New England Patriots: Legacy has been forever tainted


The New England Patriots’ legacy, as the twenty-first century’s first and only NFL dynasty, is invariably tainted and will forever be. The Patriots’ success over the last 15 years has been amazing, but it has to be questioned considering the fact that they just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. To put this into perspective, we should look at the fact that no NFL franchise has had draft picks taken away for disciplinary reasons as often as New England; that is obviously a troubling pattern.

I sent this tweet out into the world yesterday and it’s definitely disheartening as an avid NFL fan.

Two of the above instances have occurred during the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era in which the two won four NFL titles. Now let that information soak in.

Bending the rules, and getting busted for it, is a pattern in New England more than anywhere else in the league in recent years. The Patriots have also had the best pattern of success in recent history; which is entirely disheartening as a passionate NFL fan.

Is it coincidence or are the two things connected? The fact that that question can even be asked is the most depressing aspect of the Patriots’ otherwise impressive legacy.

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Let’s look at it this way; Barry Bond’s home run record (762 long-balls) and Alex Rodriquez’s quest to break that record are both tainted and will be forever. The nation has basically agreed that is the case. Why?

Because they both intentionally broke the rules of their sport to gain a competitive advantage and were caught doing so — just like Brady. Then, they both lied about breaking the rules, just as Brady did. The same can be said for head coach Bill Belichick, specifically in the SpyGate scandal.

In 50 years people will look back at Bond’s home-run record (or perhaps Rodriguez’s record) and say, “Yeah it’s impressive, but…”

Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs came without scandal.

Now, because of this second big scandal in Foxborough, that same narrative will follow Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s legacy until the end of days. In 50 years, people will look at Brady’s four rings and two AP MVPs and say, “Yeah, it’s impressive, but…”

Joe Montana‘s four Super Bowls and two AP MVPs came without scandal.

It’s unfortunate, not only because Brady is such a fiery competitor, a great underdog story, and he heroically came back from a gruesome knee injury, but because he really didn’t have to cheat. Ever.

He is, and was, good enough to win. His team is, and has been, good enough to win without using any unfair advantages. It’s like how Bonds started using steroids after he won numerous NL MVP awards — why, can someone please explain why?

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Brady and the Patriots really didn’t have to cheat, but then again, the Pats have fumbled less than the rest of the league over the last eight years, so now that makes me wonder. Check out this fascinating study put together by Warren Sharp at Sharp Football Analysis (Common sense says that a slightly deflated ball is easier to grip and hold onto). Usually I wouldn’t put much stock in a study like this, but the Patriots’ repeated cheating scandals–and incredible success–opens the door for suspicion.

And for those saying “the Ted Wells Report on DeflateGate only said that Brady ‘more than likely knew about the deflated balls’ and that doesn’t mean he’s guilty” — you’re wrong. In civil court case lingo, especially in investigation settings, what Wells said is equivalent to, “Brady knew that he was cheating” and obviously Commissioner Roger Goodell agreed (but we’ll get into that later).

I get it though, it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you’re justifying Brady’s behavior then you’re either a Patriots’ fan (and I’m not blaming you for that, fandom is about loyalty) or you are a football fan that does not mind cheating. And yes, it was cheating; that is why Brady repeatedly denied any wrong doing. However, Wells’ investigation proved that he did know about the illegally deflated balls and obviously the NFL agrees because it suspended him (we’ll dive into the specifics of the Patriots’ punishment later).

What makes all of this worse is that the Patriots do not seem to care about breaking rules as they’ve repeatedly proved. That is why their legacy of recent success is undoubtedly tainted. Sure, SpyGate doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but what they did was against the damn rules. It’s that simple. All cheating is cheating, regardless of what it is — but the only thing worse is denying it.

Did the Patriots have to illegally tape their opponents to win back in 2007? No, I do not think so and that is what makes their cheating so infuriating, from my perspective. But even if they didn’t have to cheat to win, it opens the door for suspicion and ultimately taints their legacy. I cannot say it enough.

If the Pats would have immediately owned up to either of their multiple cheating scandals, even as insignificant as you may think they are, people would respect them more today. That’s a fact. However, there is clearly a culture of covering things up in New England and that is one of the most troubling parts of this story.

Even highly-respected owner Robert Kraft still doesn’t seem to get it. He said the punishment for the DeflateGate debacle “far exceeded any reasonable expectation.” It’s time to own up and stop, essentially, saying, “We didn’t cheat that bad.” By saying the punishment is not “reasonable” is suggesting one of two things. One, that the Well’s report is lying and the Pats didn’t cheat or two, that the Pats’ cheating wasn’t that bad.

I mean, Belichick has even recently said, “80,000 people saw what we taped,” referencing SpyGate, with no remorse. Essentially saying, “We didn’t even cheat that bad back in 2007.” It’s seriously no wonder that the Pats got busted for cheating again in 2014-15. It appears as both the owner and head coach aren’t taking these scandals seriously. It’s like they don’t realize that it’s not about what kind of illegal action is taken, but about the action itself.

