A football field with the number 30 on it.

Hang in there, Patriots fans – John Cardullo

by John Cardullo, sportswriter

The New England Patriots season so far has not panned out the way the team and its faithful fans had hoped. Only four seasons have elapsed since Tom Brady wore the Patriots’ red, white, and blue. Brady went on to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory and the New England Patriots have seen their fortunes sink further and further into the NFL abyss. Since Brady’s departure, this has had the Patriots faithful arguing if the success of the 6 Super Bowl wins were in the future of the Hall of Fame Quarterback or the byproduct of Head Coach Bill Belichick, who is destined to also get enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio when his career is over. For Brady, he retired after the 2022 season, and for Belichick, he is still chasing the All-Time winningest coaching record that is current held by the Miami Dolphins former head coach, Don Shola, who had 300 wins.

Times have changed for the New England Patriots fans, who have had 20 seasons of success. In the 2000 season when Belichick became the head coach, the team which was quarterbacked by Drew Bledsoe went 5-11. But in a series of events, and thanks to a season ending tackle on Bledsoe by New York Jets linebacker, Moe Lewis, the Patriots’ fortunes turned for the better.

Enter a young Tom Brady, a third string quarterback. What Brady went on to do was only screen plays that were written in Hollywood. The Patriots never had a losing season with Brady as their quarterback. The Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2014, 2016 and 2018. They did, however, appear in a losing effort in 2007, 2011 and 2017. The debate always had been the success of the Patriots was because of the quarterback. Or because of the head coach? Needless to say, the relationship fractured, Brady was in his 40’s and knew his days in New England were numbered, he went onto to sign a three-year contract with Tampa Bay, win one more Super Bowl, and retire as the G.O.A.T. (the Greatest Of All Time).

For Belichick, his teams have gone 7-9, 10-7 and 8-9. The Patriots currently have a 1-5 record and show no signs that things will be getting better anytime soon. But for the Patriots franchise this isn’t the first time they have seen the bottom of the league. As a matter of fact, the Patriots have had its share of ups and downs since their inception into the professional football arena in 1960.

Known back then as the Boston Patriots, they were a foundation of the new upstart league know as the American Football League. Their older brother, the National Football League was about to celebrate its 100-year anniversary. The NFL was established and ruled the professional football world. The NFL had history, a fan base and tradition, the AFL had colorful uniforms and creative coaches and gimmicks that kept fans engaged. What the AFL had was flamboyant owners who spent money, lots of money to compete with the NFL. The NFL had Green Bay Packers legend Vince Lombardi; the AFL had Oakland Raiders upstart Al Davis. The NFL had franchises in New York, Dallas, Chicago, and California. The AFL had franchises in New York, Houston, Miami, and California. In 1970, the two leagues merged creating the base of today’s modern NFL.

The New England Patriots was a founding member of the American Football League that began in 1960. They were Boston’s franchise that included the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills, the Houston Oilers, Denver Broncos, San Deigo Chargers, and the Oakland Raiders. The Boston Patriots started out playing at whatever field could accommodate them, they called the stadium at Harvard “home”, but for the most part they were the nomads of the AFL. They even played at Conley Field in Providence. The 1960’s was an up and down decade for the Patriots, getting to the AFL Championship in 1964, losing to the Chargers 51-10, the Patriots were a poor team at best, both on the field and at the ticket office.

Under the ownership of Billy Sullivan and the Sullivan family, the Patriots were run like a “Mom & Pop” operation. No frills, no chills, just a poor football team. However, they played a key role when the NFL decided to merge the two leagues. The AFL had established professional football in markets that were very desirable to league expansion and without the start up cost! Boston was always a prime market for professional sports, from the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Bruins, and Celtics. The addition of the Patriots would put a major franchise in the Boston/New England region.

Drafting and landing Jim Plunket in the 1970 draft, the Patriots had hope as they entered the 1970’s. A new stadium was built along Route 1 in Foxboro, opening to poor reviews. The team was awful, and Plunket was beat up in every game. The team managed to have some winning seasons but never made it far into the playoffs – when they made the playoffs! For the average fan, they had a team to call their own, no matter how bad they were. Patriots fans, the hardcore Patriots fans, stuck with their team no matter how good or how bad they were.

In 1985 the Patriots made it to Super Bowl XX against the Chicago Bears; the same Bears that had a dance called the “Super Bowl shuffle” named after them. The 1985 Bears were a juggernaut and considered one of the NFL’s greatest teams ever. The Patriots lost 46-10, but the question was, could the New England Patriots take the next step? Four seasons later the Patriots finished with the NFL’s worst record going 1-15 in 1990.

As bad as the Patriots were, a movement was going through the NFL and franchises were being courted by cities who were desperately wanting a professional franchise to call their own. The Baltimore Colts moved in the dead of night to the greener pasture of Indianapolis, leaving Baltimore without a franchise. The Houston Oilers were wooed to Tennessee and became the Titans, and the Oakland Raiders went to Los Angeles, then back to Oakland, and now they have landed in Las Vegas. The Patriots were rumored to be heading to Baltimore, South Carolina, and even Jacksonville, Florida. Enter Robert and his son Jonathan Kraft, season ticket holders who purchased the Patriots. The Krafts changed the culture of the Patriots, brining in former Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells to take the helm of the team over. Parcells brought with him a longtime assistant coach named Bill Belichick. Together they reformed the Patriots, and in 1996 the Patriots appeared in their second Super Bowl. Playing the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI the Patriots again lost 35-21, but a statement was made, that under the Kraft’s ownership, the Patriots were going to be a team to contend with.

