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Why do we need to rank the Patriots’ best all-time players?

One player’s greatness doesn’t have to come at the expense of another.

Jacksonville Jaguars Vs. New England Patriots Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Trigger Warning: if you’re the betting type, there’s maybe a 50/50 shot you can bet the rent that at some point here we’re going to veer off on a Bill Simmons-esque I-cut-the-brakes tangent that’s a neverending cover-zero-blitz of hypothetical question after hypothetical question until your author’s head explodes.

Just like how every discussion about Metallica inevitably digresses into everyone’s personal power rankings of the first four albums, at some point in every bargument involving the Patriots, this hypothetical comes up:

A few plays break a different way, and Tom Brady’s got 9 Super Bowl rings.

And of course, the logical flipside to that is in the alternate universe where a few plays in those Super Bowls break differently, like, say, I dunno, Kurt Warner just taking a killshot from Mike Vrabel instead of throwing the ball anywhere in Ty Law’s zip code, Tom Brady and the Patriots have zero Super Bowl rings.

These are all great fun, and a great way to go on and on at the bar not-at-all-humblebragging about how great the Patriots dynasty is while the resident Peyton Manning fan silently stews and curses the day Bill Belichick was born in classic midwestern passive-aggressiveness, and ultimately they’re harmless. Everyone knows how history actually went down, and more often than not, it went down with Bill & Tom and a supremely skilled supporting cast holding the Lombardi.

Which is at least a decent chunk of the reason why when this whole thing started this summer where we’re comparing different Patriots greats at the same position like Edelman vs. Welker, Kevin Faulk vs. James White, and there’s surely more where that came from, something just feels....let’s put it this way. Most of us probably love seafood. We’ve all had at least ONE time, though, when the first bite goes down and your stomach’s like “This....this not what the ol’ fish and chips is supposed to taste like, compadre”.

Talking about stuff like this:

Surely there’s more coming, like maybe Ty Law vs. Stephon Gilmore or Pat Chung vs. Rodney Harrison or Dont’a Hightower vs. Mike Vrabel or Gronk vs.....ok well maybe not that one, but you get the idea.

And before we go any further, please, for the love of #12, understand that the point of this isn’t to take a shot at NBC Sports Boston, Tom Curran or Phil Perry, both of whom rule and write some of the best Pats coverage in the world 349 days a year (I’m giving them a few vacation days in there, cause you gotta take care of yourself), and I’m definitely not taking a shot at our boy Pat Lane, who at least had the balls to jump in with the sharks and take a stab at the Edelman-Welker mystery-wrapped-in-a-riddle-inside-an-enigma last week. We’re not here to tear people down. Especially other people that share our common experience of waking up groggy the morning after game day like “What do you MEAN it’s snowing again?!?”

Especially in the case of Edelman & Welker, though, the debate seemed to go from cracking that first beer to pre-game before going out all the way to “Someone’s going to get thrown out of this bar for fighting, and someone’s going to go home with someone they’ll regret tomorrow morning, and someone’s gonna call their ex and cry, and you’re definitely throwing up” in about, what, 5 seconds?

That kind of venom that comes out over a handful of the most electric Pats of our lifetimes just...doesn’t seem right. Especially when it comes down to “Well (whoever) could NEVER do (something the other dude did) and they’re just TOUGHER (as if any professional football player is not tough and just skates on good luck and missed tackles) and CLUTCH and I’d take (whoever we referenced earlier) over (historical counterpart) ANY DAY!”

I mean, do other fanbases do this? The best contemporary parallel around is the only other franchise that can credibly hang with New England’s six Super Bowl rings, and that’s the Pittsburgh Steelers. Most recently, the Steelers have a couple titles this millennium, at least, so that’s close enough for the point here: when’s the last time you heard a gaggle of Steelers fans actively arguing “Cam Heyward vs. Mean Joe Green. Lamarr Woodley vs. James Harrison. Maurkice Pouncey vs. Mike Webster, Hines Ward vs. Santonio Holmes, WHO YA GOT?!”

Or even though the rings can’t even get past the bouncer to the private lounge where the Pats and Steelers hang, do Colts fans argue about whether Reggie Wayne or Marvin Harrison was the “better Colt”?

It almost sounds like a Family Guy gag or something, right? Like, imagine walking past a crew of people legitimately going at it and you’re thinking, man, somebody’s really heated about something, and then it turns out they’re at each other’s throats trying to nail down whether Cam Heyward deserves to be mentioned like Mean Joe Green does as a GREAT STILLER??

You’d laugh at them, and so would I, and they’d deserve every second of it, and then we’d high-five and go “at least we’re not THOSE dorks” and go get a shot or something, because we’re cool and they are obviously not. Shoot, this is 2019, you’d be more respected for popping off about your 20-minute Stranger Things fan theory than you would for yelling over whether...two of the franchise’s all-time heroes are bigger BAMFs depending on whatever obscure metric you decide is more relevant that week.

Especially if your metric of choice is an intangible like when you buy the “CLUTCH” trait for your players in Madden.

(side note: one of the most unintentionally savage burns I’ve ever received is playing Madden back in the day, spending a player’s skill points after they balled out one game, and roommate #2 asks what I’m doing, and then says “Oh, so it’s like an RPG, huh?”

I mean...kind of?)

Back on topic, the point is that this whole WHO YA GOT, WHO’S THE BETTER PATRIOT way of looking at some truly amazing ballers seems....kind of unhealthy. It’s the part in Scarface or whatever your favorite gangster movie of choice is when this happens:

(Sorry if that spoils Scarface for some of you, but, you know, that movie came out before half of you were born, so really, it’s on you to catch up.)

What are we getting out of this? What’s the point of pitting these guys we all bought jerseys for against each other like it’s a UFC card? Why? What does it accomplish?

And you’d be more than justified if that sounds hypocritical. We’ve certainly gotten our fair share of hot taeks out of all flavors of countdowns, March Madness brackets of great all-time Patriots games, and hell, even ranking all six of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl wins. Truthfully, as far as I can tell, that’s all well and good and there’s nothing wrong with that.

It just...when it gets personal, when someone’s tearing down one great to make the case for another being the Patriots GOAT, that feels wrong.

Greatness is greatness. One of my favorite truisms that really borders on a Yogi Berra-ism is “a rich man doesn’t have to tell you he’s rich”. It’s why Belichick loved prime Tiger Woods and freaking Secretariat. Sure, context is important, but we’re talking Pats history so recent here that without some of these dudes, the dynasty could’ve been smashed into a million pieces and we’d be the same losers we’d been before Belichick named Brady the starter much more quickly than some people, your boy the author included, would care to admit.

And if someone who’s hit my head playing pond hockey as much as I have knows that, you can bet that two of the greatest football minds in the galaxy know it, too. Bill & Tom know exactly how important ALL these guys were, even if some of the squads came up a bit short in the end some years. The JR Redmonds and Tebucky Joneses and Malcolm Mitchells made history just as much as the Edelmans and Faulks and Malcolm Butlers did. Why do you think Belichick & Brady never take a single ounce of credit for themselves in a post-victory interview? You can basically set every clock in your house by the two best guys to ever do it immediately deflecting all the praise and credit to the other men making it happen. The offensive line. The defense. The assistant coaches and coordinators. Last time we checked, it’s still a team game, right?

It’s summer. There’s plenty of great ways to pass the time, and all I’m saying is that arguing over which of our all-time GOATs is better than another by a razor’s edge ain’t one of them.

Personally, I’d prefer wakeboarding and margaritas.

(not at the same time, though.)