I lost interest in football nearly forty years ago, in the fall of 1969, when it became clear that my beloved Packers would not be advancing to their third Super Bowl. Memory can play the harlot, but my memory is that my loss of interest happened very suddenly, while I was waiting in my father’s car, listening to the Packers lose the decisive game on my transistor radio with the Green Bay Packer helmet logo on its brushed metal face. I believe it was the game against Baltimore, just a couple of days after by twelfth birthday, because I still twitch when I think of Johnny Unitas (which isn’t very often).
In any event, it was in the back seat of that car, parked beside some country road near Lake Alice, Wisconsin, not quite one hundred and fifty miles from Green Bay, that my love of football died. At least that is my story, and this story is true enough, so far as a goes.
One thing this story leaves out is that I loved the Packers more than I loved football, and that I loved the Packers because they were a Schelling point for a young Wisconsin patriot. And when I was a boy of twelve, a young Wisconsin patriot is exactly what I was. My family left Wisconsin not long after my disillusionment near Lake Alice, and I have been a wistful expatriate ever since.
But that is another story. I tell this tale of long ago because I see that football and the Patriots are on the menu for many of my countrymen this afternoon, and this set me to wondering whether the name New England Patriots isn’t something of an oxymoron. I do not doubt that there are and have been patriots in New England, but cannot overlook the irony that, of all the American peoples, New Englanders have always been the most exuberantly patricidal.
Captain John Smith named New England some years before the English dissenters planted their colonies on the shore of Massachusetts Bay, but his choice of name was prescient because these dissenters hoped that their colonies would grow into a new England. When they set out in the Mayflower or the Arbella, they were abandoning the land of their fathers and rejecting the world their fathers had made. You may applaud their exodus into the wilderness, and their hope of some day finding a new promised land of Canaan, but I don’t think you can call these dissenters patriots.
Was Moses an Egyptian patriot?
Examining photos of the New England Patriots, I see that their present helmet logo is a stylized minuteman, and in a quick review of their history I discover that their logo has always represented a soldier of the American revolution. And not one of the redcoats who fought to protect “the loyalists.” No, it has always represented a tricorn-sporting lad in blue. In other words, one of the anti-loyalist that we have been taught to call “patriots.”
I am hardly the first to think that, when once side in a war calls itself the patriots and the other side calls itself the loyalists, one of those sides must be lying.
I believe Zealots would be a name better suited to memorializing the actual history of New England. From its infancy, New England has been the land of zealotry, and not of patriotism in any normal definition of that world. New England Zealots sounds good to my ear and and is appropriately ferocious.
New England Patriots sounds like an oxymoron.