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Literature / The Dynasty

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"Endings can be hard to see coming, and even harder to accept when they arrive."

The date is September 23rd, 2001. A nation, still reeling from the events of the September 11th terrorist attacks, returns to watch the first football game played following a one-week postponement of the regular season schedule in recognition of the national mourning. The scene is Foxboro Stadium, where a game between the rival New England Patriots and New York Jets is unfolding. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe, unable to execute the passing play which had been called, scrambles toward the right sideline. There to meet him is Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, who levels Bledsoe with a brutal hit out of bounds. Battered and concussed, Bledsoe is soon removed from the game and rushed to receive urgent medical care. Replacing him in the game is Tom Brady, an unheralded 6th round draft pick in his second year. The fans within the stadium, and those across the country watching on television, had witnessed a historic moment in American football, though none knew at the time. The New England Patriots, under the leadership of Brady, head coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft, would go from this moment forward on an improbable run which would take them all the way to the Super Bowl and championship glory, and would launch the organization to a period of unprecedented success.

So how did it happen? How did the Patriots, only eight years separated from an unsuccessful attempt to move the team to St. Louis, which had historically played poorly, with a chaotic organizational culture, poor finances, and anemic interest in their home market, turn things around so dramatically to be the envy of the National Football League? How did the trio of Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady spearhead the creation of this sports dynasty, and uniquely among modern sports franchises, keep it going for twenty years?

The Dynasty is a book by longtime Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Benedict, which chronicles the history of this era in New England, interweaving a sports story narrative with an examination of the business of running an NFL team and a biographical focus on the dynasty’s three most important people. Published in 2020, mere months after Tom Brady announced that he would leave New England and sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it is the first book which covers the entire history of Brady’s tenure as a Patriot.

The Dynasty contains the following tropes:

