I’ve been a New England Patriots fan my whole life. It wasn’t really a choice — I’m pretty sure my whole family would have disowned me if I had turned my back on the home team and rooted for someone else. Sure, there was a brief dalliance in the early 1990s with the Detroit Lions, but only because Barry Sanders was the most amazing thing that 10-year old me had ever seen. That didn’t last long, especially because shortly after that New England started winning championships.
Those championships — and all the other wins in the last decade and a half — have been great, but the downside of being a Patriots fan is watching them treat your favorite players like expendable widgets in their winning machine over and over again. Sure, all fans know at some level that this is just a business and the players are only playing for their favorite teams because of the money, but to see your team continually short-change the players that had brought you so much joy is tough.
One of the toughest for me was Deion Branch. After being one of the most important players on three championship teams, the Patriots wouldn’t pay him and he ended up leaving town. It was clearly the smart move; he was never the same player again and paying him for previous accomplishments wouldn’t have been good business, but it’s the kind of move that has made players not want to play in New England.
That move came back to haunt them yesterday when Branch chose to sign with the Indianapolis Colts just days before they come to Foxboro and try to end the Patriots’ season. Branch hasn’t played all season and probably won’t play on Saturday night for the Colts. The only reason he was signed was for them to be able to sit him in a room and pick his brain about how to slow down Tom Brady and the New England offense.
Branch signing with the Colts is a tough pill to swallow for the New England faithful, but in the end it’s because of how the Patriots treat their players. If you ask them and they were honest I’m sure they would tell you it is an acceptable cost of doing business, but it still can’t feel good to know that such an important former player would be willing to help the other team so much.