Fast Friday 5: A Patriot Nation divided?

Andy Hart
March 20, 2020 - 6:45 am

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The triumphant triumvirate of the Patriots' success over the last two decades of dynastic dominance is no more.

Tom Brady is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer – yup, still feels weird to type that! – while Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick remain in New England tasked with rebuilding, retooling or rehabbing a team that was formerly built on and around TB12.

Make no mistake, in oh so many ways this an unsettled new sports world for the residents of Patriot Nation.

The question that remains is whether Patriots fans are still unified in their support of the team in these changing and challenging times?

Certainly there are vocal extremists in their midst. Those who claim they are no longer Patriots fans, some even saying they’ll give up their season tickets and never watch the team again.

Others proclaim their loyalty to Brady himself, preparing to root, root, root for the Bucs rather than the home team.

In some ways it appears that lines are being drawn and sides being taken.

There are the TB12 disciples. The Kraft loyalists. And the “In Bill We Trust” crowd.

And some seem to even waiver between the three groups, torn up as collateral damage in this dynasty divorce.

Earlier this week, a Twitter poll attempted to take the temperature of Patriot Nation and where its residents placed the blame for Brady’s departure. With more than 4,000 votes tallied, 45 percent of respondents said that no one was directly to blame for the breakup, 35 percent blamed Belichick, 17 percent Brady and mere 4 percent Kraft.

Obviously the pain is new and the emotions are raw right now. Things will change moving forward. Time and winning both tend to heal all. Of course losing often leads to finger-pointing.

What if Brady wins more in Tampa than Belichick and Kraft do in New England? It’s not a crazy thought, even if it may seem like a crazy reality.

Only time will tell how this all plays out in the fandom focused on Foxborough, but there is no question that loyalties are being tested these days after decades of unified, simple, faithful, and supremely successful times in Patriot Nation.


Closing the door on The Closer

Brady wasn’t the only career Patriot to see his time in New England come to an end this week.

Duron Harmon’s stature and star power will never be confused with those of TB12. But the man nicknamed The Closer for his knack for game-clinching interceptions will undoubtedly be missed on the field and in the locker room in Foxborough following his surprising trade to the Lions.

Harmon spent seven seasons in New England as a former third-round pick out of Rutgers. Though he never started more than eight games in a season at safety – a career-high reached last season for the NFL’s No. 1 defense – Harmon was a team captain and reliable contributor on the field.

He was also as approachable, affable and accountable a member of the New England team that one could find in the Gillette Stadium locker room.

Harmon finished his Patriots career with 21 interceptions, including postseason action. He made an obvious and underrated impact on the team’s success, but even more importantly left his mark off the field and in the New England community.

Harmon is the kind of team-first good guy and citizen that doesn’t get noted often enough in professional sports. He’s also the type of guy that often is harder to replace than many people believe.


An even longer shot for NFL longshots

The coronavirus has obviously changed all our lives in one way or another.

Hopefully, kids will return to school and the recreational sports fields in the coming months.

As bad as it looks, the economy will bounce back. Somehow, some way it always does.

Normalcy will return to our lives down the rocky, unpredictable road that we’re currently navigating.

Even the NFL and professional sports will get back to business when we come out the other side of his pandemic.

But, some things will be change forever.

One of those is the future of longshot NFL talents in this year’s draft/rookie free agent class. Not everyone enters the NFL as a Scouting Combine invite and draft pick. Others take a far more circuitous path. This spring, in many ways, those players are SOL.

Guys like former Patriots Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler or current New England special teamer Keion Crossen, out of West Alabama and Western Carolina, respectively, have almost no shot to stand out by showing up at some bigger school’s pro day.

No pro days. No visits. No coaches and scouts making last-minute trips to beat the bushes for some unseen talents.

Joe Burrow will still hear his name called No. 1 overall. A total of 256 prospects will be selected in some form the NFL Draft come late April based on the scouting reports already written on them.

But diamonds in the rough? They may be covered over forever, their would-be NFL dreams and careers buried under the uncertainty of the coronavirus.

These are sad, strange times for all of us, the world of sports and unlikely future sports heroes included.


The NFL wins again!

Early this week, I argued against the NFL going on with the new league year and free agency despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Beyond the potential bad optics of guys celebrating big-money contracts in the midst of national turmoil, it seemed limited travel might be a competitive balance issue with both free agent players and team alike. Thankfully, the NFL stepped in to deal with that potential issue by banning all free agent travel of any kind. Deals can be done, but not in person. It was a sensible change that only made sense.

Admittedly, the NFL free agency period led by Brady’s historic departure from New England has dominated the otherwise barren sports world. It’s been, in the eyes of some, a distraction from real life anxieties that we’re all feeling.

The NFL is by far the king of professional sports in America. And the king is only growing stronger by the day, even in the midst of national social distancing and the potential for the country shutting down in a way that most of us can’t even fathom.

The rich get richer.


Low and behold

Let’s be honest, for about two decades it’s been pretty damn fun and fulfilling to follow Boston sports. Whether simply as a fan or for those of us lucky to work in the sports media, these last 20 years have been an almost non-stop string of success, joy and passion.

Over the last couple months, though, things have gotten a bit stormy in these parts.

The Red Sox traded away a former MVP and their best player in a clear salary-driven deal that even they admit doesn’t make them a better team in the short run.

Then came coronavirus shutting down the season in both the NBA and NHL. The Celtics were picking up steam and possibly getting healthy at the right time to make a run at the Eastern Conference. Jayson Tatum was developing at an increased rate, on the verge of becoming a superstar right before our eyes. And the Bruins were the best team in hockey a year after coming up a game short of a Stanley Cup. Two potential long playoff runs delayed if not derailed before they ever left North Station.

Now, things have gotten so bad that Tom Brady has picked the Buccaneers – a team with the worst franchise winning percentage in NFL history, while the Patriots have the third-best – over a couple more years aligned with Belichick and Kraft in New England.

Oh, and lanky left-handed Red Sox ace Chris Sale is about to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Sure, maybe he’s taking advantage of a coronavirus layoff to miss fewer games while fixing a problem that’s gone back more than a year, but his future as a flame-throwing ace is very much in doubt barely into the first year of his five-year, $145 million contract.

Where did it all go so wrong so quickly? Is this what it’s felt like in so many other professional sports towns for the last 20 years, watching as Boston piled up the titles and the miles on Duck Boats?

Hopefully this a short blip on the Boston sports radar of success and not the law of averages playing out right before our spoiled eyes.

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