Upper Valley Patriots Fans Unfazed by Nationwide Naysayers

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, February 02, 2018

West Lebanon — Just inside the front door of Olympia Sports in the Upper Valley Plaza in West Lebanon is a T-shirt emblazoned with a slogan that seems to capture the feeling New England Patriots fans have headed into tomorrow’s Super Bowl LII matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“New England vs. Everyone,” the shirt reads, as if the Patriots’ faithful needed any reminder.

“Hate us ’cause you ain’t us,” said 37-year-old John Murphy, a Canaan resident, lifelong Pats fan and a three-year season ticketholder who works at Hypertherm and also runs the scoreboard for Dartmouth College basketball games. “I think there’s some envy with winning as frequently as we do. The media, ESPN, a good portion of the country, they build up the Patriots as the enemy.”

Success, as the saying goes, breeds contempt, and New England has seen plenty of success over the last two decades. The Patriots have won five Super Bowls, eight AFC championships and 15 division championships since 2000, and have made 10 Super Bowl appearances in franchise history, the most of any team.

Super Bowl 52, set for 6:30 p.m. on Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, seems to have divided the country into two polarizing camps: Patriots fans and non-Patriots fans, leaving longtime Upper Valley supporters of the NFL’s winningest dynasty on something of an island among a sea of perceived haters.

Maybe that’s exactly where they want to be.

“I’m pretty excited,” said Andy Hill, 49, the owner of the Lebanon Diner and a longtime Patriots supporter. “I just think this is a chance to quiet the naysayers. There’s been a lot of naysaying going on.”

Outside distractions never seem to bother the Patriots, though this year’s iterations appear to have hit a nerve. Two years after a controversy over deflated footballs in the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts consumed the NFL came a report by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham detailing tensions between Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft. In it, Wickersham suggests that the New England trio disagree on the team’s future, and makes reference to the end of a run that may already be on the horizon.

Pats fans know all good things must come to an end, which might explain why they’re allowing themselves to enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts. Doing so means blocking out the stories about the dissension, the past accusations about cheating, the current crop of complaints about referee favoritism, or whatever else gets hurled in their direction. New England’s long stretch of success may have cultivated widespread dislike of the team and its fans outside of New England — think New York Yankees during its decadeslong dominance — but it also has made Patriots fans accustomed to the negativity.

And it doesn’t seem to be diminishing their enjoyment.

“I’ve felt it for almost 18 years now,” said Matt Johnson, 33, a Lebanon resident and lifelong Patriots fan who works as a cook and a driver at Cantore’s Pizza in West Lebanon. “Everyone is always trying to take away from what the Patriots do.”

“I think last year, it was more evenly balanced between Atlanta Falcons fans,” Hill added. “It just seems like every win this year brought a new controversy, talking about how the refs did this, the refs did that or whatever. It seems a little stronger. I think people are just tired of hearing about Tom Brady.”

Many Boston sports fans remember the Yankees’ dynasty all too well, since they were on the other side of a seemingly immovable, destiny-guided team that would never falter. If anything, it’s changed the perspective of Patriots fans, now on the other side of their own dynasty.

“It’s phenomenal what they’ve accomplished,” said Mike Estrada, a State Farm insurance agent in Lebanon who moved to the Upper Valley in 1993. “What they’ve accomplished over such a long period of time will probably never be duplicated, if ever.”

“New England vs. Everybody” T-shirts were listed on the Patriots Pro Shop website for $29.99 a pop. The price of success in professional sports, it seems, is tribalistic isolation. It also is a price New England football fans have been happy to pay. The men’s shirt was out of stock online as of Friday night.

“Absolutely not,” Estrada said when asked if his team’s Super Bowl appearances ever get old. “I’m sure for everyone else in the world, it does. But not us.”

Added Hill: “I think a win on Sunday will hopefully quiet some people down.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.