Monday Superlatives

Do Americans hate the Patriots more than they hated the Soviet Union national teams?

February 5, 2018

Before you ignite me with torches, believe me, I know some of you are extremely upset by that headline. You are mad that the Patriots just lost the Super Bowl, you are mad at how much hatred was directed at them all season and especially throughout that particular game, and you are mad at the joy now sweeping across this great country at your expense. To some extent, that's fair. I would have been alarmed at the sheer magnitude of the hatred/joy expressed last night, except I felt it to the same extreme. In short: too bad. You deserve this. We hate you.

And yes, I'm fully aware of the irony inherent to the question: A team literally called "Patriots," based in an American city, is being compared to our nation's foremost (bygone) enemy. If I know Internet commenters—and I think I do—there will be angry New Englanders pounding their keyboards to mash the word "clickbait!@!!1!!" within seconds of reading the headline. (Fun activity: Go to the Facebook post for this article, and note the number of "clickbait!" accusations by people who clearly haven't read this paragraph.) And yet I'm serious, and I'm not trolling. I generally want to know the answer: Did Americans in the Cold War era hate Soviet Union sports teams as much as Americans today hate the Patriots?

Before we continue, I want to defend my implied position, which is that the New England Patriots, in their current form, have become the most hated American sports entity ever. I don't think I have to defend myself too hard on the NFL front—the only near comparison is the Cowboys, and God, they sucked, but even the Cowboys never had one period that matched the extended nightmare that marks this New England dynasty. And the reasons for hating Dallas—annoying owner, players coked out of their minds—are not nearly as compelling as those for the Pats, who have an annoying owner of their own (the only redeeming story about Vladimir Putin is the time he stole Bob Kraft's Super Bowl ring), major criminals of their own (I see your cocaine charge, and raise you a murder), a coach whose surly arrogance knows no bounds, a mindless unkillable quarterback who hocks snake oil when he's not deflating footballs, the kind of absurd good luck that makes you think Earth is a digital simulation run by cruel teen hackers, and an entitled fan base made up of insufferable truthers. There's no match.

But I get it—outside the NFL, people are going to bring up the Lakers and Yankees. To which I say, sure, historically these franchises are despised, but beyond a few objectionable personalities, the hatred can be boiled down to two factors:

1. The teams are really good.

2. They play in enormous cities that people love to hate.

With the Patriots, it's more than just the standard "we hate you for winning" trope. There are highly specific reasons to hate men like Kraft, Belichick, Brady, Gronkowski, Hernandez, every yawper from Boston, etc. etc. They combine all the normal reasons for hating a really great sports team, and then throw all these extras in your face. Each time we get a new piece of evidence for the rottenness at their core, I just want to throw up my hands and say, "I get it! They suck! Leave me alone!"

If there was any ambiguity about their historic hateworthiness, it was erased with last year's comeback against the Falcons—the night when, to quote Tyrion Lannister, the joy turned to ashes in our mouths. No other American team could make us hate so fervently, or crush our souls so thoroughly. No, to truly find the Pats' equal, you must look outside our borders and go backward in time. You must look to: the Soviet Union, baby! The red menace! The evil empire! The CCC friggin' P!

So, really, who was hated more? I was born in 1983, and I can't even really remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, so obviously I don't have the necessary perspective on this one. The only way to solve the mystery is to ask those who were around for both, and hope they aren't affected by either nostalgia or recency bias. I put the question out to Twitter, and, well...results were mixed. You had some like this:

But also some like this:

Then I remembered: I have the ultimate resource at my disposal. My stepfather was part of the announcing team for the only live broadcast of the 1980 Miracle on Ice. We're upstate New York people, and many don't remember that the national television broadcast was run on delay. Not so for local radio—on WNBZ, he and his partner called the most famous Olympic moment in history, and they called it live from the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. He also happens to be a rabid New York sports fan, so he's really the perfect resource. I called him up, and after considering the question (and making it clear that Patriots fans were essentially pond scum), he offered his answer: The Soviet teams were hated more.