  • Central Theme:
    • Greatness from small beginnings. The Patriots were a bottom shelf team for the entirety of their existence up until Robert Kraft bought the team. It took visionary leadership, a roster of dedicated players, a team-oriented culture, and quite a bit of luck to make the dynasty happen. The trio most responsible for it were underestimated before proving their worth.
    • The conflict between emotions and pragmatism in football management. Robert Kraft is deeply emotional and he agonizes over cutting or trading football players that he likes personally. Bill Belichick is dispassionate, data-driven, and so pragmatic that he would rather move on from a player a year early than a year too late. Despite his outward coldness, he loves the players in his own way and is deeply disturbed when the media suggests real antipathy exists. To him, it’s only business and nothing personal. Tom Brady eventually is faced with the choice of spending the remaining few years of his career on a depleted and rebuilding Patriots roster, thus ending the era he helped originate, or go to a team that is a quarterback away from championship contention.
  • Climax: Super Bowl LI. Brady serves a four game suspension for DeflateGate, and when he returns he leads the red-hot Patriots to a 14-2 record and a playoff run all the way to the Super Bowl. Trailing in that game 28-3, he engineers a comeback for the ages to win the game 34-28, and in front of a national audience, gets his vindication when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hands him the Lombardi Trophy. His doubters silenced, fans and analysts openly, and without equivocation, start calling him the GOAT — the Greatest of All Time — and Super Bowl LI the greatest championship of all time. This is the highest moment for the storied dynasty, but also the beginning of its end. The rest of the book is a narrative of the dynasty's decline, as the tension between Brady and Belichick leads the former to leave in free agency three years later.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The first hundred pages of the book focuses on Robert Kraft before drifting away from him and focusing more on Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. To a lesser extent, Drew Bledsoe, who is characterized as New England’s great hope for about seventy pages, but becomes a supporting character to the ascendant Tom Brady before being traded to the Buffalo Bills. Brady himself doesn’t even appear until 153 pages in, at Chapter 16.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Robert Kraft could have bought the New England Patriots as early as 1985, but the Patriots unexpectedly went on a Super Bowl run that year, and the Sullivans had second thoughts in selling the team. Also, the emergence of Tom Brady, a fringe sixth-round pick, as the greatest quarterback of all time took the whole NFL by surprise.
  • End of an Era: Tom Brady finally leaves the New England Patriots after a Wild Card round loss to the Tennessee Titans, hitting the free agent market for the first time in his career.
  • Honest Corporate Executive: The book’s general portrayal of Robert Kraft is very much this trope, where his even-handedness and intelligence, plus his international business connections and previous background in media and sports team ownership made him an ideal candidate to take over the Patriots, and once he’s in charge, make him a valued figure in the NFL. James Orthwein, the preceding owner, is also portrayed positively despite nearly ending the team’s time in New England. By hiring coach Bill Parcells and drafting Drew Bledsoe, he added real value to a moribund organization.
  • How We Got Here: The book begins with a prologue where Drew Bledsoe is in the hospital in 2001, in the middle of surgery to treat the life-threatening injury he sustained in Week 2 of the 2001 season. The narrative then swings forward all the way to 2019 in Chapter 1, with the Patriots on the cusp of acquiring wide receiver Antonio Brown, the catalyst for the tumultuous finale of the dynasty. It then goes back decades in time and works its way back to these two moments.
  • Incompetence, Inc.: The Patriots organization prior to Kraft taking over. The Sullivans were never the wealthiest owners in the American Football League or the National Football League, but their foolhardy investment in Michael Jackson’s Victory Tour, for which they put up Sullivan Stadium as collateral, wiped out their entire net worth. Before long, they were forced to sell an already moribund team to new owners who had little interest in keeping the Patriots in New England. Victor Kiam was even worse, giving the Patriots a slimy reputation in 1990 due to the Lisa Olson sexual harassment scandal, during which he called the Boston Herald reporter a “classic bitch.”
  • Information Wants to Be Free: Robert Kraft and famed Boston Globe sports reporter Will McDonough were longtime friends, but once Kraft buys the Patriots, McDonough’s reporting becomes a liability. Kraft deliberately hides that he is planning to draft Terry Glenn in the first round of the 1996 Draft, over the head of Parcells because he knows McDonough is a partisan of the head coach who would not hesitate to reveal the organization’s plan. The furor over it leads Parcells to leave New England and destroys their friendship.
  • Jerkass: Patriots owner Victor Kiam is portrayed overall as a slimy figure who dismisses the sexual harassment of Lisa Olson in the Patriots locker room in 1990 as a result of her being a “classic bitch.”
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Lisa Olson scandal brought the Patriots to the absolute nadir of reputation and performance. Victor Kiam’s indifference and callousness toward Olson directly triggered a financial meltdown for both Remington and the Patriots organization, as his disparaging comments about the Boston Herald reporter prompted a boycott of his businesses. It got so bad that the NFL front office briefly took over the team in 1991. On the football front, the Patriots, 1-1 before the scandal, proceeded to lost all fourteen remaining games in humiliating fashion.
  • Love at First Sight: Robert and Myra Kraft get married after their first date and remain Happily Married for decades until her death in 2011 of cancer.
  • The Rival: The New York Jets. Bill Parcells supercharged the rivalry by coaching there after he left New England, and he poached star running back Curtis Martin in the process. Belichick resigned as his successor after only one day on the job to go to New England. It was a hit by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis that injured Drew Bledsoe, nearly killing him, and put Tom Brady on his path to superstardom. New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini, and erstwhile Patriots defensive coordinator, was the originator of the SpyGate accusations, and the New York Jets stymie a resurgent Patriots team in 2010 by beating them in the divisional round of the playoffs.
  • Sketchy Successor: Pete Carroll had the unenviable task of stepping in to replace the great Bill Parcells, and was succeeded by the even greater Bill Belichick. His Patriots teams won fewer games in each successive year of his three-year tenure with the Pats. He returns later in the story, after Growing the Beard as a coach at USC, this time as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Alex Guerrero, the alternative medicine guru who is the originator of the fitness and nutrition programs popularized by the TB 12 brand, is viewed with suspicion by Bill Belichick, especially once other Patriots start seeing him and taking his advice of that of the team's medical staff. He eventually gets so frustrated that he revokes Guerrero's access to the organization, causing a major breach with Tom Brady, who credits the longevity of his career to Guerrero's treatment.
  • The Unreveal: Benedict speculates that Malcolm Butler was benched during Super Bowl LII, when the rest of New England's defense was being torched, because Belichick simply screwed up, and is doubling down on his decision to avoid showing weakness externally, but concludes that a concrete reason may never be given. To this day, no one knows why Butler was benched.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The Patriots’ 1996 season has an inauspicious start when the drafting of wide receiver Terry Glenn, mandated by Kraft over Bill Parcells’s desire for a defensive lineman, creates a rift between the two men. Not helping matters is Parcells’s indecision on whether he wants to continue coaching after the season. By the time Super Bowl XXXI is underway, Coach Parcells is looking for another job, and his friend and partisan Will McDonough is spearheading a media backlash against Kraft for driving him away.
  • Wet Blanket Wife: Myra Kraft has a couple moments like this when she’s not The Heart. One example is when Robert comes home and surprises his two young sons with season tickets to the Patriots. Season tickets are expensive, the Patriots at the time were a bottom-shelf team, and game time conflicted with the boys’ Hebrew school. Myra eventually comes around to the idea because it’s a way for Robert, busy building his business empire, to spend time bonding with their sons.