Seventeen years ago, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots were the loveable underdogs gearing up to face the “Greatest Show On Turf” St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Eight Super Bowl appearances and five titles later, the Patriots now are the NFL’s evil overlord, a constant villain who arrives on the game’s biggest stage year after year. New England has gone from sports darling to feared dynastic power on the strength of Brady’s right arm and Belichick’s genius.

As the Patriots prepare to play in their ninth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era, the masses of NFL fans who once cheered for the plucky underdog Pats now desperately await the fall of Rome.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft knows why his team is now both feared and disliked but he hopes his legendary coach-quarterback combo can keep the haters from planning their funeral for as long as possible.

“We were just talking about that,” Kraft said on NBC Sports Boston’s “Boston Sports Tonight,” via Pro Football Talk. “Seventeen years ago, we were Cinderella — and I understand it, and if I wasn’t a fan of the Patriots, I’d feel the same way.

“And you know what? To all those people, we hope we’re going to make you keep feeling that way for quite a while.”

On Sunday, the script will be flipped when the five-time Super Bowl champions take on the young, upstart Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.

Thumbnail photo via Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images