First let me take a moment to put on flame-retardant clothing and don heavy boots. There.
Are you a big fan of the New England Patriots?
My goodness … that was a fearsome blast of flame, heat and bile!
Well, they’re back. For their sixth Super Bowl since 2001. Playing in 9 AFC championships in the last 14 years. Winning their division (the AFC East) 12 times. Their coach is now #4 in games won in NFL history (regular and playoff games combined). The quarterback owns virtually every postseason NFL QB record except a deeply-coveted fourth Super Bowl ring. And together, the coach/QB currently lead the NFL regular season wins list with 160 … next closest are Don Shula and Dan Marino at 116. There’s a lot to like or a lot to hate, depending on where you hail from.
The AFL-NFL merger (“the Super Bowl era”) kicked off in 1970, though the game itself began at the end of the 1966 season (January 1967). Modern unrestricted free agency began in the NFL in 1992. So New England’s success in the last 15 years, during a period of intentional parity between NFL teams, has been exceptional and exceptionally contested. Their victories and losses in the Super Bowl have never been greater, or less, than 4 points.
What can explain it?
General consensus is “Satan” … followed closely in the polls by “cheating at every turn and at every opportunity … plus Satan … plus Satan’s Mom’s dog.” Certainly a full-throated, if not fully-verified, hypothesis.
Nerdier fans insist Bill Belichick is actually a Sith Lord and Tom Brady is his pretty-boy protocol droid being drawn to the Dark Side, while owner Robert Kraft relentlessly undermines the NFL from within. And maybe Satan’s got season tickets at Gillette Stadium, as well. Not very plausible, I think, but the blurring of reality and Star Wars for millions has always led to some unusual claims.
Back in late 2011, a young QB named Tim Tebow had an improbable run of late season victories with the Denver Broncos, which included a miraculous overtime playoff win in Denver on January 08, 2012 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. An American journalist at the time, whose name Google can’t find for me, wrote an article about how Tim Tebow’s stellar performance triggered a crisis of confidence in his journalistic/secular heart. Maybe Tim actually did have divine support.
Secular redemption, of a sort, only arrived when poor Tim met the New England Patriots, in New England, the week after the miracle in Mile High. The Broncos lost 45-10. For the journalist, the Age of Reason had returned. Order, natural order, had been restored. And the Patriots proceeded to yet another Super Bowl as part of the Kraft/Belichick/Brady era (which they lost for a second time to the New York Giants).
Paraphrasing the journalist’s article of the time, “the New England Patriots play football like the Romans fought wars. Methodically. Relentlessly. Mercilessly.” And Tim Tebow’s supernatural charisma never quite recovered, despite a stint several years later, ironically, at a New England Patriots spring training camp.
As someone with a long amateur interest in Roman military matters, it seemed an appropriate time … here on the verge of yet another Patriots Super Bowl run … to cast a wider net … beyond cheating … beyond Sith Lords … even beyond ever-busy Satan. In the deranged period before the Big Game, let’s take said journalist’s premise, kick the tires, and take it for a spin until the wheels of analogy fall off.
Compare the Patriots and the Roman war machine using the following criteria:
- Education and Literacy
- Situational Awareness
- Organizational Focus
- Battlefield Focus