Why the 16-0 2007 Patriots aren’t worth celebrating for New England fans: Buckley

Why the 16-0 2007 Patriots aren’t worth celebrating for New England fans: Buckley
Video tom brady 16-0

In Austin Mock’s ranking of all 640 NFL teams from 2002 through last season, the 2007 New England Patriots are ranked No. 1 — by a wide margin.

Allow me to take a few moments to explain to the rest of the world why New England fans aren’t likely to cherish this ranking.

On the night of Sept. 10, 2015, the pregame program leading into the Patriots’ season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium was highlighted by the unveiling of yet another Super Bowl banner. This one was No. 4, commemorating New England’s thrilling 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks seven months earlier in Super Bowl XLIX.

Speeches were made leading up to the unveiling of the new banner. Fireworks lit up the sky. The Dropkick Murphys performed. And then the Pats added yet more sizzle to the proceedings by submitting a 28-21 victory over the Steelers.

Left unsaid that night was that while the Pats unveiled a new banner, a behind-the-scenes decision had been made to remove another older banner from the upper-level overhang. Known as the “16-0 banner,” it had been lingering for years as a Gillette Stadium interloper, as an uncomfortable reminder of a long-ago party that had ended very badly. Now the banner was gone, whereabouts unknown.

To Patriots fans, “16-0” means 2007. And to most Patriots fans, putting up a banner honoring the 2007 season would be akin to a Titanic survivor placing a couple of the doomed ship’s deck chairs on the front porch.

Yes, the 2007 Patriots roared through the regular season without losing a game. Quarterback Tom Brady and his new best friend, receiver Randy Moss, submitted a season of eye-popping, history-making brilliance, with Brady setting a record for touchdown passes (50) and Moss doing the same for touchdown receptions (23). As if to wrap a pretty holiday ribbon around it all, both of those records were established on the same play in the same game — the Pats’ 38-35 victory over the New York Giants in the regular-season finale on Dec. 29 at the Meadowlands. They averaged — averaged — 36.8 points and 411 yards of offense per game.

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That’s the 16-0 part.

This was followed by methodical playoff victories over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round and the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots were on their way to becoming the first wire-to-wire undefeated team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went 14-0 in the regular season and then ground out playoff victories over Cleveland, Pittsburgh and, in Super Bowl VII, Washington.

But by the time Super Bowl XLII was in the books — Giants 17, Patriots 14 — aging members of the ’72 Dolphins were able to pop the corks and celebrate, yet again, their status as the NFL’s last undefeated champions.

To Giants fans, it’s remembered as the game in which their team toppled a giant. It’s the game in which an under-pressure Eli Manning somehow got a pass into the air, a pass that was caught, spectacularly, by David Tyree. That play set up Manning’s game-winning, 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining.

The 2007 Patriots had roared through the regular season, beginning with a 38-14 victory over the Jets. It proved to be a costly victory, as the NFL quickly determined that New England had been illegally taping the Jets’ defensive signals, the result being a hefty fine for coach Bill Belichick and the forfeiture of the team’s first-round pick in the 2008 draft.

But punishment be damned, the Pats continued to punish their opposition in 2007. They beat Washington 52-7 on Oct. 28, which happened to be the same day the Red Sox completed a four-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies in the World Series. Naturally, this inspired plenty of talk throughout New England that in a few months, the Patriots would be bringing home another championship.

When it didn’t happen, some well-meaning people inside Gillette Stadium hit upon the idea of doing something to commemorate the season. The 2007 Patriots, after all, were the first team in the era of the 16-game regular season not to lose a game. So management ordered up a huge white tablecloth of a banner that featured “16-0” in team red, “New England Patriots” in blue on top and the NFL logo at the bottom.

Patriot fans- “WE ONLY HANG BANNERS FOR SUPER BOWLS! LOOK AT BILLS FANS CELEBRATING REGULAR SEASON WINS HAHAHAHA”

Patriots: pic.twitter.com/FU0nXHtlys

— TJ (@tjiacono) July 31, 2022

For every Super Bowl victory by the Patriots, team-color balloons were released. But this 16-0 banner went over like a lead balloon. It was routinely mocked by all fans, be they from New England, New York or New Caledonia. Patriots fans could wax poetic about special moments, such as those crisp Brady-to-Moss passes or the big fourth-quarter comeback against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, but they had little appetite for celebrating the season.

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Had the Patriots never won a Super Bowl, the 2007 season would likely be viewed in a different light. Pats fans might have seen it as a beacon of hope, as a sign of how close their team came to finally winning it all. But the Patriots had already won three Super Bowls before the 2007 season. At the time the banner disappeared — a team spokesman told me the banner “is in the archives” — the Patriots were commemorating a fourth Super Bowl victory. Since then, the Pats have won two more. That’s six in all. As Pats fans have made clear, there’s simply no room at Gillette Stadium for participation trophies.

A good parallel in Boston sports history is the 1970-71 Bruins. One of the best offensive teams ever assembled, those Bruins had a then-record 10 different players score 20 or more goals. And, incredibly, four of those players amassed 100 or more points: Phil Esposito (152), Bobby Orr (139), John Bucyk (116) and Ken Hodge (105). They were 1-2-3-4 in the league in points that season, and Wayne Cashman, John McKenzie and Fred Stanfield were 7-8-9. The Bruins were 57-14-7 that season, racking up 121 points.

And they were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens, thanks to the stellar goaltending of rookie Ken Dryden.

Fleetwood Records, the Revere, Mass.-based studio that produced the iconic “The Impossible Dream” album to commemorate the 1967 pennant-winning Red Sox, came out with an album dedicated to the ’70-71 Bruins. It was called “The Record Breakers.”

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But there was never a banner at the old Boston Garden to commemorate “The Record Breakers.” The Bruins had won the Stanley Cup a year earlier, and they’d win another in 1972. No need to celebrate an in-between team that didn’t win anything.

In the years to come, the Bruins did try to pretty up Boston Garden by displaying an array of Adams Division banners from the rafters. With 17 Celtics championship banners hanging up there (and another to come in 2008) and only five Stanley Cup banners across the way, the Adams Division banners at least made it appear the Bruins were winners.

Those Adams Division banners eventually came down. And this is as good a place as any to point out that there is a genuine place in the Boston area called the Museum of Bad Art. It’s in the basement of the Somerville Theater. And it’s time for the Patriots to show a sense of humor by sending their “16-0 banner” to MOBA. And the Bruins can chip in by donating their Adams Division banners.

Now that would be something to celebrate.

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photos: Getty Images, Rob Tringali / Sportschrome)