BOSTON. It was an eerie scene Friday morning along runway 32, the least-used landing strip of the ten runways at Logan International Airport. “Don’t disturb them,” says state trooper Jim Hampy to this reporter, referring to crowds of people wearing New England Patriots-themed apparel standing outside in cold temperatures. “They’re a primitive people.”
Despite that admonition, the crowd is loud enough to be heard on the tarmac a hundred yards away. “Gron-kow-ski, Gron-kow-ski,” they chant, like Africans along the Belgian Congo in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. “What does it mean?” asks Sarah Levinson, a graduate student in anthropology from Brandeis University.
“The Lombardi Trophy–it is gone,” Hampy replies, his face a mask of indifference as he finishes the dregs of his Dunkin’ Donuts “lahge regular.” “But the Patriots beat Pittsburgh last night, 21–18, so they think there’s hope.”
What Levinson and other local scholars are witnessing is the first cargo cult in New England since the Boston Red Sox broke an 86-year curse by winning the 2004 World Series. A “cargo cult” is a primitive belief system whose adherents use superstitious rituals to bring back an idealized past in which they enjoyed modern luxuries, including American Football Conference championships. Typical artifacts constructed by cargo cults to recall past glory include airplanes and landing strips, such as the one used by the Patriots when they returned victorious from Kansas City in 2019 before going on to win Super Bowl LII, or 52 in the Arabic numerals used by other major professional sports leagues.
The Patriots had participated in the last eight AFC championship games, winning five, but in 2022 were defeated by the Buffalo Bills in a “wild-card” game in which deuces and one-eyed jacks could be used to challenge penalties. That loss set off a region-wide fit of weeping and wailing that included gnashing of teeth and a return to fundamental religion, such as that practiced by natives of Melanesia, where cargo cults originated. New England’s record stands at 3–10 with three games to go as of today, leaving them with a mathematical chance to make the playoffs if you carry their won-loss percentage out to a million places with a supercomputer.
If the team fails to gain a wild card spot, New England fans are expected to seek meaning in wacko religious dogma. “It is sad when civilized people turn to primitive rituals,” said the Rev. Asa Ephraim of the Westland Congregational Church, a minister of the Protestant denomination that was once the established religion of Massachusetts. “We have so much to offer people if they would only come to church on Sundays instead of watching football: coffee, crumb cake, boring conversation after services, and a recently-resurfaced parking lot that is the envy of every other denomination in town.”