Finally, the Super Bowl might be fun again.
No more scowling Bill Belichick, angry as always under his hoodie. No more sly smiles and phony platitudes from Tom Brady.
No talk about Spygate; no worries about deflated footballs.
And no more speculation about just what New England owner Robert Kraft might be up to.
For the first time in four years, the Patriots will be sitting at home when the NFL championship is decided. And, really, on the 100th anniversary of the NFL, that should be reason enough to celebrate.
They are already excited at sports books around the country, where hundreds of millions of dollars will exchange hands Super Bowl Sunday. They should be excited at Fox network headquarters, too, for a Super Bowl matchup that is really Super this year.
Pick a winner if you can. But sports fans across America – with the exception of a little slice of the Northeast – are already winners before the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers even arrive in Miami.
”I know a lot of people are happy to not see the Patriots in the game,” said Jay Kornegay, who runs the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook. ”Patriot fatigue won’t be a factor this year, that’s for sure.”
If fans are tired of the Patriots, it’s with good reason.
They’ve been one half of the Super Bowl for nine of the past 18 years. They’ve won six of them, making the Patriots a modern-day dynasty that rivals – or surpasses – some of the greatest runs in sports.
They’re the New York Yankees of another era except, of course, the Yankees didn’t cheat.
Like all dynasties, though, this one appears ready to be shut down. Brady is getting old and so is Belichick’s bullying act, and the sense of urgency when it comes to the big prize has long since vanished.
There’s even a chance Brady might end up in another uniform somewhere next year (Las Vegas perhaps?), lured in free agency by a team desperate for star power. Even at the age of 42 he still may have another Super Bowl in that magical right arm.
And that’s fine. We’ve certainly seen enough of the Pats.
Enough of Brady taking an ever-changing cast to the game, only to have to find a way to win it himself. Enough of Belichick dismissively answering even the most basic questions like he was being asked to give away his first-born child.
Enough of Kraft pretending the Patriots don’t cheat, even writing his defense on an airplane napkin while headed toward yet another Super Bowl.
They did cheat, of course, which taints this dynasty unlike any other. Spygate itself might have sunk any other team, but the Patriots just brushed it off and kept winning games.
And win they did, on the biggest stages and in the biggest moments. The Patriots were so good for so long they probably would have won a handful of Super Bowls even if they didn’t spy on opponents or take the air out of footballs.
They gave us arguably the greatest comeback in a Super Bowl against the Falcons, rallying from a 25-point deficit midway through the third quarter in 2017 to win in overtime. They also gave us one of the ugliest Super Bowl wins ever last year against the Los Angeles Rams.
Greatness, indeed. But greatness not celebrated much outside of New England.
Last year’s game was the lowest-rated Super Bowl in 11 years, dropping below 100 million viewers for the first time in a decade. That’s still the biggest audience of the year for any network, but down 16 million viewers from the Patriots win over Seattle four years earlier.
Patriots fatigue was evident at Nevada sports books, too. A year after setting a record of $158.6 million in bets, gamblers waged just $146 million last year.
Expect the TV numbers to break the 100 million mark again. And a new sports betting record is pretty much a given, both in Nevada and the 13 other states that now allow legal sports betting.
Hopefully the Chiefs and 49ers will deliver. Brady and the Patriots usually did, even while they took some of the fun out of the game.
It’s on to Miami and a game with seemingly unlimited story lines to intrigue fans.
Thankfully, none of them involve the Patriots.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg