Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Patriots a team that most love to hate

— By Art Spander, The Sports Xchange —

MINNEAPOLIS — The man on the phone was adamant. “Anybody but the Patriots,” he said. Which in this case leaves only the Philadelphia Eagles, whose popularity in Super Bowl LII is based on the New England Patriots’ widespread unpopularity.

“I know 30 other cities are not rooting for us,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, one short of the correct total. “That’s OK. That’s the way it’s going to be.”

In golf and tennis, the favorite is, well, the favorite. All is right if Serena Williams or Roger Federer win. Or if Arnie or Jack or Tiger won. But for other sports the hope is for the underdog.

“I’ve been on both sides of that,” said Brady. “In 2001, we were very much the underdog. Nobody expected much of us.”

He meant the 2001 season, the 2002 Super Bowl, XXXVI. The Patriots beat the Rams, then the St. Louis Rams, and then kept playing and kept winning. And kept a great many people who didn’t live in Massachusetts, Rhode Island or, surprisingly, North Dakota, desperately wishing they would lose.

A recent Twitter poll showed most of America is firmly against the Patriots. Of course.

It was that way with the New York Yankees of the early 1950s. With the Chicago Bulls of the 1980s. Maybe with the San Francisco 49ers of the ’80s, the team Brady cheered for growing up in San Mateo, if the 49ers were a trifle more lovable than the Patriots who, like their coach, are so relentlessly efficient and cold.

You’ve heard the cliche: Everyone loves a winner. Not if the winner wins all the time. “Then you almost never please anyone, including your own fans, who want you to win by more points,” said the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. “No matter what you do, it isn’t enough.”

What the Patriots have done is almost too much. They have been in three straight Super Bowls, three of the last four, four of the last seven, five of the last 11. They have developed a dynasty and from those who seek a new champion an antipathy.

When the Patriots defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game, the biased New York Post, ran this back-page headline: WORST SUPER BOWL EVER. Only from a New York point of view to be sure.

New York, Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago, they are all envious, all jealous. The New York Giants beat the Patriots in two of those Super Bowls, but that’s almost so long ago that it’s not to remembered by anybody west of New Jersey.

Al Davis, the late owner and generalissimo of the Oakland Raiders, used to delight in the days Raiders were a league power. “We’d come out of the locker room in Denver or San Diego, and everyone booed. I thought that was a sign of respect.”

Davis was a believer in centuries old advice from Machiavelli, “that it’s better to be feared than loved.” The Patriots may not be feared — appreciated might be a better description — and other than their own fans they definitely are not loved.

“We play to win,” Brady reminded a media horde. “We want to win every game we play.”

They have won enough of those games to have others wanting them never to win again.