Monday, September 17, 2007

Ex-pat Pats Fan

Yep, I'm proud to be a Patriots fan, folks.

Yes, I was sickened by the idea that the best coach of this era resorted to cheating and illegal activities to gain a competitive advantage over other teams.  Yes, I was appalled that he so blatantly and arrogantly chose to continue those shenanigans against a man he'd mentored, who had inside information about his football operations and techniques, and didn't expect to be punished for it.  Yes, I was disappointed by his use of the term "my interpretation of the rule."  All of that is true, in spades.

For a time, my football heart (as my loving wife expresses it) was broken by this.  My beloved Patriots ... cheaters.  I was so embarrassed and downright ashamed.

You know what, though?  There isn't any team out there that isn't trying to get a competitive advantage over its opponents.  There is no team that won't steal signals by whatever means they have at their disposal.  There is no coach that won't use whatever technology they can avail to give them the edge.

In the end, the only real question remaining is, why, Mr. Belichick, did you do this against a man and a team you know would do anything in their power to hurt you?  Eric Mangini has already demonstrated that the relationship you once had is meaningless to him, and it probably is to you too.  Why didn't you think he'd play whistle-blower when you knew he was aware of what you were doing?

Fine; that being said, it's done.  Belichick has paid his fine (or will) and the Patriots organization has (or will) paid its penalties -- the quarter-million dollars and the loss of what will almost definitely be a first-round draft pick.  Those are heavy penalties.  Most wanted to see him suspended, too.  Okay, I can see that -- but then drop one of the other two punishments.  A suspension?  All right.  A fine?  Sure, why not?  But then no loss of draft picks.  In this case, I believe the punishment is enough.

It's finished for now.  The ongoing (if any) investigation into the extraneous and unauthorized radio frequency use remains to be seen.  I would be willing to bet that Mangini and his bruised band of tattlers will ask for an investigation.  I don't know whether or not they'll receive it, but I'm guessing they're going to ask.

So, all that aside, what have we learned?

Well, we learned the Jets are still no match for the mighty Patriots on the field.  They were hardly one last year two of the three times they played, and that was against a team hamstrung by loss of its best receivers and working with a cobbled-together corps that was never great, and a battered and weakened defense.  Now, against an offense that has tremendous talent at all positions, and a defense that is back to a level familiar to the organization, the Patriots have re-educated "Mangenius" about what a winning franchise looks like.

They still have some ways to go, I'd say.  The camera was seized before the end of the first quarter.  The commissioner has stated the tape(s) in no way affected the game's outcome.  The Jets, or should I say the Jest, simply had their asses handed to them, neatly carved and served on a silver platter.  Revere silver.  You know ... from Boston.

Last night, the San Diego Chargers came to Foxboro to visit a long-held, oft-anticipated, much ballyhooed grudge rematch against the team that "stole" their first-round playoff victory in the waning moments of the game and left them slack-jawed, bitter-pilled, and with no other statements to make than how classless the winning players (and their coach) were to celebrate a hard-fought victory.  A victory, might I add, that few, if any, gave them any chance of attaining.  They were "classless" because they mocked Shawn "I'm a Juiced-Up Junky Jackass Jumpin' like  a Monkey on Steroids" Merriman's "lights out" dance at midfield on their own stadium sod.

Well, that's interesting.  You're not classless to initiate the stupidity, but you don't want it shoved in your faces.  That's classless, is it?  There is a solution.  To avoid this, you must win the game.

On Sunday, to his credit, Merriman didn't perform his ridiculous spasm ... at least not that I saw.  He did, however, have two sacks and played a very good game.  He is still a spastic monkey, in my opinion, but he was a bit more subdued a monkey last night.

There was no cheating in this game.  The commissioner -- and Robert Kraft, the Patriots owner -- saw to that.

So, the Chargers watched as the Patriots rolled to a 24-0 lead in the first half.  A lead they never surrendered.  The Chargers, out-classed (no pun intended ... okay, maybe a little one) and manhandled, were pushed around the field and shoved off the dance floor.  The over-ballyhooed "rematch" turned out to be nothing but a good ol' fashioned ass-kicking by a superior team.

Last year, Brady didn't have Moss, Welker and Stallworth to throw to, and they still beat the Chargers.  LT ("Loser 'Tude", as someone on a sports forum so aptly dubbed him after their playoff loss and his subsequent "I'm a classy person" press conference) was formidable, dominating and impossible to stop for the Patriots last year.  They didn't have Adalius Thomas and Junior Seau on the field then; they were on the field last night, and LT ran for a whopping 43 yards on 18 carries.  Did I mention he has the lowest yards-per-carry average in the league?  Did I mention he was completely and utterly stuffed and stifled?  He's a classy guy, though, because after this shellacking, when asked if he thought the Pats were now the team to beat in the league this year, he nodded and said he would concur.  Genuine class.  Nothing like admitting you got your ass kicked to clear your conscience of the childish stupidity of your remarks 7 months ago.

What did we learn?  Did we learn that cheaters do, in fact, prosper, as some have accused?

We learned that the San Diego Chargers, a talented team in their own right, have not yet adjusted to the new system instilled by new head coach Norv Turner, nor have they grown accustomed to the other members of the coaching staff since the departure of Cam Cameron, et al., to other points on the map.  (Cam misses you too, LT, I guarantee it.)  They will, and when they do, they will again be a team to be reckoned with; in the end, however, they are not a match for the New England Patriots.

The much-anticipated rematch was to be so physical, such a contest of mutual hatred and vehemence that it was slated for the very first Sunday night game of the year.

The Patriots, however, had other plans.  They focused.  They played.  And they taught the Chargers a valuable lesson about holding a grudge.  A 38-14 lesson.  The exact same lesson they taught Eric "Mangenius" and the New York Jest ... sorry.  Jets.

We've also learned that, like any great organization, from the Dallas Cowboys of the '90s to the San Francisco 49ers of the '80s to the Pittsburgh Steelers of the '70s, people love to hate the one at the top.  Just ask Microsoft.  If the Colts consistently start winning Super Bowls and establish their own mini-dynasty, they'll start seeing the same things.  We've learned, in short, that the sour grapes of all the world will be flung fast and furious at your team when they become winners, because no one likes to be a winner's stepping stone to success.  The Patriots being winners means that 31 other teams are losers, and that is going to breed a lot of resentment.

For an example of what I mean, check any football forum.  The team, its owner, its coach, and yes, even its fans are maligned at every turn.  ("Hey, mom!  I learned a new word today!  'Masshole'!  Isn't that great?")  A term usually reserved for other purposes is now applied to the fans of the Patriots because they support a team that is better than, as of last year at least, 30 other teams.

This year, I suspect that number will be a bit higher.

Yes, I'm a "Masshole", I guess.  I'm not from Massachusetts, and in fact have never been there (though it would be my pleasure -- as long as I'm not driving, I suppose).   But I am a Patriots fan, despite the controversy, despite the embarrassment, despite the tarnished reputation and the shadow cast over everything they've done over the last 7 seasons and beyond.  There is a bit of rust on their 3 Lombardi trophies now, but I love them anyway.  I guess that makes me a Masshole.

Last night I was convinced of this when I saw nearly 70,000 people, holding signs that read things like, "We're not cheaters and I have the Tapes to Prove It!", or "I'm Still With Bill!", or a guy wearing a cardboard video camera on his head that said "N0-Body's Cheating" (as an acronym, however convoluted, for NBC) and addressed to LT.   On the fore of that homemade headgear was a statement that embodied the entire crowd's sentiments:  "In Bill We Trust."  Then, they chanted "LT SUCKS!  LT SUCKS!", just to remind Mr. Tomlinson where he was playing.   And what the score was.  I felt the same way.  They said so much to me, with no real words, and that's when I realized that, even if they did cheat and are further punished, it won't matter to me.  They'll pay their fine, they'll serve their penalties, and they will still be my team.

As he strode onto the field, and off it victorious, Bill Belichick received an ovation from his fans.  And, uncharacteristically of the stoic, hoody-garbed "genius" -- he waved his acknowledgement of it.  His players hugged him after the game and he was presented with a game ball by Robert Kraft.  Tedy Bruschi said it was the most satisfying win of his Patriots career -- and he was on the Super Bowl teams and bears all three rings.

Massholes, unite.  Whether by land or by air, we can repel the attackers of our beloved Patriots.  They have made their statement of ability on the field.  Who cares what the rest of the world says about them off the field?

Yes, I am a Patriots fan.  And I always will be.


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