To steal a phrase from another one of the better sequels in recent memory (unless you weren’t born yet when this movie came out, in which case, your hazing will be going on a beer run for the rest of us upperclassmen):
You’ll laugh again. You’ll cry again. You’ll hurl again.
This is meant as the highest of compliments: “Five Rings”, the sequel to Thornton’s 2016 retrospective “From Darkness to Dynasty”, is the perfect page-turner to read at the pool or the beach, assuming you don’t mind occasionally snort-laughing and spitting your beer out in front of everyone. It’s effortlessly pick-up-able, no matter whether you read a few chapters at night a couple days this week or crush the whole thing on a plane ride or a weekend at the lake.
Also, the best part?
Unlike other beach reads, this one’s a true story. Not “based on a true story”. Not based on a book that’s based on a true story. Not like Rudy where it’s loosely based on a little dude that technically existed but then we find out almost nothing in the movie that all of us watched in the last week of elementary school when the teachers know that nobody’s getting shit done was true.
This one? It’s true. All of it.
As with all great stories, let’s start in the middle.
(Nice humblebrag on the cover, by the way. “By the author of ‘From Darkness to Dynasty’, because in addition to being a writer, blogger, radio personality, and standup comedian, Jerry’s an AUTHOR now as well, you see!)
Hey, it’s not bragging if it’s true.
And speaking of which, after Jerry’s excellent recounting of the Patriots’ formative decades as the NFL’s case study in “You’re not even a has-been, you’re a never-was” in From Darkness to Dynasty, “Five Rings” picks up right where FDTD left off - in 2001, when everything came together beyond our wildest dreams and just a few years down the road “It’s not bragging if it’s true” might be the most modest (and polite) thing that’s ever come out of any Patriots fan’s mouth.
Right from the get-go - a recollection of Thornton’s experience at the White House after the Patriots won the 28-3 Bowl - Jerry’s style immediately hits you in the mouth like Rodney Harrison as a 1:1:1 mix of ESPN’s 30 for 30, VH1’s Behind the Music, and...the original Hangover movie mixed with Deadpool and Ferris Bueller’s IDGAF fourth-wall-breaking, I guess? Diving right into the 2001 season, the section appropriately titled “O” (like 1 ring...get it? get it?) kicks off with the ‘01 Patriots team, 9/11, and Drew Bledsoe getting rocked within an inch of his life, and that’s basically the part where if the previous decades of Patriots fandom were waiting in line for the best roller coaster in Six Flags for three hours in the blazing sun, 2001 was getting all the way to the top of the first peak, throwing your hands up, and screaming your guts out in that delirious SWEET MOTHER OF PEARL THIS FREAKING RULESSSSS voice the entire rest of the ride.
Remarkably, since all of us have watched the highlights from the ‘01, ‘03, and ‘04 Super Bowl victories a million times, where Five Rings really shines for the diehard fan is the “man, SO close” runs of the teams that didn’t bring it home. The ‘06 team that could’ve hung god knows how many points on Sexy Rexy and the Chicago Bears if they hadn’t blown an 18-point lead to prime Peyton Manning in Indy. ‘07 requires no explanation. And since we’ve just witnessed the Legion of Boom basically self-destruct in Seattle this past season, it’s almost a piece of forgotten history at this point that Bill Belichick’s Patriots, by all logic, should have been toast when the legendary defenses of the early/mid ‘00s either all retired like Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi, or got traded like Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour. That should have been it for the Patriots dynasty. Good job, good effort, time to let someone else be the best for a while.
Instead, Jerry’s recounting of the draft choices, the scheme changes, the free agent swings and misses, and Belichick zigging when everyone expected him to zag somehow hit the shortcut in Koopa Troopa Beach in Mario Kart 64, skipped all that “rebuilding” stuff, and proceeded to hang 40 points on everyone they played every week. Defense? Eh, we’ll figure that part out sooner or later. And instead of gracefully fading into mediocrity like pretty much every NFL dynasty to date has done when their OG stars hang up their spikes, New England just kept thrashing the rest of the league like a baby pitbull with a boat-rope chew toy. NO MERCY.
I’m avoiding putting any snippets from the book itself in here on purpose, because A) read the damn book, and B) in the same way that you can hear a killer song from years past and go “Oh MAN!” while you’re instantly transported back to a precise moment in time, half the fun of reading Five Rings is subconsciously pairing up the Patriots’ mind-boggling twenty-year run of stuffing the rest of the league in a locker with whatever else was going on in your life at the time. The Super Bowl parties you remember. The parties you don’t remember. The family, the friends, the games you shivered through or sweat through or road-tripped to. The part where we learned losing championships to the Giants twice in five seasons really can make us feel dead inside. And the part in 2014 where Brady and - wait for it - another team that was equal parts homegrown talent, free agents from the Island of Misfit Toys, and one *extremely high-priced former enemy turned brother, stared down what was, at the time, the largest comeback in Super Bowl history (they were down 10 points!) and Bill was on the sidelines keeping it like this:
“There’s no mystery here, fellas! It’s trusting each other, and everybody doing their job!”
You know what happened next.
Job well done, Jerry, and we all hope your title is out of date really, really soon.
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