I won't pretend I wasn't disappointed, but he made a compelling case. First off, Americans literally feared for their lives when it came to the Soviets. These were military enemies who could, in theory, blow us sky high with a nuclear bomb. Tom Brady is annoying, but unless I criticize him in front of Gisele Bundchen or feed him a piece of chocolate, I'm pretty sure he won't directly cause my death. Second, the Russians were worse cheaters than the Patriots, at least in American eyes—while we sent amateurs to the Olympics, they were trotting out their domestic paid professionals in sports like basketball and hockey. (Plus, everyone knows the entire eastern bloc was doping. Some of our athletes were too, but the communist doping operations were state-run, while the Americans had to sneak around. Our cheaters did it the right way!)

Third, there were just as many devastating moments in Olympic competition as there have been in Pats lore, and the worst of all—the '72 basketball fiasco—dwarfs even the Patriots-Falcons comeback or the goal-line interception against Seattle or any of the 90-yard Viniateri game-winning field goals. (Forty-five years later, our players still won't accept their silver medals. That's how deep this runs.) Finally, the infrequency with which the U.S. actually played the Soviet Union magnified the intensity of each battle, and the hatred along with it. The Russians were a faceless evil, and nothing's more frightening than the devil you don't know. Meanwhile, I can tell you exactly how many skinned carrot chunks Tom Brady eats for his mid-morning snack.

So, fair enough, he convinced me. I bow to my stepfather's superior experience—the Soviets were hated more than the Patriots. But I just want to go on the record saying that if the Patriots had somehow won that game last night, Bill Belichick would have officially become Nikita Kruschev. (As it is now, he's Brezhnev.)

Worst Story About a Football Player Dredged Up on Twitter: Tom Brady & The Old Man

Speaking of the Patriots...

This is the story of the time in 2009 that a poor 61-year-old man took two flower planters from what looked like a trash pile in order to sell as scrap metal. Except it turns out that even though they were next to a garbage can, they weren't meant for the trash, and it also turns out that the "Belgian flower boxes" belonged to Tom Brady and were worth $4,000 each. He was spotted by a surveillance video, the police contacted him, and it turned out he had already sold them for $450 at a scrapyard. (Oops!) He went to Boston municipal court, and the verdict was that he had to pay $4,000 restitution to the Brady real estate trust. Unfortunately, he was dirt poor and had just had brain surgery, so he had to panhandle for the $333 a week needed to keep up his end of the bargain.

My. God. I have a few questions:

1. Who owns $4,000 Belgian flower planters? Does the usual plastic or adobe or whatever not work? The point is to grow flowers, so isn't the soil the important part? What possible benefit are you gaining from that extra money? I can't even find these things online, so I'm going to assume they're "blood planters" made from children's organs that only really rich and sadistic people can buy on the supervillain black market.

2. Most important: How heartless is Brady? The word at the time from Patriots PR was "he maybe didn't know about it," but after the story came out he surely did, and he never let the guy off the hook! It was up to a Boston Herald readers to bail the guy out..

3. As someone at this site pointed out, why is a security camera pointed at the garbage cans?

Just another reason to hate the Patriots, I guess. (Also, don't forget the time Brady's security guards opened fire on photographers. Yes, photographers.) But this one seems almost comically villainous even by their standards. This is so hard for me to say as a Giants fan, but...bless you, Eagles.

Faceplanting Franchise of the Week: Cleveland Cavaliers

Thearon W. Henderson

It's bad when your head coach says "it didn't look like we tried" and your star player says "they should take us off every nationally televised game the rest of the season," right? It's bad when your new point guard who has mostly been injured publicly accuses your power forward of faking an injury? It's bad when other good teams beat you by 32 points? Or 24 points? Or 34 points?

For anyone hoping LeBron James stays in Cleveland at the end of this year...well, I would like to interest you in a very legitimate deed of sale for the Brooklyn Bridge. Because that man is g-o-n-e gone, and he's probably going to go somewhere really annoying like the Rockets or Lakers. Personally, I'm rooting for the Sixers, since that's an extremely fun team that deserves some good news, and if that doesn't work out, I hope he lands with the Soviet Union. If nothing else, it would make for an amazing "The Decision" sequel.