TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

How I Learned To Love The Patriots (Again)

Boston GlobeFollowing up on Sunday's post, Death, Taxes, And The New England Patriots: New York Times op-ed: How I Learned to Love the Patriots (Again), by Russ Douthat:

I became a besotted baseball fan at the age of 6, watching the Boston Red Sox, my mother’s ancestral team, march to the World Series against the New York Mets. My parents woke me up near midnight on Oct. 25, 1986, to come downstairs with them and “watch the Red Sox win” — an eventuality that was, at that moment, just a single out away. It remained one out away through three singles, a devastating wild pitch and an incident that shall not be described involving one William Joseph Buckner. I wept, slept and awoke a gloomy pessimist, forever haunted by the fall of man.

I became a football fan around the same time, and I figured I should root for the Patriots as well, in New England solidarity. They had recently played (albeit embarrassingly badly) in a Super Bowl, so I was unaware of their long, distinguished legacy of lousy play. But by the time I turned 10 and they were working their way through a 1-15 season, with a 2-14 encore just around the corner, I understood a little better the implications of my choice.

This combination of Red Sox tragedy and Patriot futility defined my relationship to professional sports until adulthood, at which point (as you may have heard) absolutely everything changed for both teams and they became insufferably dominant. And my fandom, forged in suffering and melodrama and “wait ’till next year” rue, never quite recovered from my favorite teams’ success. ...

[T]rying to raise my children to be New England sports fans in an age of constant New England winning has given me real sympathy with the lukewarmly religious, the Christmas-and-Easter sort of believer who wants to impart some measure of piety to their children without really experiencing the flame of faith themselves. ...

But the frequent triumphs of the Sox and Pats have been crucial to my loss of ardor. In the old days I was always mystified about how Yankee fans stirred up the same excitement year after year despite their constant winning, and as my teams became increasingly Yankee-like the mystification remained. Indeed, I missed the thirst enough to seek the feeling elsewhere — adopting long-suffering franchises temporarily (until the Kansas City Royals ruined our affair by winning the World Series) to remind myself of what it was like to nourish long-unrequited hopes.

Despite that infidelity, though, I’ve never taken the step of actually rooting against one of my childhood teams. Which has kept me connected to both of them, however dutifully.

And now that the Patriots have ground their way, in a terrible-to-watch game highlighted by punts, to yet another Super Bowl victory, I want to report a change in my sports psychology. In my dutiful connection to the latest run of Patriot Super Bowl appearances, I have begun to feel something different, strange and unfamiliar — not a recovery of the old romance, but a growing appreciation of pure, ruthless effectiveness, an admiration for iron efficiency, a joy at the dismantling of highly touted rivals, a feeling that almost … almost … makes me begin to have a trace of a scintilla of understanding for what it feels like to be a Yankees fan. ...

So the old fake-personal bond that I felt for my flawed New England heroes — Yaz! Nomah! Bledsoe! — isn’t there with Brady and Belichick today. What is there, and increasingly as their dynasty has become more improbably extended, is something very different: a zest for on-field excellence simply for its own sake, a forgiveness of personal and even moral deficiencies because the record speaks for itself, a setting aside of feel-good narratives and romantic underdog stories because the sheer force of winning trumps them all.

Oh, did someone say Trump? Yes, it’s appropriate that the Patriots are Donald Trump’s favorite team, but not because they have too many white players or because their consistent, grinding, rigorous success somehow resembles his improbable and often ridiculous ascent. Rather it’s because the Patriots are the actual thing that his grifter’s instincts and “Great Again” sloganeering are constantly trying to evoke — a dependably, reliably excellent American institution, of the kind that people in the pre-Vietnam era took for granted, and that our own era struggles to reproduce.

The Patriots are to football what the Apollo and Manhattan Projects were to military-industrial-complex science, what IBM and General Motors were to big business, what the Hoover Dam and Mount Rushmore were to public works — with Belichick as their Patton-meets-Eisenhower impresario, by turns a jerk and a bore but a winner above all. They are a throwback, a constant rebuke to the decadence visible in every other American institution (their First Fan’s White House very much included), a last bloom of the can-do genius that won us World War II …

The point, the point, is that I am a changed fan, or at least a changing one. With every Patriot victory, I am winning the victory over myself. I am shedding old habits, jettisoning the underdoggery and romance of my childhood, learning to love dynastic rule.

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