this time by the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. This time, however, they at least looked like they belonged there, merely losing 35-21.
Bill Parcells would leave soon after and the Patriots would spend the next four years trying to establish a new identity. The eventual hire of Bill Belichick would do little to bring back faith, as this was a man famous for being a grump who rubbed people the wrong way and was driven out of Cleveland for being unable to get along with anyone.
Super Bowl XXXVI would find the Patriots visiting New Orleans and the site of past defeats once again. This time the golden boy Drew Bledsoe would find himself on the bench for most of the season, replaced by unheralded quarterback Tom Brady, the closest thing to a Steve Grogan the latter day Patriots have been able to find. The underdog quarterback is once again behind center on the team that tries to glorify the working man's mentality. It has worked throughout the season and into the playoffs. The question on everyone's mind on Superbowl Sunday 2002 is, will it work again, or will the heavily favored St. Louis Rams treat the New England Patriots the same way the Bears and Packers treated them in Superbowls past?
After forty-two years of existence without winning a league championship, there must have been some magic in an old silk hat someone was wearing. Devoid of any real superstar, their highest paid player on the bench, the New England Patriots came onto the field as a team, going against the long standing tradition of introducing individual starters, and made a mockery of the fact that they were considered 14 point underdogs. Taking advantage of turnovers and keeping St. Louis' high flying offense from making frequent trips to the end zone, the Patriots hung on for a wild ride and won the game in the final seconds with a 48 yard fieldgoal. The Patriots would be immortalized as winners of Super Bowl XXXVI.
And so, the New England Patriots could finally be considered winners. Where would they go from there? Would new found respect change the nature of this team? Only time will tell.