Furthermore, this entire situation is just bad for the league as a whole. The Patriots won one of the most exciting Super Bowls of all-time last February and instead of the jaw-dropping final moments, we’re talking about damn under-inflated balls. What a shame, yet this scandal needs to be talked about because it’s not OK and we can’t sit back and let this sort of thing go unpunished.

We cannot, as a culture, become accepting of cheating — even if it’s just a something as simple as the inflated pressure of a football. It seems dumb, but it sets a precedent that is paramount to the integrity of the entire billion dollar industry that millions of people worldwide enjoy.

Children, including future NFL players, look up to Brady–one of the definitive faces of the league–and now their role model has been busted for trying to gain a secret advantage and covering it up. If that doesn’t piss you off, as a fan of athletics, then I don’t know what would. Would you want your son’s or daughter’s athletic opponents in high school sneaking around to gain an illegal advantage on the field of play? Of course not.

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Sports are supposed to be one of the last honest and thrilling things on this planet for us to enjoy and secretly using anything, that is against the rules, taints the whole thing. This is true even though the Pats would have won the game with regular balls, which they obviously would have. Sorry Colts fans, but your team just didn’t bring it in the AFC Championship Game.

That said, the fact that the Pats would have won with normally-inflated footballs is not the point at all. The point is the deceit of it all and suspicion it invites to the Patriots’ recent legacy as a whole.

Cheating is bad, I think everyone can agree with that, but often times it’s blown out of proportion — this falls into that category. However, cheating is pretty much only blown out of proportion when someone lies about it when they get caught. The old adage ‘the cover-up almost always is worse than the crime’ applies here.

These controversies are typically only turned into major scandals when the truth is hidden and denied and it takes an independent investigation to find the truth, just as was the case with Deflategate. Plus, the Patriots, reportedly, were fined for a failure of cooperation throughout the investigation (we’ll jump into that later).

It’s pretty easy to see that if you have to lie about it, you know that it was cheating. And, in my opinion, cheating shouldn’t be tolerated in the NFL. This is why I applaud Commissioner Roger Goodell for handing out a punishment harsh enough to raise some eyebrows.

Goodell, and the NFL, suspended Brady for four games (which he’s appealing), took away a 2016 first-round draft pick and a 2017 fourth-round draft pick as well as fined them $1 million. The $1 million fine comes from two places: $500,00o for violating a rule and $500,000 f0r not cooperating with the investigation. Clearly, the Pats and Brady withheld information and Goodell let them have it with this punishment.

I predicted that Brady would get an eight game suspension and the Pats would lose their 2016 first-round draft pick and I wasn’t far off. Although I think Goodell found a good balance between stern and forgiving with this appropriate punishment. This doesn’t completely wreck New England’s season or future, but it does send a message to the entire NFL, the Patriots included, that any cheating is not tolerated.

What saddens me the most is what will be said in 50 years when the greatest quarterbacks of all-time are being ranked. Brady will obviously be mentioned, Joe Montana will still be up there, Peyton Manning and Johnny Unitas, too. Perhaps a few quarterbacks that haven’t even played in the NFL yet will be in the mix.

However, Brady’s mention in that conversation won’t just be about what he accomplished on the field and he has accomplished a hell of a lot! In the blurb summing up Brady’s career accomplishments there will inevitably be a “Yeah, but…” referencing the multiple cheating scandals and subsequent doubt. The same can be said about Belichick’s argument as one of the greatest coaches of all-time; there is no “Yeah, but…” when people mention Vince Lombardi’s name or accomplishments.

That “Yeah, but…” will follow Brady and Belichick all the way to Canton and beyond. This is also true about the New England Patriots’ recent legacy as a whole; the general public will not forget.

Maybe it’s not true that ‘cheaters never win’- I mean, Brady and Belichick do have four Lombardi Trophies together – but it is true that cheaters never get away clean. The Patriots’ legacy of the last 15 years could have been absolutely legendary. Instead, their legacy is convoluted and in all ways less romantic than all of the dynasties in the NFL’s storied past.

There is no, “Yeah, but…” when people talk about Terry Bradshaw, Chuck Noll, and the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s. There is no, “Yeah, but…” when people remember Hank Aaron’s illustrious career.

Brady and Belichick will forever be in the discussion for the greatest quarterback and greatest head coach in NFL history. Unfortunately for them, so will the asterisks of “SpyGate” and “DeflateGate.” The Patriots of the last 15 years will be weighed against the great teams of the past, but again, there will forever be doubt surrounding the team. Once trust with the public has been broken, suspicion and doubt can never truly fade away.

Next: Facts and Flaws of the Wells Report

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