As the clock struck triple zeros inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the red, white and blue confetti fell over the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, while a malaise swept across a nation of disgruntled football fans.
Six championships in 18 years is a historic, unprecedented accomplishment, the very epitome of greatness. Bill Belichick, with all his schematic genius, and the dashingly handsome Tom Brady form a formidable duo, both on and off the field. They looked the part, each respectively holding their granddaughter and daughter, while in conversation with Jim Nantz as they publicly ascended to the top of the football world.
And yet, something did not feel right. The natural reaction to such a beautiful success story was disgust, even hatred. The enemy once again reigned supreme. In a country that is built on a foundation of greatness, that very principle was not celebrated but rather shrouded in a sea of backlash and malcontent. A team paradoxically named the Patriots is somehow distinctly un-American.
Greatness, itself, does not invoke such feelings. No one resents Steve Jobs for his exorbitant accumulation of wealth. He is idolized and applauded for his fastidious pursuit of what was once thought to be impossible. He was a captivating presenter and visionary, with an insatiable desire to not only sell the world his product but have the world espouse his way of thinking. Jobs carried an aura of transcendence, a greatness that was undeniable. And despite having no public record of giving any of his $8.3 billion fortune to charity, Steve Jobs is one of the most beloved billionaires to have ever lived.
The New England Patriots are billionaires, but billionaires of a different breed. It is not their success that is unsettling, but the way that success was earned. It is the history of deflated footballs, spy cameras, murderous tight ends and the “tuck rule.” Or maybe it’s the unflappable legacy of the supposed “G.O.A.T.” quarterback Tom Brady, who nonetheless always seems to appear profoundly average, but just good enough to win the biggest games. Or maybe it’s the genius behind it all, coach Bill Belichick, who might be the foremost expert on the two-gap, 3-4 defensive system, but prefers to let his arrogance waft over you with a curt, impassive demeanor. Or maybe it’s owner, Robert Kraft, whose third Super Bowl ring sits in Vladimir Putin’s display case. Whatever it may be, the effect is clear. Success ill-received is worse than no success at all.
One of the most memorable ads during the Super Bowl was a preview for the movie, “Us.” The film follows a vacationing family that is terrorized by four masked figures, who then reveal themselves to be the family members themselves. Unsettling, naturally. At Super Bowl LIII, the New England Patriots took off their masks once again. The lying, cheating sides of ourselves that we really do not want to see came to light for the sixth time. And America had no choice but to shudder.