Bill Parcells gave way to Pete Carroll as head coach and the team never responded as they slipped to an 8-8 record in 1999. Former assistant coach Bill Belichick who went on to head coach the Cleveland Browns was hired by the Krafts to get the New England Patriots the northeastern version of the Dallas Cowboys. When Robert Kraft purchased the Patriots, he admired Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys promoted themselves as “America’s team” and even though the Cowboys slipped into obscurity they were always considered relevant, thanks to the “Americas team” brand. The Patriots under the Krafts ownership did just that, and with a brand-new Gillette Stadium the Patriots were on their way.

The New England fanbase now had something they never had before, an owner who was engaged, a top of the line coach and staff, a new state of the art stadium and a young team lead by and established quarterback, Drew Bledsoe. Although Bledsoe was a veteran quarterback, he lacked the spark the team needed, but instead of benching him for another quarterback, the New York Jets linebacker Moe Lewis knocked Bledsoe out of New England with one tackle. What Lewis and pretty much the entire world didn’t know was that one hit changed the fortunes of the New England Patriots for the next 20 years.

The Patriots went on to play in 8 more Super Bowls, winning 6 of them to become one of the greatest franchises of all time. The team the fan base always wanted was right here in New England. Tom Brady was heralded as the greatest quarterback of all time; head coach Bill Belichick was praised as the greatest coach to ever coach a professional game. No longer did the new England fan base have to look at Dallas, San Francisco, Oakland, Pittsburgh, or Buffalo to have a championship contending team. They had their own, and for a twenty year stretch the New England Patriots were on top of the NFL and the fan base was loving it!

In 2020 the bubble had burst, Tom Brady left to go and play for Tampa Bay, who went on to win the Super Bowl. This raised the question form the New England fans, was it Brady or Belichick, who was responsible for the 20 years of success? As the Patriots remain stuck in the mud with 7-9 season in 2020, a 10-7 season in 2021, an 8-9 season in 2022 and currently at 1-5 this season the Patriots fans are restless. Sports talk radio has callers blaming the downfall of the Patriots at the owners feet, “They are too cheap!” or “They are distracted by other business interest!” Other callers claim there needs to be changes to the coaching staff, even as far as saying the game has passed Bill Belichick by, and it’s time for him to retire or get fired!

It is clear the Patriots fan base is as passionate as it has been spoiled by the riches of success this team has had since 2000. The fans need to calm down and reflect on the 18 winning seasons in a row, the playoff, and Super Bowl appearances the Patriots have had, and of course the 6 Super Bowls the team has won. If history has taught us anything about how hard the climb is for teams to make it back to the top of the mountain all they have to do is look at teams like Dallas who really haven’t made it back since the mid 1990’s, or San Fransico who is just now making it back, and the Steelers struggles. The Patriots fans must support their team and the brain trust that they will find a way to get back on top sooner rather than later. They have to realize that Bill Belichick hasn’t changed; he has been at this too long to have lost it overnight! They have to understand that franchise quarterbacks come along once in a while and Brady was a gamble that paid huge dividends for the Patriots. Players like Bradshaw, Montana, Marino and Farve only come around once in a great while.

For now, although it is a bitter pill to swallow for all Patriots fans, things will get better. We as a fanbase had forty years to see them stumble and bumble, then there was twenty years of being on the top looking down. We are climbing back up and hopefully it won’t take 40 years to get back on top again, but keep in mind that there are cities and states that would love an NFL team in their area, and they would offer anything to a team to move. So, to all Patriots fans, calm down, trust in Bill and the Krafts to get things back in line and embrace your New England Patriots! They are ours, they belong to us, and we don’t ever want to lose them, plus the West Virginia Patriots sounds silly, but not to West Virginia!


John Cardullo, sportswriter
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  1. W.David Shallcross on October 22, 2023 at 3:40 pm

    Maybe a coincidence, maybe not. On March 20, 2020,Tom Brady left the Patriots to become a Buccaneer. And on April 27, 2020, James Devlin retired from football. The Patriots lost half of their Super Bowl backfield in 2020. Devlin was never a running back when he played at Brown. He was a defensive end and was signed professionally to play defense. To protect Brady, Devlin was converted to being a blocking fullback. And he was very good at what he did. And so was Tom Brady. But Devlin was an excellent short yardage runner, you know 1 or 2 yards to get the needed first down. And he caught more than a pass or two as well. If Devlin was in the game, the opposition had to respect both the pass and a run. It clearly made a difference as to how to defend against Tom Brady.
    In the last few years, the Patriots changed their offense. And since 2020, their record has been 25 – 25 without James and Tom. Players come and go over time, it’s a brutal game. When the Patriots have a solid blocking back, remember Mark Van Eagen, the quarterback had more time and certainly some pretty competent offensive linemen too. Now they don’t and maybe they should look back to when they did. Different players but a solid plan. In my opinion, as a fan, the recovery needs to begin with the coaching staff. Several are newer to coaching than the more veteran staff that Belicheck had put together, but he had a plan that worked. Just saying.

  2. Kathleen Travis Nelson on October 22, 2023 at 1:17 pm

    Great article John!