Among the many fallacies about the New England Patriots being pedaled by the media and jealous fans of everyone else is that the Patriots were the laughing stock of the league before Bill Belichick and Tom Brady came along.

The Boston media, in particular, throws it out there, in a lazy attempt to try to show how far the Patriots have come in the past two decades.

But it is not true.

Among the Boston sports teams, yes, the Patriots were the laughing stocks. They were the most poorly-run organization. Schaeffer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium was a minor-league facility, and the franchise’s first two owners, Billy Sullivan and Victor Kiam, were in over their heads. In Sullivan’s case, he was usually drowning financially, too.

And it translated onto the field. Even when the Patriots had enough talent to win, the leadership, coaches, general managers and owners would find a way to screw it up by letting any player who asked for more money hold out or by firing their coach as they were winning their first division championship.

But the Patriots were rarely the laughing stock of the league. It was even worse than that.

They were irrelevant.

They could only strive to garner headlines for their futility that teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints did in the last three decades of the 20th century.

I repeat — the New England Patriots were irrelevant. Even when they were good, they were an afterthought.

In the late 1970s, the Patriots had a brief run as the hot, up-and-coming team, poised to challenge AFC powers Pittsbugh, Oakland and Miami. Howard Cosell called tight end Russ Francis “all-world,” and Steve Grogan was considered one of the league’s top young quarterbacks. But they underachieved, winning one division title and zero playoff games.

The Steelers, Raiders and Dolphins, and once Earl Campbell arrived, the Houston Oilers, dominated the conversation whenever the AFC’s top contenders were debated. Even the San Diego Chargers drew more buzz because they were “Air Coryell,” while the Patriots were ground-and-pound boring.

Fans craved any national recognition for the Patriots. We watched the Sunday pregame shows and NFL Films highlights religiously, wondering if we would ever see anything on a Patriots player. There might be one feature for every five on the Oilers.

Those Patriot teams only showed up on the league’s showcase event of that time, Monday Night Football, once or twice a season, about half as much as those other AFC contenders. And even when that happened, they were often upstaged. The quintessential image of the Patriots on Monday Night Football during that time is the YouTube clip of Patriots kicker John Smith lining up for a big field goal against the Dolphins while Cosell told America that John Lennon had just been assassinated.

After some lean years in the 1980s, including the team’s first true national laughingstock moment, the Stupor Bowl against the Baltimore Colts in 1981, the Patriots were good again in the mid-1980s. They made a still-unfathomable run of winning three straight road games to make the Super Bowl in the 1985-86 season. As we all know, they ultimately succumbed to the most dominant team of my lifetime, the Chicago Bears.

That Bears team had a lot of strong personalities, starting with Jim McMahon and William “the Refrigerator” Perry, so they commanded the vast majority of the national media’s attention in the build-up to Super Bowl XX. After the game ended, they remained the center of everyone’s attention, even after Ron Borges broke a story in the Boston Globe that many of the Patriots players were abusing drugs during the season. Looking back, it seems odd that the scandal didn’t resonate more nationally. But again, it involved a team that didn’t have the brand recognition of a growing list of other NFL teams.

That team quickly faded into mediocrity, then took its second crack at becoming a national laughingstock in 1990 with a 1-15 team and the Lisa Olson incident.

That changed quickly with what turned out to be the seminal moment of the Patriots as we know them today — the hiring of Bill Parcells as head coach in 1993. I can remember literally pinching myself when Parcells was hired to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I could not believe my New England Patriots were about to be hired by a guy who was already a coaching legend. Why would he go to New England?

Parcells’ presence made the Patriots a player on the national stage instantly. But the vast majority of the coverage of the team from that point forward focused on The Tuna, with the occasional platitude thrown Drew Bledsoe’s way. It continued right on through to what should have been the biggest game in the franchise’s history up to that point — Super Bowl XXXI.

The Patriots were never going to take the spotlight away from Brett Favre, Reggie White and the Green Bay Packers, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The story that Parcells was going to the New York Jets broke in the week leading up to the game, so that was all anyone talked about when it came to the Patriots. And once he left, the Patriots were once again an afterthought, good but not good enough. Bad, but not bad enough.

We all know what happened after that. The Patriots hired Bill Belichick, drafted Tom Brady and pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history against the St. Louis Rams.

But in America’s football consciousness, they were a Cinderella story waiting for the clock to strike midnight. Down the road, the Rams were the team to continue watching.

Of course, the Patriots won two of the next three Super Bowls while the national football cognoscenti struggled to figure out why they were so successful. John Madden explained Turducken better than he analyzed how the Patriots won.

The Patriots didn’t fit into any of the football cliches they used as crutches, and this confused many of the pundits, even made them look foolish. Many would use one explanation for their success one week then contradict themselves a week later.

This is part of the reason everyone was so quick to latch on once Spygate broke in 2007. Finally, their success could be summed up in a neat little package.

They cheated.

The narrative follows the franchise a decade later. It’s been around so long it’s had time to take several different twists and turns. First it was the coach, then the quarterback, then the culture. Now, the league is in on it, giving the Patriots every call, every break.

Patriots fans are rightly sick of hearing about it but need to accept the fact that it is never going away, no matter how many facts they try to introduce into the dialogue. And it comes down to this — far too many of them are still desperately want their team to be loved.

More Patriots fans need to come over to the dark side and embrace the hate. Agree with the Patriots’ detractors. Coax them into devising more conspiracy theories.

I’m doing my part, spreading rumors at every opportunity.

Gronk’s concussion test this week? Ernie Adams took it for him. And the league knows it.

Brady’s hand? It wasn’t a cut. He’s had his real hand replaced with a bionic one that can take a snap, deflate the ball and throw it during every play..

Bill Belichick tricked the Steelers into releasing James Harrison. I mean, nobody believes they could be that dumb, right?

Super Bowl referee Gene Steratore was the key grip for the TB12 documentary.

And, by the way, that is NOT Danny Amendola.

Eat your heart out, Seth Wickersham. And revel in the hate, Patriots fans. Your team is living rent free in America’s collective brain, and it is glorious.


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