I wish I could hate the Patriots   

Updated: October 17, 2007, 11:14 AM ET

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I want to hate the New England Patriots. I really, truly do. I want to fear and loathe them, fervently wish to see them humbled, desperately hope to see them lose. I want them to be a lot repulsive and a little seductive, a funhouse mirror reflecting what I hate in myself. I want them to be bad news, badass, a true sports villain. I want them to be Darth Vader, Jack Nicholson's Joker.

Tom Brady

AP Photo/LM Otero

You can be jealous of Tom Brady, but can you really hate him?

Too bad they're more like Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Batman and Robin."

Think back: What was the name of Ah-nold's character? Mr. Frosty? Evil Popsicle Guy? I honestly can't remember. Didn't make much of an impression. And that's part of the problem with the Patriots-as-NFL-blackguard -- beyond Tom Brady and, um, Tom Brady, the club lacks personalities, hateable or otherwise. Maybe that's a function of sheer economics: As Outsourced America's first sports dynasty, the salary cap-shrewd Pats dump players before you ever get a chance to know them, let alone find out how annoying they might be. Or perhaps it all starts at the top: From his terse news conferences to his hobo sweatshirts, Bill Belichick is probably the most successful passive-aggressive coach in football history, his ego and churlishness repressed and redirected into subtle jackassery. Let the Barry Switzers of the world preen and boast and run outlaw outfits; Belichick would rather keep things quiet and steal your coaching signals, and maybe your secretary. Is it too much to assume his team follows suit?

(To put things another way: Randy Moss went to Oakland and amazingly became more unlikeable; he went to New England and became predictably dull).

Moreover, it's tough to hate a team that plays the game so beautifully. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, previous Pats iterations were far more abhorrent: running the pro equivalent of a college spread offense, Brady dinking and dunking with five-yard hitch passes, the defense doing just enough to win through clever, incomprehensible scheming, forever lacking a destructive, eye-catching, force-of-nature type like Ray Lewis or Lawrence Taylor. Effective, efficient, yes, yes, but also ... yawn. And now? Now the Pats are exciting, explosive, a turf show to match the Kurt Warner Rams or the Colts of Peyton Manning's MVP season. Seriously, who hates points? As Cameron Diaz put it in "Any Given Sunday," "People want passes. They want touchdowns."

I'm one of those people.

I'm also one of those people whose hate has to be earned. Whose bile has to be given away freely, without cajoling, much like love. You can't ask me for it, can't beg me for it. Only the Patriots do. They want to be hated. They somehow seem to crave it. And that leaves me cold. Their fans, I understand: to root for New England teams is to carry a massive New York City inferiority complex, to dream and pray in your parochial heart of hearts that one day, someday, you'll have everything those full-of-themselves Gothamites have. And what do New York fans have in abundance, reliably and consistently? The scorn and envy of the rest of the country. The Knicks have stunk for years; the Yankees keep flopping out of the playoffs; nevertheless, New York ineptitude remains delightfully fresh. Everyone else pays attention.

New England fans should be so lucky. This, I get. This, I dig. But not when it comes from a team. Not when the Patriots' ongoing theme -- us versus the world, no one believes in us, chip-on-our-shoulder, prove the doubters wrong -- is not only woefully cliched, but also oddly disarming. After all, the one thing every team I've ever really hated -- the 1990s Cowboys, Duke 1992, the Shaq-Kobe Lakers, the late-1990s Yankees -- had in common was swagger. Not giving a damn. Having nothing to prove, and especially not to you. That's the thing that infuriates, the thing that curdles quiet disdain into overt venom, the thing New England lacks -- no matter how many beatdowns they hand out, no matter how hard they try to be the sports world's newest heel.

Sorry, Pats: I want to hate you, but I'm just not that into you.

Patrick Hruby is a columnist for Page 2. Sound off to Patrick here.


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