Former New York Giants defensive end Chris Canty—now a radio host at ESPN New York—recently told a story about the New England Patriots from the 2012 Super Bowl.
The day after the Giants had won (for the second time in two Super Bowl meetings against New England), they headed to the Indianapolis airport to go home. The Patriots—likely anxious to get the heck out of town—were already there. They had boarded their airplane and were waiting to go.
According to Canty, the tower made them wait until the Giants had boarded their plane and taken off.
Can you imagine being Bill Belichick or Tom Brady in that moment?
This is the second time the Patriots have been back to the Super Bowl since that February loss and one would imagine sitting on that plane still remains on their minds.
That’s one of the reasons—and there are many—people think the Patriots will win this game. The guys who have been there before know what it’s like to lose and will be determined not to be on that plane watching the winners fly away again.
Experience in The Big Game may not seem like a big deal—every year there are new players with new teams that perform well in the Super Bowl—but it is. Ll we have to do is look at the way the New York Giants lost focus before their game against the Green Bay Packers to be reminded of it.
And while maybe Odell Beckham Jr’s boat trip wasn’t solely responsible, the chaos and constant questioning certainly wore the team down and might have caused some frustration. That’s the sort of thing which derails playoff runs.
The Patriots don’t allow distractions. Everything which comes out of their mouths is basically designed to make you lose interest in asking a follow up question. Even the continuing discussion around Tom Brady’s Trump Hat—the one he put in his locker back in September of 2015—gets the handwave treatment, much to the chagrin of many pundits.
“What’s going on in the world?” Brady told the assembled media on Monday. “I haven’t paid much attention. I’m just a positive person.”
Ridiculous as that was, did we expect more? The week of the Super Bowl?
“I just want to focus on the positive aspects of this game, my teammates and the reason why we are here,” he said. “It has taken a lot of hard work to get to this point. I just want to focus on the positive nature of two great teams competing at this level.”
The Patriots don’t talk about anything this week. Well, they don’t really talk about anything, at any time, but especially this week.
No, they are all about staying on point.
The Patriots also have vengeance in their corner. As much as the NFL would have liked Deflategate to finally be put to rest with Brady’s four game suspension, the stink of it has lingered over this season again.
New England used it to fuel a 3-1 start without their future Hall of Famer under center. Then they won 11 of their remaining 12 games. And after that, they blew out the Houston Texans and then the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs.
While the general talent of the team and a not-really-brutal schedule helped the cause, don’t think Brady and company aren’t playing with an enormous chip on their shoulder. Even Falcons fans—in a very small corner of their souls—would stay tuned in to a Patriots win to see if commissioner Roger Goodell handed the Lombardi Trophy to Brady himself or avoided that awkward moment.
Despite the immense success of the last decade and a half, the Patriots love to act as if they are the disrespected little guy. They love to pretend it’s them against the world. It fuels them and it’s part of their shtick.
None of this overrides the talent they will field on Sunday, and none of it automatically negates the immense talent of the Atlanta Falcons. This game will be decided between the sidelines in Houston on Sunday.
However, the attitude and focus the Patriots approach the game with even before they hit the sidelines will impact what happens when they hit the field as well.