The rest of the country can dislike the Patriots all it wants, but the love never fades at Waxy O’Connor’s Irish Pub.
Tucked away from the curving roads through Foxborough to Gillette Stadium, Waxy’s is an occasional stop for Patriots players and a frequent stop for their adoring fans.
Behind the bar hangs a blue painting of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — with a bright red clown nose, a statement on the four-game 2016 suspension he handed Tom Brady for Deflategate.
These days, New England always seems to get the last laugh. Brady and Bill Belichick are 5-2 in Super Bowls, and now they’re plotting how to crush Philadelphia’s soul for championship No. 6 on Sunday in Minneapolis.
Whether the Patriots win or lose, however, it’s fair to wonder if this will mark the end of the dynasty. Brady turns 41 in August. Belichick turns 66 in April and is expected to lose two longtime coordinators to head coaching jobs, in Josh McDaniels (Colts) and Matt Patricia (Lions).
“Wouldn’t you think they would want to end on a high note together? This would be it,” Waxy’s bartender Nicole Gaeta said. “We all wonder about that.”
The plot thickened recently with an ESPN the Magazine report on friction inside the Patriots organization between Belichick, Brady and owner Robert Kraft.
The story outlined how Brady’s personal trainer and business partner, Alex Guerrero, became a divisive figure within the team’s orb, causing Belichick to ban Guerrero from the football facility in September.
Meantime, Brady has made it clear he wants to play until age 45. The Patriots had groomed a successor in Jimmy Garoppolo before trading him to the 49ers at midseason. ESPN’s report suggested Kraft orchestrated the deal after consulting Brady, and that Belichick was “furious and demoralized” with the decision.
Garoppolo will be a free agent after the Super Bowl, so the Patriots were on the spot. But he added salt to the wound by going 5-0 as a starter for the 49ers, a team that was 1-10 before that stretch began.
Publicly, Belichick and Brady have treated all this as a non-story. After the AFC Championship Game, Kraft addressed the reported tension on NFL Network.
“I have a saying: Jealousy and envy are incurable diseases,” Kraft said. “… If you run any kind of company …the more successful you are, you have strong personalities, there’s always a certain amount of tension.
“… There’s a lot of strong-minded people, but when you have something good going, everybody’s got to get their egos checked in and try to hold it together.’’
Key departures coming
Continuity has been one of the dynasty’s defining characteristics. Kraft bought the team in 1994, hiring Belichick as coach in 2000, and Brady took over as starting quarterback in 2001. From that point, the Patriots quickly won three Super Bowls in four years, and they have a chance to do that for a second time with a win over the Eagles.
The NFL hasn’t seen anything quite like it in the Super Bowl era. The Steelers won four titles in six years between 1974 and 1979 with the same coach (Chuck Noll) and quarterback (Terry Bradshaw). The 49ers won four titles in a 14-year span with two head coaches (Bill Walsh, George Seifert) and two QBs (Joe Montana, Steve Young).
Brady and Belichick have dominated the headlines, but Patricia has been calling the defensive plays since 2009. McDaniels has been the offensive coordinator since 2012, when he returned after a stint as Broncos coach.
“It’s good to have continuity and consistency in those areas,” Belichick said after the regular season. “But we know there’s turnover in this league, and there’s turnover in this team. When those things happen, then we take the appropriate steps and try to continue to put a competitive product on the field.”
Belichick has been through other coordinators. In 2004, he lost two the same year, when Charlie Weis left to become the coach at Notre Dame and Romeo Crennel took over the Cleveland Browns.
It’s hard to imagine the Patriots defense backsliding too far under Belichick, since his roots are on that side of the ball. He was the Giants defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells on two Super Bowl winners. Belichick could replace Patricia with Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, who interviewed for the Cardinals coaching job before they hired Steve Wilks from the Panthers.
Offensively, almost everything the Patriots do revolves around Brady. But he was quick to credit McDaniels for the adjustments made to beat Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game after tight end Rob Gronkowski left because of a concussion.
“Brady has been through different coordinators. He’s been through a ton of different receivers in his career and the success has always been there,” said Greg Cosell, an analyst for ESPN’s “NFL Matchup.” “So in an odd way, the question’s already been asked and answered. If Brady’s playing at a really high level a year from now, you’d have to think they’ll still be a good offense.”
Testing Father Time
Brady returned from his Deflategate suspension last season and turned in a ridiculous 28-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, quieting talk about his age. At the Super Bowl in Houston, he threw a pick-six that gave Atlanta a stunning 21-0 lead. The Patriots trailed 28-3, only to storm back for a 34-28 win, with Brady earning Super Bowl MVP honors for the fourth time.
This year, Brady led the NFL in passing yards (4,577) for the first time since 2007. Trailing 20-10 in the fourth quarter of the AFC title game, he calmly led the Patriots back with two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola.
“It’s just been an unbelievable run,” Brady said afterward. “I think everyone should be really proud of what we accomplished. This is a different team than last year’s team. It didn’t look good at 2-2 [after four games], and you just keep showing up to work every day.
“We sit in these chairs, and Coach Belichick gets up here and he demands a lot out of us and he tries to get the most out of us every day.”
Brady authored his first book this year: “The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Peak Performance.” Brady is fiercely proud of the dietary, training and massage work he does with Guerrero, and the book markets their philosophies.
But if Brady continues performing at this level to age 45, he will be the first NFL quarterback in the modern era to do it. Brett Favre led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game at age 40 but retired the next year after throwing 11 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions. Montana, Brady’s childhood hero, retired at age 38, after succumbing to injuries.
Brady tossed eight interceptions this season, quadrupling last season’s total. Is that a danger sign?
Not necessarily. Cosell noted that the Patriots took more deep shots with rookie receiver Brandin Cooks in the fold. Those require a deeper drop and leave the quarterback more susceptible to the pass rush.
“[Brady] did get hit a little more this year, he got sacked a little more,” Cosell said. “I thought there were some games where he wasn’t as sharp throwing the ball as we’ve seen him.
“I think he had to move a little more this year, and while he’s good navigating the pocket, I think the more he has to do that, the less effective he is.”
But Cosell, pointing to Brady’s overall passing totals, said, “He still had a very good season.”
Putting up with putdowns
After the Patriots dashed Jacksonville’s dreams of a first Super Bowl trip, the official Gillette Stadium Twitter account (@gillettestadium) posted a picture of the field littered with red and blue paper. The tweet included the words, “This isn’t even close to the last confetti pic we’ll be posting. Deal with it. #NotDone.”
New England seems to be embracing the loathing from the rest of the nation over the Patriots’ success. Boston radio station WEEI plays a Patriots-themed ad that says, “They hate us because the ain’t us.”
Amendola wears a sweatshirt that says, “New England vs. Everyone.”
It’s easy to forget that the Patriots lost two Super Bowls before winning their first one in 2001. Or that the Boston Red Sox suffered under the “Curse of the Bambino” and didn’t win a World Series from 1919 through 2003.
Now the region seems to be swimming in ticker tape.
“I think a lot of people want to hate the Patriots,” Gaeta said. “We break a lot of their teams’ hearts.”