Dear Casual Football Fans and Less-Casual Patriots Haters:
The Super Bowl is a week from Sunday, and millions of people who have not watched a single regular-season game will tune in to see the Seattle Seahawks take on the New England Patriots.
In the long two-week runup to kickoff, scores of reporters who normally don’t follow football also have been writing and talking about a supposed scandal involving the one-point favorites, the Patriots—particularly about their coach, Bill Belichick. (It does not help that most of the influential sports media is based in the territory of the Patriots’ most bitter rivals, the New York Jets and Giants.)
So far, the DeflateGate “investigation” has looked a lot like a trial in the court of public opinion, using incomplete and thirdhand evidence, by a jury of one’s enemies. The NFL itself has come to no conclusions, despite interviewing over 40 Patriots staffers, and it has been leaked that they are having a tough time coming up with any evidence that the Patriots cheated.
You would be forgiven for being misled by such reports, especially as they are amplified by the howls of fans of all the other NFL teams which the Patriots have been beating for years are eagerly joining in this Salem-grade pile on. For them, and for you, below is a guide to overcoming Belichick Derangement Syndrome:
1) The Patriots’ winning percentage has been significantly better since SpyGate than before it: 69.3% before, 75.6 after. Rational observers do not believe the Patriots’ actions—which was legal prior to the 2007 season—had any effect on game outcomes. Attributing their success before or after it comes across as sour grapes. Lesson: Don’t let others’ success breed contempt.
2) SpyGate was not really about taping opponents’ signals. It was about the location of cameras. All teams taped signals; the Patriots were fined for having a camera on the sidelines rather than a booth. Eric Mangini, the coach who brought it up, has said that he only did so to tweak his former boss, did not expect it to become a big deal, and thought the subsequent controversy was overblown. Using it as a justification for paranoia about everything the Patriots do is unfair and unbecoming. Lesson: If you’re going to talk smack, know what you’re talking about.
3) A false report of the Patriots taping the Rams’ pre-Super Bowl walkthrough was found by the NFL to be the fabrication of a disgruntled former employee. The paper which published it was covered in shame and retracted the story. Continuing to harp on such things is like believing the ending of Inglorious Basterds was historically correct. Lesson: Don’t rely on far-fetched theories.
4) The line formations which caused Harbaugh to lose his mind in a playoff game are legal, and the referees actually went overboard in helping the Ravens see what what was happening—specifically announcing that they should not cover specific receivers. These formations have been used by other pro and college teams. Making full and creative use of legal options on the playing field is important to winning, and makes the game more interesting. Lesson: Don’t be a Harbaugh.
5) Multiple Colts players have said that they were beaten fair and square last Sunday. They agree with most retired quarterbacks interviewed on this subject: ball inflation had nothing to do with the outcome. In the half played partially with questionable balls, the Patriots gained 10 points. In the remainder of the game, played with replacement footballs, they gained 28 points. If the Colts aren’t making excuses, why should their fans? Lesson: Don’t fight a battle for someone else.
6) Every quarterback has elaborate specs of how they want the football. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers openly admitted that he likes to inflate balls beyond the “legal” limit, and there was no outcry or punishment. Eli Manning has one of the more elaborate set of demands on how the ball is delivered. Checking the footballs is done perfunctorily, because NFL ratings are all about offense. This is not normally an issue except when Belichick is winning, once again. Lesson: Be evenhanded.
7) Brady/Belichick is the winningest QB/coach combination in the history of the NFL, and it’s not even close. So far, they’ve won 162 games together. Marino/Shula won 116, Bradshaw/Knoll 54. This engenders a lot of irrational resentment, but is easily explained by a combination of talent and preparation. Lesson: Learn to let it go.
8) No team in the NFL has a winning record against Brady. Not one. This, too, breeds resentment and double-standards in scrutinizing the Patriots. As former Patriot and current ESPN commentator Tedy Bruschi has said: “It’s a long line of people that want to step up and make an excuse as to why their team lost... But it feels good to be a player in that locker room knowing that you frustrate someone that much — that you frustrate someone that much that they are talking about some type of ball controversy.” Lesson: Don’t give the other side billboard material.
9) Even if you disregard all of the above, bear in mind that the National Football League is full of scandals far more repugnant than your misplaced outraged at Bill Belichick. The Patriots’ opponents in one of the above contests had a running back who punched his girlfriend unconscious in an elevator, and dragged her out by the feet on video. That team actually defended and covered up for their player, much as they turned a blind eye to another former player covering up a murder. No one suggested that the Ravens should not be allowed to play in that game, yet people are saying the Patriots should be disqualified from the Super Bowl based on an alleged 15% difference in air pressure. Lesson: At least, be consistent.
Belichick Derangement Syndrome is tinged with deep-seated resentment of both talent and intellect. Those attacking the Patriots will lend credence to any explanation, however absurd, which denies that they earned their success using their physical abilities and—even mores—their wits, in a league with spending parity. Learn to love Bill Belichick, the strategic and tactical genius. It’s the closest that armchair quarterbacks will ever get to sitting in the Jeep next to Patton.
* Apologies to E.F. Schumacher