When I was in college, a friend of mine told me how much he hated The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. As I began to discuss the merits of the story with him, I discovered that he had quit reading partway through The Two Towers, the second of the three books in the series, (not counting The Hobbit.) I suggested to him that he go back and read the rest of the series and see how he liked it. I think that it is a little like that with the Patriots right now. Some folks are trying to pass judgment while we are still in the middle of the story. This Patriots team is really a story that is still being written. It is hard to tell how far we have yet to go. Yet, the very fact that this discussion keeps on coming up is a testimony to just how great this team really is right now. It is a greatness that propels some fans to hyperbolic ranting, and a greatness that taunts the fans of other teams to assess just how great their own "greatest" teams really were, driving them to pore over statistics, tally up Hall of Fame rosters, and dive into nebulous arguments of which "era" of football was the toughest.
I humbly suggest that it is premature to pass ultimate judgment on the Patriots, one way or the other.
To fellow Patriots fans, I suggest that it is a little too early to coronate our Patriots kings of history. The Patriots still have some distance to march before we should start claiming that no team has ever been their equal. As Patriots fans, we are so close to their current achievements, that we lack perspective on other great historical teams. Our judgment therefore, is automatically suspect, and we should be content to patiently wait until the fruits of victory are fully harvested before we try to digest them. Only then will we be able to honestly assess how great they truly are.
To the fans of other teams, I suggest that the Patriots have already accomplished great things... too great to casually dismiss them as second rate or a flash in the pan. It is great to have a home team that you root for, but it is also okay to acknowledge greatness when you see it. Furthermore, the Patriots are still winning. Until this team loses its competitive edge and begins to fail, this is not over.
To fans of football, I suggest that this is as great a moment in football as any other great moment you care to name. This is a Patriots team that radiates not only ability, but authority when they step onto the field. Certainly there are other great teams with whom they must contend. But if they finish this season as they have begun, they will leave an indelible mark on the tapestry of football history. If you have been around for as long as I have, you have been able to enjoy a number of great teams over the years. Most of them we could cheer, because they were fun to watch, and we often found ourselves in awe of them. How often did we find ourselves talking about the greatness of the Packers or the Bears, The Forty-niners or the Cowboys, or the Steelers? And we enjoyed it! I suggest that we could be witnessing another team that has the true ring of greatness. I hope you are enjoying the ride. I know I am.
But this all begs the question: what would the greatest team look like in the middle of the story? What would it look like over several seasons? What would it look like at the peak of its dominance? Could you see it coming before that story was fully written? Would you recognize it if it was right there in front of you? I think if I were writing the story, it would look something like this. A champion rises from a place few were looking. The team has a rapid ascent to a great level of play, and becomes a daunting force in the NFL. It wins a few Super Bowls in a short period of time. At the peak of its dominance, the team has an historic season that ranks among the finest any team has ever had. It collects numerous team and individual records on the way. Following that it has a few more Super Bowl championships before all of its stars retire. And it is generally agreed that it is the finest team anyone has ever seen. Now I am not foolish enough to claim that the Patriots are that team. But the story has not been fully written yet. We are only part way through the story, and who knows how it will end? But they could be! It is just possible, that the Patriots could be the ones!
Over the years, we have seen many great teams in various sports. Did you enjoy them? Did you revel in witnessing greatness? Do you enjoy discussing how you watched that game, or saw that play, or saw that star when he came to town to play your home team? I do. And I am hoping. I am hoping with a great hope that it is happening again, and we are witnessing it. And I want to take it in, and enjoy it, and remember it. And I also hope this is not the last team to do it.