In honor of what this afternoon could very well be the last stand of the most dominant sustained dynasty ever in pro football, we take a look at this arguable but very recent ranking of the best players in franchise history. It's telling, I think, about the relative erosion of the team that only four players on this list are still in pads, and all four are very much on the back nine if not on the eighteenth hole: Julian Edelman (40), Stephen Gostkowski (34), Rob Gronkowski (9), and #12 at #1. I'm hoping for the best today, for one more (maybe even three more) rabbits pulled out of the greatest coach-QB hat the league has ever seen.
More importantly, I'm including this entry today for some perspective. My earliest experience as a Pats fan was watching as a ten year old while the team was decimated in Super Bowl XX by the Bears. What followed was almost ludicrously lamentable football mixed with off-field embarrassment (for some reason Zeke Mowatt and Scott Sisson don't appear on this list). But when the trifecta of Kraft, Parcells, and Bledsoe (12) walked through that door, everything changed. The Pats were competent and competitive again, and we dutifully swallowed the retirement of the greatest logo in football history in exchange. It culminated in that brief moment in 1997, just before Vinatieri kicked off to Desmond Howard, when it seemed we might actually see an NFL title in New England. For the next few years, as jacked and pumped as we might get, it seemed that would remain the pinnacle.
Then came Mo Lewis and the improbable marriage of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. We would see eight trips to the Super Bowl in the next sixteen years. Think about that for a minute. This team has been in the big game in fully half of the seasons Tom Brady has played. That's not historic. It's mythological. That's why I'm not counting out one more magical run at the mountaintop before this impossible dream fades to black.
In closing, consider: of the fifty players listed for this franchise that's been alive since fifteen years before I was born, I've watched 34 play. More than half have been on the team since 1997 and have appeared in at least one Super Bowl. Twenty have at least one ring. Not bad for a team that was once synonymous with losing.