Why be grateful for the presence of this unholy, and seemingly unstoppable team in the Super Bowl yet again? Because it’s one of the few good and true reasons to tune into the game, if only for the miniscule possibility that Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft might be dealt a righteous and wholly justified loss.
Aside from that, no amount of Puppy Bowls, celebrity halftime performances, and multimillion-dollar ad buys is worth it, because this may have been the year that finally broke football. For anyone still laboring under the delusion that there are ways to ethically consume this particular entertainment product, consider this: No manner of rule tweaking or equipment innovation can alter the fact that playing football means rolling the dice on cognitive functioning. When the NFL is not functioning as an extremely profitable abattoir, it spent the season attempting to move heaven, earth and millions to corral and co-opt employees who dared to express a non-league-sanctioned political opinion. (The NFL’s jingoistic and militaristic politics continued apace.) If that meant going so far as to blackball a quality starting quarterback at a time when QBs were getting stacked like cordwood on the injured reserve list, so be it.
While all sports programming has seen its TV ratings decline, largely thanks to cord-cutting, a chunk of the NFL’s lost eyeballs can be pegged to the fact that they put out a lousy, at times unwatchable product this season. It’s a problem that’s been quasi-obscured by the outcry of a nativist chunk of the population, who reacted to ongoing protests against state-sanctioned violence by pledging to rid the NFL from their lives forevermore. And whenever the furor died down, the president kept bringing it back to the center of his perma-culture war, because having the NFL as an ideological enemy made for a fine, if so very stupid, slab of red meat, one worth chucking into the endless maw of the base during his first State of the Union.
If you can kitty-corner all of those thorny and legitimate ethical concerns, I strongly suggest plunking down on your trusty Barcalounger at some point on Sunday and tuning in because finding a true, unambiguous villain—in sports at least—is hard to come by. The best part of it is, it doesn’t really matter.
First, despite all of the despicable things the Patriots are accused of doing, they’re hardly alone. Aside from the aforementioned issues with football itself, every team in every sport has played fast and loose with the rules at some point. That the Patriots are so brazen about it is a difference of degree, not kind. Second, it’s sports. Compared to the rest of the world, their offenses, shady marketing ploys and even lousy politics, are laughable and utterly unimportant. The universe has provided no shortage of genuinely awful and truly frightening people who not only abound, they’ve realized that they no longer need to feel inhibited by a sense of shame. RIP Shame. It had a good run.
Which is all the more reason why pointing a stubby finger and shouting “J’accuse!” at a professional sports franchise, and deeming it the be-all and end-all of awfulness, is so necessary. The Patriots are not the evil empire, to be sure. But they are a collection of miscreants who—unlike actual, real-world malevolent entities that never seem to receive any kind of comeuppance—might actually be pummeled into submission, if only for one glorious day. (Note: This will not happen. They’re going to win. Again.)
With that in mind, here are some of the more unforgivable sins perpetrated by the Patriots, who you should loathe with the fire of a thousand suns.
As previously mentioned, they cheat, and they do it a lot. ESPN’s Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham took a deep dive into Spygate and discovered that over an eight-year stretch, right up until the moment when the New York Jets set up a sting to catch them, they were secretly recording opponents’ sidelines during games in order to decipher their signals. How often? Forty separate instances between 2000 and 2007, according to ESPN. They also allegedly sent low-level employees into visiting teams’ locker rooms to steal their play sheets, so the Pats would know opposing teams’ first 15-20 plays of the game.
When they got busted, their cozy relationship with Roger Goodell meant that not only weren’t they punished in a manner that might have dissuaded future bad acts; the commissioner tried to bury the scandal, going so far as to destroy the evidence the league had gathered during its brief, three-day investigation—which led to heavy criticism from then-Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA).
So when the Patriots got busted for cheating again, via Deflategate, enough NFL owners were still carrying a grudge that Goodell felt compelled to dole a draconian and kind of ridiculous four-game suspension for QB Brady, docked the team multiple draft picks, and imposed a tidy $1 million fine.
We will now pause while a phalanx of Massholes start keening about the Ideal Gas Law. In fairness, Donnie from Gloucester is partly right. Whether or not Brady did enlist a couple of low-level staffers to fiddle with the football (he did), the entire 18-month-long ordeal, complete with multiple hearings, massive investigations, and legal proceedings was really about reaffirming Goodell’s complete and total authority over NFL player discipline.
Even worse, the Patriots have managed to turn their flagrant rule-flouting into a competitive advantage. Teams remain so worried about the Patriots’ shenanigans that they were pulling out all manner of paranoia-driven security procedures as recently as 2015. In 2010, Peyton Manning fretted that the visiting team’s locker room had been infested with listening devices, and any time there’s a minor mechanical issue, say with a team’s headsets, the default assumption is that Belichick or any number of covert Patriots operatives rewired them so they’d conk out at the worst possible moment.
New England’s nefarious skullduggery takes up so much space in our collective consciousness, tinfoil hat-wearing fans convinced themselves that the refs conspired to throw the AFC Championship Game—and that Belichick has perfected a weather-control device.
But back to Tom Brady. “Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history!!!!” you might howl in response. You are correct. Any debate about the NFL’s very best signal-callers has to include good ol’ Touchdown Tom. But as his career begins to wind down, he’s already started to carve out a space in Gwyneth Paltrow’s turf, creating his very own lifestyle and wellness brand, with the kindly assistance of his own snake oil salesman of a personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, who previously claimed he could cure cancer and whose continued presence in Foxboro might be the one thing capable of derailing the Patriots’ near two-decade-long reign. As you might suspect, The “TB12 Method” Brady and Guerrero have concocted is pseudoscientific junk, no matter how much Brady believes he’s been able to avoid concussions because he chugs gallons of water a day and consumes a deeply strange diet. Do not give them a single dime.
Brady also managed to convince a preferred charitable organization to funnel millions into his own foundation, and he ditched his previous partner, actress Bridget Moynahan, while she was pregnant for his current wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen.
As for owner Robert Kraft, he’s a billionaire sports owner. There are no halfway-decent billionaire sports owners, but this one reportedly stumped for Donald Trump’s regressive tax plan, donated $1 million to his inaugural committee, and gave the president his very own shiny Super Bowl ring last year. He also gave millions more to build regulation football fields in Israel, and dragged NFL legends overseas to serve as unwitting props for Bibi Netanyahu’s political agenda. Needless to say, Brady spent a year playing coy about his support for his longtime dear chum, Donald Trump, after a Make America Great Hat was spied in his locker.
Similarly, Belichick, a humorless and soulless shell of a human being and yes, possibly the best coach ever, sent a letter of support using uber-Trumpian prose that then-candidate Trump read aloud days before the 2016 election. When questioned about his political leanings, Belichick somehow managed to say with a straight face, “I’m not a political person.”
So there you have it. Let us pray that somehow these all-time football legends screw up. If so, joy and kindness, peace and understanding, and flowers and sunshine and rainbows will spread across the globe, because the Patriots are very bad.