The New England Patriots, the NFL’s winningest team in the decade of the 2000’s, will soon be playing in their 7th Super Bowl. The only teams in the league to have played in more are the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Things weren’t always so rosy for the Sons of Elvis. Once upon a time, they were one of the laughingstock franchises of the league. The Patriots began play in 1960 as an AFL team. They were competitive in their early years, reaching the AFL championship game in 1963, only to be shellacked 51-10 by the San Diego Chargers. That set the stage for decades of futility.
The 1970’s started out with great optimism as the Pats drafted their quarterback of the future — a strong-armed kid from Stanford named Jim Plunkett (think Andrew Luck). Unfortunately, they forgot to put a decent offensive line in front of him and Plunkett spent five losing years being mercilessly pounded by opponents and booed by fans. Rather than build around this diamond in the rough, the Pats traded him and Plunkett went on to win two Super Bowls with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders.
In 1981, the Pats and Baltimore Colts engaged in a late season game billed as the “Stupor Bowl” as it pitted the league’s two worst teams. The loser’s reward: the rights to draft defensive lineman Kenneth Sims, universally viewed by scouts as a game changing pass rusher. True to their history, the Pats proceeded to lose the game, draft Sims, and lose again, as he never lived up to his billing.
The 80’s also saw the Pats play in their first Super Bowl — a 46-10 pasting at the hands of the Bears. The humiliation only got worse the day after as six players were identified as having used drugs during the season. Things spiraled downhill from there; the only excitement the rest of the decade coming from local hero Doug Flutie playing quarterback.
The 1990’s saw some of the worst football played in the NFL. The Pats stumbled through 1-15 and 2-14 seasons as they went through quarterbacks like wind through a tunnel. They drafted, and this time built around, a can’t miss quarterback named Drew Bledsoe, who along with Bill Parcells, led the Pats back from the abyss. The Pats lost a competitive Super Bowl to Green Bay in 1997, but once again made more headlines off the field. The week leading up to the game was clouded by the speculation of Bill Parcells getting ready to bolt for the New York Jets, which he did less than a week later.
A few lackluster seasons followed with the Pats getting more and more irrelevant until a coach named Bill Belichick showed up in 2000 and drafted a skinny quarterback from Michigan named Brady in the 6th round. A decade and three championships later, it’s as if the once laughable Patriots of old never existed. Whatever happens against the Giants, enjoy it Pats fans, because you’re not likely to see an era of dominance quite like this again.