By Michael James
The Tribe Sports
If you are reading this, you are a cheater.
Or a liar.
Or a thief.
Because that is standard to which you are holding the New England Patriots.
In your twisted view of the world, penance is never paid for past crimes committed. Under this pretzel logic, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots can never be completely absolved for Spygate or Deflategate.
Every accomplishment that came after these scandals is rendered forever moot.
These offenses, no matter however long relegated to the past, are credited with all success since.
And you know what? It’s a crock.
Because if this is true for the New England Patriots – and we are playing by your rules here – it is also true for you.
For at one time in your life, you have lied, cheated or stolen. You have cheated on boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives. You’ve lied to your bosses, skimmed on your taxes, absconded with something that didn’t belong to you.
For some strange reason, though, these loathsome acts do not define who you are as a person. They are simply something you once did.
So my question is this: if you can be forgiven your trespasses, why can’t Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots?
Believe what you will, but Spygate and Deflategate are not the reason New England is playing in their eighth Super Bowl in Tom Brady’s 18-year tenure.
It’s not the reason New England has gone to a record seven straight AFC championship games.
It’s not the reason that time and time again, Tom Brady has rallied his team against the odds to emerge victorious.
It’s not the reason the Jacksonville Jaguars had tears in their eyes after coming so close to the grail.
Face it, the reason why Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are one of the greatest teams in the history of the National Football League is because they play the best brand of football.
They have a system that is the best, bar none. They play team ball unlike any team before and, likely, those to come after. They do not beat themselves. They play with discipline. They’ve been here before and recognize – unlike upstart Jacksonville – that a game is played for a full 60 minutes.
The New England Patriots know where the finish line is and how to get there, sometimes even when it seems they should not.
It is hypocritical to take to social media, outraged at seeing Brady’s victorious mug on the screen yet again to scream “Cheaters!”
It is ridiculous to continue to brand Brady a “liar,” even though he has undoubtedly lied in the past, specifically about Deflategate.
What the Patriots are is an excellent team who on several occasions attempted to skirt the rules to get a competitive advantage.
Those infractions, like any you have committed in your life, simply do not define them forevermore.
For the New England fans who giddily decry and deny Deflategate, that, too, is a crock.
Despite your disdain for Roger Goodell, and your contention that his suspension of Brady was nothing more than junk science and a witch hunt, you still can conjure no such reason that the NFL commissioner would deliberately slander the face of the league.
You don’t think anything untoward happened with those footballs that were altered to fit only one pair of hands in the entire world? Try asking John Jastremski and Jim McNally, the two principals in the Deflategate scandal who, if they are still with the team today, are no longer in the capacity they were when they exchanged text messages about Brady’s unhappiness with the air pressure in the footballs believed to have been tampered with.
Jastremski, a former equipment manager and full-time employee and part-timer McNally, a former officials locker room attendant, were at the time in 2015 suspended by the NFL, then reinstated, but since then, no intrepid reporter covering the Patriots has ever been able to uncover exactly what has become of them, although they were reported to have been assigned new roles with the team.
In the end, there were real victims to what you deem an imaginary happening.
In the end, again, no matter what you choose to believe, Tom Brady was not suspended for no reason.
Conversely, the suspension he served more than a year ago played no role in his getting to and winning the Super Bowl then, and Deflategate itself played no role in New England compiling a 15-3 record to date and earning a berth in Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite popular opinion of New England Patriots haters, Brady, Belichick and crew, like you, are not the sum of what they once did. They are the sum of what they do. And what they have done this season, as last, has nothing to do with Spygate and Deflategate of years before.
Unlike athletes who used performance enhancing drugs to gain an edge, the Patriots’ crimes are not inextricably linked to the spoils of their success. This is why there is no doubt that Belichick and Brady will make it into the NFL Hall of Fame, while there remains questions as to whether Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez will ever see the inside of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
What those three are alleged to have done contributed directly to their on-field performances and likely affected the outcomes of the games they competed in.
There is a vast difference between anything those cheaters did and what the New England Patriots did.
So, now that the Patriots are headed to yet another Super Bowl, the Internet is awash with conspiracy theory memes featuring a referee appearing to smile and celebrate with the Pats following a touchdown.
At game’s end, referee Clete Blakeman, No. 34 in your program, is singled out for quickly congratulating Brady, much as a buddy would, on the win.
The fact that the Patriots were called for just one penalty for 10 yards to Jacksonville’s six for 98 yards only added more fuel to the fire.
I’ll grant that referees giving off even a whiff of favoritism isn’t a good look for the NFL, especially when going into the game the Patriots are thought to have benefitted from a litany of game-changing calls this past season, including against the Steelers and the New York Jets. BUT, this doesn’t mean there was actual favoritism shown to the Pats.
The referees are human beings who have relationships with players from all teams. Who’s to say that the ref appearing to celebrate with the Patriots wasn’t simply responding to something humorous that was said in the moment? After all, the Pats, like all who play in the league, are essentially work colleagues with the officials.
Who knows what Blakeman’s relationship with Brady is or how long the two have known each other over Brady’s 18-year tenure in the league? Could it be that Blakeman’s not officiating the Super Bowl and was making sure he took what could be a final opportunity to congratulate the greatest quarterback ever?
And for those who speak of missed calls against the Patriots, what of an obvious interference call against Chris Hogan that wasn’t flagged? How about when Rob Gronkowski got knocked out of the game? Did you notice that he was actually tripped by a Jaguars defensive back before Barry Church’s helmet-to-helmet hit forced Gronkowski out with a concussion? No call there, either.
Of course, these little details don’t matter to those who believe the league, the refs and fate to be working in concert to ensure that the New England Patriots, and only the New England Patriots, win it all year after year.
These are the same folks who would have you deny the athletic greatness of Tom Brady because once upon a time his team filmed the practice of a rival. They’d have you believe that none of what you are witnessing in this unprecedented string of Patriots success matters because he once instructed an equipment manager to tailor the pressure in some game footballs to his specifications.
They’d have you believe that Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are here only because they’re liars and cheaters and they won’t hear anything to the contrary.
Thing is, whatever Brady, Belichick and the Patriots are – if they are to be held to your standards of right and wrong – so, too are you.
In the end, no matter what you think of them, the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots differ from their critics in two very interesting and telling ways.
They’re not hypocrites.
Michael James has spent more than 20 years in sports journalism as a general assignment reporter with the Detroit News, an NBA beat writer for the New York Daily News and as head writer for ESPN’s Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith.