Full disclosure as always, I can’t stand the New England Patriots. The initial reason I didn’t like them was because of Tom Brady’s smug attitude after the Raiders/Patriots game in which he fumbled the ball but it was called back on a bogus “tuck rule” that hadn’t been seen in the NFL in twenty years. His quote: “I was throwing the ball.” People have said that he had sarcasm in his voice, but I heard no such tone. That was enough for me to dislike Brady and his team, and they haven’t done anything since then to make me like them.
But this “SpyGate” stuff is just absurd. So many times the opportunity has existed for the Patriots to man up and take their punishment, and put everything behind them. But of course, they haven’t done that. They’ve whined, they’ve skirted the issue, they’ve claimed innocence, and they’ve said the signals don’t offer much of a real advantage. And because of that, they’ve left the door open for the issue to continue to haunt them. They could really use someone with some political background on their public relations team, because no politician would be dragged down for this long.
Way back in September, when the suspicions of impropriety first began to surface, everyone took them seriously, probably more seriously than necessary, in fact. I remember hearing folks on ESPN’s Around the Horn calling for blood, saying head coach Bill Belichick should be suspended for a game, or a season, that the Patriots should lose multiple draft picks, and that the team and Belichick should be fine upwards of a million dollars. I believe the idea was that, with the NBA betting scandal just recently put to rest, and with baseball still enduring the heart of the steroids controversy, the NFL needed to get out in front of this and make sure it didn’t linger.
The actual punishment seemed valid; $750,000 total is a pretty large amount of money, and losing a first round draft pick is a very serious blow. A mea culpa by Belichick at that point, along with a sincere apology, and we might have been done with it there. But instead we got “misinterpreted the rules” and “we’re moving forward.” Those are fine if you’re a dictator or candidate, but as a member of an institution (the very institution who you are alleged to have cheated), you need to seem sincere and humble in your apology, or it’ll come back to bite you.
Fast forward to the Super Bowl, and you’ll remember that was the first time allegations came out concerning taping the Rams’ walkthrough before the 2002 Super Bowl. The Patriots said it wasn’t true, and Matt Walsh, the video assistant who blew the whistle on the whole thing, didn’t say anything. But since then, they’ve whined about it causing a distraction for the players before facing the eventual NFL champion New York Giants. Hey, bummer, you’re in the Super Bowl and people are talking about you. Act like you’ve been there before.
And now, Matt Walsh, someone who Belichick claims he couldn’t pick out of a lineup, has come forward with tapes (plural) and spoken with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, as well as a few members of the press, in an effort to uncover the truth. And what is the truth? The Patriots had been engaging in the taping of defensive signals for no less than 7 years. The questionable “advantage” of the tactic is completely irrelevant; if you get caught speeding on a highway, it doesn’t matter if you weren’t actually putting anyone else in danger. The law dictates that exceeding the speed limit is illegal and punishable, not only when people are actually put in danger, but any time, because the action itself is dangerous (as deemed by the governing body). Taping opponents’ defensive signals isn’t cheating only if you’re getting an advantage; it’s cheating any time you do it because the action itself is improper (as deemed by the governing body).
The kicker for me, though, the thing that made me decide to make this blog post (though it’s a few weeks old), was the whole scenario with the Boston Herald printing the largest apology in sports history, or at least so I’m told, concerning the unfounded allegations that the Patriots had taped the Rams’ walkthrough in 2002. Everyone talked about how irresponsible it was for the newspaper to print that the tape existed before verifying, and how Patriots owner Robert Kraft was right to feel vindicated after the correction.
Umm, did I miss something?
The Patriots did get punished by the league as noted above, right? And Matt Walsh dictated the lengths to which they would go to get the signals and avoid detection, right? And Belichick, despite all of the hemming and hawing about its usefulness and that it was just a misunderstanding of league rules, has essentially admitted to everything that Walsh has claimed, right? So the Patriots were legitimately guilty of everything they were accused of, except for the taping of the Rams’ walkthrough (and that’s not to say there wasn’t a tape somewhere of the Rams’ defensive signals, just nothing from the walkthrough). Wow, total vindication there, Bobby Kraft.
Isn’t that sort of like being charged with 100 counts of jewelry theft, and only getting convicted on 99 of them because the victim found one of the bracelets they thought was missing? I mean, you’re still guilty as sin, New England. You just sound ridiculous when you say, “We're relieved that this is over and you see that this is nonsense and we were unfairly accused and we're moving on,” as Kraft did following the Herald apology.
If you’re a New England Patriots fan (and at this point, I hope we’ve got some of you reading because you need to take your medicine), you’ve got to own up to the fact that your glorious stretch here will be forever sullied by “SpyGate.” Your team did something wrong, and by refusing to admit to it, they came to look like a bunch of babies, with Belichick as the Tommy of the group.
I am not in favor of trying to take away the Super Bowls from the Patriots as some of my more fiery colleagues are. I think a fair punishment at this point would be probation. Not some kind of sissy probation, though; I'm talking about college football style probation: ban them from the postseason for three years. If we're going to say that the NCAA should be tougher on big time programs who break the rules, why not hold the biggest programs (NFL teams) to the highest standard? And I'll tell you this: banning a professional team from the playoffs will get the attention of every owner, coach, and player. There'll be none of these claims of misunderstandings, because everyone will double-check everything they do. If a team wins titles because of cheating, then you have to eliminate the incentive, by depriving them of the opportunity to win titles.
I'm looking forward to another NFL season where I'll be rooting against the Patriots every week. Go Skins!
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