If you follow football, you should be quite familiar with the saga of the 2007 New England Patriots. That is, the 16-0 Patriots, directed by Coach of the Year Bill Belichick and star-studded with players such as National Football League Most Valuable Player Tom Brady (all-time NFL record of 50 touchdown passes) and Randy Moss (all-time NFL record of 23 touchdown receptions).
Unfortunately, these are also the Patriots embroiled in the so-called “Spygate,” having been caught videotaping defensive signals in Week 1 against league rules, for which the league took away a first-round draft pick, fined the team $250,000, and fined Belichick $500,000. These are the Patriots accused of running up scores on lesser teams, such as their 52-7 victory over the Washington Redskins. These are the Patriots hit with all sorts of fines, most recently a $15,000 fine against nose tackle Vince Wilfork for sticking his finger in New York Giants running back Brandon Jacob’s facemask.
Many spectators (and some football players and commentators) have decided that the turmoil should invalidate, or at least lessen, the Patriots’ accomplishments thus far. This is not the first time a team has been disliked for winning at all costs, but it is one of the strongest cases of backlash in recent memory. Almost overnight the Patriots went from being hailed for their team-first mentality (remember how they chose to be introduced as a team in Super Bowl XXXVI?) to absolutely demonized, on par with the New York Yankees (and recently the Boston Red Sox) as one of the most despised teams in America.
Case in point: many of my brother Sammy’s friends are Philadelphia Eagles fans, and one of them was talking to him about football. “So, how about those Patriots?” Sammy asked.
“They’re not going 19-0,” his friend replied.
“Because — because I don’t want them to.”
I certainly do not expect you to pity an undefeated team often labeled as a juggernaut. After all, just about every other team would kill to be in the position the Patriots are right now. But people are too quick to write off the Patriots as undeserving cheaters or attempt to negate their victories.
For every complimentary comment about Brady reading the field or Moss reeling in “uncatchable” passes, there is an equal and opposite negative reaction to New England success. Commentators habitually mention Spygate in the same breath as anything related to Belichick’s coaching. (When Belichick won Coach of the Year, the Associated Press lede started with “Spygate be damned!”) Writers devote column space to how classless the Patriots were for “running up the score,” though that should not even be an issue in a professional league where players are paid to play hard on every down. As for playing dirty, NFL Network analyst Cris Collinsworth mentioned that Wilfork intended to poke Jacobs’ eye out. (Hilariously, Bryant Gumbel replied, “I think it was intent to annoy.”)
Granted, everyone is allowed to have his or her own opinion about the Patriots. But the unfortunate result is that the focus is no longer solely on stellar football. Instead, the players’ personalities, the coach’s brusqueness, and so forth all dominate the commentary.
Luckily, the Patriots have made it amply clear that they do not care what anyone thinks. First and foremost, the Patriots care about being prepared for each and every game. Being liked is not their goal. Winning the Super Bowl is.
And maybe the 2007 New England Patriots are harder to like than the underdogs that won Super Bowl XXXVI. But it took 35 years for another undefeated regular season after the 1972 Miami Dolphins went 14-0, and there is no guarantee it will happen again. If you have to, ignore the logo on the helmets and simply appreciate the football.