You didn’t really think that the Bills were going to pull off the stunner of the century and beat New England on Sunday night, did you? Seriously – how long has it been since good fortune smiled upon the Bills? Sure, there was The Comeback, but that was in 1993 – almost 15 years ago. Since then the Bills have been on the short end of many exciting events, which, for the sake of my audience I will not mention here. Nope – it wasn’t going to happen and if you’ve watched the team recently you knew that, too.
I take no joy in the latest Bills defeat, merely a sense of the expected coming to pass. Playing the best the team in the league, well rested and coming off their bye week, you had to know the Bills were a massive underdog at home for a reason.
A loss is a loss, and even when you expect it, it hurts. It hurts worse when it comes at the hands of a team you desperately want to beat – a team who has owned your team for years – a team nobody will stop talking about. It hurts worse when you live in New England and have to deal with jubilant locals who consider themselves “huge Pats fans” yet can’t tell you much about the team prior to 2000, name the current starting left guard, or tell you which side of the line moved based solely on when the whistle blew.
To give the Patriots their due, they have assembled an amazing team. While I am sick of the media and the fans heaping adulation on the team, there may be merit to the talk about the team being the best in the history of the NFL. Defensively the team is a powerhouse, keeping all challengers in check. Offensively the team is awe-inspiring – their production is ready to shatter a number of all time team records including points per game and points in a season. In game after game Tom Brady leads a pass-happy attack to touchdown after touchdown with lightning quick reads and surgical precision. Even those who dislike the Patriots are conceding rare greatness.
But there’s a difference in winning and winning with class. The 2007 New England Patriots have shown a tremendous amount of talent at the same time they have shown a tremendous lack of class.
I like being an un-credentialed amateur sportswriter – it allows me to make statements like the one I just made. There’s nobody to take away access to the team and players, nobody to force me to present the other side, nobody to tell me to not rock the boat. I can talk about things you won’t hear in the regular media. Tonight I want to talk about the ugly side of America’s Team.
We all know about the spygate scandal and how the Patriots were found to have violated NFL rules by secretly videotaping opponents’ signals, an infraction for which they were fined and docked a draft pick. The taping came after the league expressly communicated the rule to all teams in light of previous, unproven complaints. The league compelled the Patriots to turn over any and all incriminating tapes and reviewed them before destroying them all – nobody will ever know the full extent of the cheating as league brass just wanted to make it go away.
Beyond Jets, lies and videotape, the Patriots have shown a disdain for other league rules. Have you ever seen the weekly Patriots injury report? If you have you’ll notice two things: a)With rare exception, all players are listed as questionable, meaning they have a 50-50 chance to play and b)Tom Brady is on the injury list every week. It seems that the Patriots dislike having to reveal their injuries in a league-mandated list, so they thumb their nose at everyone by not actually reporting anything. While other teams dutifully report their injuries, the Patriots seem to feel that this is proprietary information that would be detrimental to the team if revealed. The situation is eerily similar to Dick Cheney’s attempt to keep documents secret by classifying them as “treat as secret”, an unofficial classification he himself created.
You’ve heard plenty about the Patriots’ performance on Sunday, but what you probably didn’t read much about was they way they ran up the score on the Bills and they way they have run up the score on previous opponents. Up 35-7 in the third quarter, the Patriots, faced with a 4th and 1 from the Buffalo 3, declined to go for the easy field goal and opted instead to go for the touchdown by having Brady throw to Ben Watson (it worked). As if that wasn’t enough, on their very next possession, up by 32 points, the Patriots again declined an easy field goal on 4th and 1 and ran the ball to convert in their drive for their seventh touchdown. I don’t care who you are or how you want to try and justify the situation, but that’s running up the score, folks. Not only is it running up the score, it’s cheap, it’s petty and it’s poor sportsmanship.
You can argue all you want that such actions are a part of the game – that it’s a tough game and if you don’t like it you need to do something to stop it – that’s a tremendous load of you know what. There are some unwritten rules in the game, and unnecessarily running up the score is one of them – it’s completely unnecessary and takes away from the game. Yes, it’s a tough game played by large, hyper aggressive and violent men, but that doesn’t mean the ends always justify the means. Defeat your opponent, but don’t disrespect them and humiliate them – there’s no place for that. When that type of thing starts happening can payback, cheap shots and hockey fights be far behind? Where does it end?
The big question surrounding the Patriots antics is why. Why would such a great team resort to such classless actions? Undoubtedly the success enjoyed by New England is not a result of videotape, deceptive injury reporting and beating up on lesser opponents, but rather the result of superior talent, good coaching and hard work. The Patriots could easily dominate their competition without resorting to tactics that would have people wondering if they are ethically challenged. One can only speculate whether the parallels between Bill Belichick and Richard Nixon, two brilliant men with deep insecurities and flaws, are accurate and explain the situation. Perhaps it’s just the same evolution that impacts everything from corporate profits to personal vanity – there’s no such thing as too much and you deserve all the fruits of your success regardless of how they were obtained.
Sadly, questions are left unanswered in the quest to portray New England as the story of the year – America’s Team showing absolute perfection. It wouldn’t be the first time the facts have been ignored or whitewashed by the media so a myth could be perpetuated. When everyone loved the Cowboys, Michael Irvin was doing cocaine with hookers and stabbing guys in the neck with scissors over haircuts, yet we see him on TV every week as an analyst. When the Packers were America’s Team Brett Favre was addicted to prescription painkillers and his star tight end, Mark Chmura, was inappropriately propositioning high school girls in the hot tub after the prom. Sure, these things get reported, but they get spun and explained away – nobody is ever held accountable because it ruins the image. The Patriots are just the latest to be in the position and get a pass for their actions.
So go ahead, admire the Patriots for what they are – a great team with a real chance to make history. But hold them accountable for their actions and call them out when they show a lack of class – it’s the least we can do as fans of the game.