The Fall of the Patriots: Perception vs. Reality

– Evan Sally, Co-Founder

September 13th, 2007 is the day the Patriots’ dynasty ended. Yes, the Patriots haven’t lost more than 6 games in any of the 8 seasons since, including going 12-4 three times, 13-3 and 14-2 once each, and experiencing the only 16 win undefeated regular season in the history of the league. They’ve won the AFC East 7 out of 8 seasons, and made the Super Bowl 3 times in that span. They even won the Super Bowl in 2015 with a thrilling last-minute victory over the Seahawks. By almost every measure the Patriots organization has been a tower of success, a model for every other NFL franchise to follow. And yet, the Patriots dynasty ended on September 13th, 2007. That’s because it’s on that day that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed out his punishment for the Patriots illegally filming the practices of their opponents, a controversy that came to be known as Spygate. Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, the organization was fined $250,000 and had their 2008 1st round pick taken from them.

The NFL handing out this punishment was the first definitive proof that the Patriots had been willingly attempting to get around rules to gain a competitive advantage over their opponents. This revelation tarnished the Patriots’ reputation as a championship organization in the eyes of many, a reputation that cannot be repaired. Since that date, the opponents of the Patriots have had a simple go to line anytime they’ve wanted to put down any of the Patriots accomplishments. “Sure, they beat my team but they’ve cheated before, what’s to say they aren’t doing it again?” For those more inclined to like and respect the Patriots, they’ve been forced to defend the legitimacy of their favorite team’s success, with a thought always in the back of their head saying, “Well, they did cheat before, what’s to say they aren’t doing it again?” Well, they did it again.

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Photo Credit: Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

This past Monday when Tom Brady was suspended 4 games and the organization was fined $1 million and lost 2 draft picks, including a 1st Round pick in 2016, for their respective roles in the deliberate deflation of game balls or Deflategate, this perception was further cemented into the legacy of the Patriots. A perception of their legacy I feel they are well aware of. When Tom Brady gave his first press conference following the allegations of being involved in this Deflategate scandal, he spent 40 minutes behind a podium lying about what really happened. He laughed at the notion of this being a controversy, and yet when asked to turn over any relevant text messages to the scandal to NFL investigators, he refused. The punishment for tampering with footballs is only $25,000 with no suspensions, a far more advantageous outcome than what actually happened. This begs the question: why not simply admit to being involved in wrong doing and save yourself, and by extension, your team, from additional harm? Brady knew his legacy was on the line, he knew any semblance of legitimacy he and the organization had left in the eyes of non-Patriots football fans would be destroyed if he admitted that they cheated again. So instead, he chose to lie, chose to not cooperate with the investigation with the slim hope that maybe they would be spared. Unlucky for him the NFL was thorough, and he and his team had no way out of this one.

All professional athletes strive to win championships. However, the championship only exists as a symbol. What athletes truly strive for is to be acknowledged as great, respected by their peers and admired by fans. When you win a title, that’s an acknowledgment for all time that you were the greatest team that year, and no one can ever take that away from you. But that greatness can’t exist on trophies alone, it must be combined with the respect of others. The reason I love sports is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what type of person you are, or what you look like. If you play the game by the rules and win fair and square, you are the champion and deserve to respected as such. The conduct of the New England Patriots with Spygate and Deflategate call that all into question. I would compare the perception of New England’s success to that of Barry Bonds; no one can ever take the fact that Bonds hit 762 home runs away from him, yes, but the specter of steroid use will always hang over that number and prevent him from being considered truly among the all time greats. As Roger Goodell said when he gave out his punishment for the Spygate scandal on September 13th, 2007, “This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field.” One can debate in circles for hours what the actual effectiveness of the methods of cheating the Patriots were using were and how much did it contribute to their success, but the perception of being deliberate and calculated cheaters exists and will never go away. In reality, the Patriots have been impossibly successful over the past 8 years. In perception, all those accomplishments are tainted. And as a wise person said all those years ago, perception is reality.

evan
– Evan Sally, @Evan_Sally

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