- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Can’t say I’ve ever been a New England Patriots fan.

In fact, seemingly like most red-blooded Americans who aren’t from Massachusetts, I’ve enjoyed rooting against them, especially when my hometown New York Giants whipped the Patriots to spoil their perfect season in Super Bowl XLII, and then whipped them again in Super Bowl XLVI.

(Yes, even three- and four-point victories with go-ahead touchdowns scored in the last minute constitute a whipping. BYU scored Saturday on a last-second “Hail Mary” to beat the snot out of Nebraska.)

Dallas has a longer history as “America’s (Most Hated) Team,” but New England has been the vogue this century. Since 2000, the Patriots have won the Super Bowl four times while the Cowboys have won a playoff game just twice. In that span, Dallas has reached the playoffs fewer times, five, than the six times New England has reached the Super Bowl.

The Patriots have ready-made villains in coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Darth Vader could learn a thing or two from Belichick, whose dour countenance and begrudging civility are the public persona of a football savant. Brady, aka “Captain America,” has everything you hate unless he’s on your team: Multiple rings, gaudy statistics, MVP trophies, Hollywood looks and a supermodel wife.

But even with all those material reasons going against the franchise, I can’t join the angry mob attempting to vandalize New England’s legacy.

The piling on since “Deflategate” has been unseemly, unsightly and plain ol’ ugly, enough to make this Patriots anti-fan raise his voice in support.

I didn’t think critics could be more petty after expressing their outrage over the air pressure in some footballs.

But then, on the eve of the season-opener Thursday when New England hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers, came a one-two punch of the-Patriots-are-cheaters stories. ESPN weighed in with nearly 11,000 words on allegations linked to Spygate and further back, dating to the 2000 season. Sports Illustrated chimed in with another 4,000 words on the subject.

Both articles concluded that “Belicheat” has skirted, bent and broke rules en route to becoming the greatest coach in NFL history, and a great howl arose across the nation.

“The entire run of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots is tainted,” read a USA Today headline.

“Did cheating Pats cost Chargers titles, new stadium?” pondered The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Patriots cheating during Spygate might have cost Eagles a Super Bowl,” posited The Newark Star-Ledger.

The headline atop a Bay Area News Group column read: “Something’s rotten in Foxborough.”

The ESPN and SI articles are full of allegations, rumors and conspiracy theories from dozens of unnamed sources, including team executives, staffers and former players. I have no idea how much of the stuff is true, ranging from claims that low-level Patriots employees snuck into the visiting team’s locker room or rummaged through the visiting team’s hotel looking for playsheets and scouting reports, anything that might provide an edge.

There’s also a detailed examination of New England’s “Spygate” policies that in 2007 led to Belichick’s $500,000 fine and the team being penalized with a $250,000 fine and loss of a first-round draft choice. The ESPN story cites examples of New England taping the opposing team’s sideline signals as far back as 2000.

The problem with that? It wasn’t cheating back then. Taping the opposing team from your sideline wasn’t banned until 2006. The NFL smacked the Patriots in 2007 because they continued the practice.

Considering that many of the sources hail from teams that lost to the Patriots, you have to wonder what percentage of their gripes are sour grapes. There’s a whole lot of “I have a feeling” and “I just know,” but not much that can be verified.

There’s no defense against a nagging sense or widely-held assumption that you did something wrong. But for the sake of argument, let’s say every claim is true, that the Patriots stole playbooks, dumpster-dived for scouting reports and kept on making prohibited videos.

Then I’ll agree they’re despicable and their success deserve an asterisks. But critics must agree that results might’ve been the same minus any rule infractions.

Beyond Spygate, there’s no proof of alleged crooked deeds and no way of knowing what would’ve happened without said alleged crooked deeds.

That’s why the ordeal of dredging up unsubstantiated accusation from decades ago is an exercise in futility … unless the objective is providing ammo to shoot down Belichick and Brady.

In that case, mission accomplished, though the haters are firing blanks.

The Patriots very well could’ve been massive cheaters throughout the past 15 years. If so, they were masterful at that, too.

Until proven otherwise, there’s no reason to deny them full credit for their dynasty.

And that’s from someone who doesn’t particularly like them, but has tremendous respect for their accomplishments.

Still.

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