Goodbye, Dave Dombrowski. Hello, Antonio Brown.
For all our self-regard — we do love to call Boston “The City of Champions,” after all — New England sports fans are a fickle bunch. A little more than a year ago, Dombrowski, the now-former president of the Red Sox, was being hailed as a genius after his team won 108 games during the regular season before steamrolling the New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers on the way to a World Series title.
Around the same time Chris Sale was closing out the series against the Dodgers last October, Antonio Brown was nearing the end of his time with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. The supremely gifted wideout was known as much for his temper tantrums and missed practices as his speed and toughness on the field. Talent or no, Brown’s antics eventually led the Steelers to trade him to the Oakland Raiders for the NFL equivalent of a bag of balls and a few kickoff tees. Meanwhile, New England fans, their team on its way to a sixth Super Bowl championship, smugly looked on, knowing a me-first player like Brown would never have a place on their team with its vaunted “Patriot Way.”
Fast-forward to last weekend, when Brown’s antics led the Oakland Raiders to release him before he even played a down for the team. And no sooner did the social media wags kiddingly tweet that Brown would end up on the team that already has everything — the Patriots — than the news broke that it wasn’t a joke. The much-derided Brown was coming to Foxborough. While fans were digesting that news, the Sox were in the process of losing a 10-5 game to the New York Yankees, yet another disappointment in a season that has dragged on like a visit to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The game was in its middle innings when Boston’s ownership team — led by John Henry — told Dombrowski his services were no longer needed. Henry, no stranger to the TV cameras when the team is doing well, left a shocked manager Alex Cora with the task of explaining to the media a decision in which he had no part.
Now, Red Sox fans are saying good riddance, for better or worse, to the chief architect of one of the most dominant seasons in baseball history. And let us not forget that Dombrowski was brought on to replace Ben Cherington, who built the 2013 World Series-winning Red Sox. Talk about short memories. New England fans, meanwhile, are desperately trying to redefine the Patriot Way of teamwork and sacrifice to justify the signing of Brown. In the hours before Brown’s release by the Raiders, for example, several online polls showed Patriots fans hated the idea of signing him. Hours later, when it became clear he would join the team, opinions changed, with most rooters celebrating his arrival.
Is this what we’ve become, just another collection of locals “rooting for laundry,” as they say, willing to support a team only if it wins? That’s what the anecdotal data seems to indicate. Many longtime Patriots fans remember the long, lonely winters of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, a largely forgettable string of disappointing seasons punctuated only occasionally by the random surprise Super Bowl appearance (and loss). The stands were never full in the days when the best player on the team was kicker Jason Staurovsky.
Fans have one definition of the Patriot Way — at least during the team’s long winning stretch — where the players are the modern version of the Knights of the Round Table. It is evident the Patriots have another. Coach Bill Belichick has never shied away from bringing in so-called “troubled” players whose talent outweighs their intangibles. Think Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Josh Gordon. Those players and others bought into the way the Patriots ran their operation not because it was some higher calling but because it gave them the best chance to play on a championship team. It works most of the time. If the Patriots went 8-8 or 6-10 every year, we wouldn’t be talking about Moss, Gordon or Brown.
Thankfully, however, New England is far more likely to go 12-4 than 4-12. And the team doesn’t really need Brown, having steamrolled the Steelers without him Sunday by a 33-3 score that somehow didn’t capture how lopsided the game was.
We know Brown was watching, and we know why he’s here. He wants to be on a winner. Just like the rest of us in New England, if we’re being honest with ourselves.