Maybe what we witnessed on February 4 was the birth of a new NFL dynasty.
The Philadelphia Eagles, ascending the throne of NFL dominance occupied by the Patriots for almost two decades.
New sheriff in town. A band of rollicking, swaggering, irreverent, take-no-prisoners, shoot-from-the-hip renegades that busted through the saloon doors, kicked over Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s nerd table and started smashing laptops.
Meet the new boss. Not at all like the old boss.
Probably not, though.
More likely these Eagles are a good team that will meet the same preordained, crabs-in-a-bucket fate the NFL rigged up for everyone. Climbing to a point, then being pulled back into the roiling, clawing mass and climbed over.
Since free agency started 26 years ago, only one franchise ever made it out alive. That was the Patriots.
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And they did it in part because -- in the early years -- they never really acted like they’d arrived. Which they hadn’t. The team that won Super Bowl 36 after 2001 wasn’t what anyone would call deep or talented. The next year’s results bore that out.
The 2003 and 2004 seasons were the real fruits of Bill Belichick’s reboot labor. And they only spent two seasons on the crest of that wave. The next two years were sideswiped by attrition and injury. And also the high-class problem of players deserving pay bumps for what they’d done and the team trying to convince them that wasn’t their model.
Then there was ‘07’s load-up and then Brady’s ‘08 injury and then the ’09 nadir. Then another reboot in 2010 and -- since -- four more Super Bowl appearances and two more Lombardis.
And what’s the steady message delivered by Belichick all the way through the last 19 seasons of success?
So what? So you won last year. So you were an All-Pro. So you make a lot of money, people recognize you and laugh hard when what you say isn’t really funny. So you got to do a bunch of interviews and we made some self-congratulatory documentaries and trademarked some snappy slogans.
That’s over. What are you going to do this year? Can you do it again? Or are you fat, happy and satisfied? If you are, that’s fine. But you’re gonna have to GTFOOH.
It is this mindset that Eagles offensive lineman Lane Johnson -- who was 11 years old when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl -- has spent the offseason flapping his gums about.
Johnson, a very good player, thought he was breaking news when he outed the Patriots as a “fear-based organization” during a Pardon My Take interview with Barstool Sports.
No shit, Lane.
Guys who play for the Patriots fear being fired if they say stupid things, do stupid things or don’t play well.
And the Patriots are very upfront about what they expect and the fact they’ll be monitoring all of it. Some guys think that’s infantilizing and can’t wait to get the hell away from it.
Even guys who spent years in that atmosphere and seem acclimated can get fed up with it and rebel. (See: Ever, Greatest).
But everybody knew that.
Lane somehow thought that wasn’t the case. So -- since winning the Super Bowl -- he’s advanced his brand. As one will do. Johnson’s stump speech boils down to this: The Eagles didn’t just win a football game, they delivered the deathblow to the Death Star and showed the NFL that you can have fun again.
My favorite utterance from Johnson?
"You only get to do this job one time, so let's have fun while we're doing it," he said. "Not to be reckless, but I'd much rather have fun and win a Super Bowl than be miserable and win five Super Bowls."
Lane, chances are, that’s what’s gonna happen.
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How many coaches have reinvented the wheel? How many times since 2001 have we been told, “Hey, guys can have fun AND win! The Patriots tight-assed, paranoid, arrogant condescending way of doing things isn’t the only way!”
We got it with Tony Dungy in 2006 (one Super Bowl), Mike Tomlin in 2008 (one Super Bowl), Rex Ryan in 2009 and 2010 (no Super Bowls), Pete Carroll in 2013 (one Super Bowl).
The only guy other than Belichick that won more than one championship since the Patriots reign began? Tom Coughlin. Who makes Belichick look like Stanley from The Office.
If it’s long-lasting success an NFL team seeks, then unrelenting, anal-retentive, humorless, attention to detail works.
If you want to have the BEST TIME EVER!!! and don’t mind if success is fleeting, take that looooong victory lap, smell those roses and tell yourself that you’ve got it all figured out.
The Philadelphia Eagles and their six months of sustained success (and counting) are living proof that there’s more than one way to do it.