Many Enemies, Much HonorMy daughter Hope is living in Bordeaux, France, and last Sunday she went with some friends, both American and not, to a sports bar to watch the AFC Championship Game (the NFL is a minor interest there, kind of like rugby, which the French adore, is here). She wore the Patriots' stocking cap I bought her for Christmas.
Googlechatting with her mother, Hope said, "I was the only one there rooting for the Patriots, and everybody else even the French hated them. Ask Dad why that is."
All questions from children should be so easy. "Ask Hope how she feels about the Yankees," I responded.
"Nobody boos a bum," Grantland Rice wrote in a poem over 70 years ago. "Haters gone hate" is the 21st century saying, but it expresses roughly the same sentiment. No haters ever have or ever gone hate an 8-8 football team or an 79-83 baseball team. Only success, repeated success, generates enough resentment to create the moronic and demented thinking that leads to sports hatred on the grand scale.
To take a couple of particularly dumb random examples, it is only their status as historic champions that led subsets of golf and NASCAR fans to insist that Phil Mickelson and Jeff Gordon, each a devoted family man with a stunningly beautiful wife, were in fact gay.
Or take a person New England fans have been known to hate -- Peyton Manning. Manning has become an example of how absolutely nothing a sports hatee can do short of rescuing children from forest fires can earn the good opinion of haters. A decade ago, Manning was shattering NFL passing records on a daily basis, but he was a choking dog because of his team's playoff losses. In 2016, the Broncos are in the Super Bowl after two playoff wins, one an upset, but Manning is still a bum because look at his lousy passing stats.
The Patriots make a great hate target. Start with Bill Belichick. He is an almost typecast evil genius. If only James Bond villains wore sweatshirts, Belichick would have his post-coaching career all set. The mumbled wiseass press conferences, the, uh, creative approach to the NFL rulebook, the general air of paranoid secrecy, every element of Belichick's coaching style is designed to drive opposing fans into a frenzy composed of equal parts fury and envy. And that image is starting to affect Belichick, too, at least a little. He is absolutely more of a jackass to reporters than he was in the early 2000s when I covered him. He was soft-spoken then, but he didn't mumble.
Then there's Tom Brady. Brady is a good villain precisely because he is almost a caricature of a fictional football hero. From matinee good looks to supermodel wife to carefully tended "aw shucks" image, Brady is every resentment every defensive player has ever had about quarterbacks brought to life. In wrestling terms, he is the ultimate babyface. Who among us hasn't cheered at least a little on the inside when a babyface gets hit from behind with a folding chair?
On the Boston Sports Media message board, one fan, a perceptive one, once posted of Brady, "Can you imagine how much we'd hate the guy if he was on some other team?" I cite this fan not just for his honesty, but as a good example for other Pats' fans. To put this as kindly as possible, many of them have become the number one reason other fans hate New England.
Champions may be many things, but never, ever can they display self-pity. The orgy of paranoid self-pity on display among followers of the 2015 Patriots was irksome to neutrals,. and absolutely designed to make rooting against New England a must for fans of 31 other NFL teams. Do you know how unlikable you have to be to have other people be on Roger Goodell's side in a dispute?
Deflategate was an inane waste of time and money over a rules violation so minor as to be unknown prior to the controversy. All it did was prove Goodell's incompetence yet again, which is akin to conducting a billion dollar experiment on the law of gravity. But instead of scoffing from day one, Patriots fans, who it must be admitted were taking a cue from the foolish stonewalling of the franchise itself, reacted as if accused of participation in the Lindbergh kidnapping. Ignoring the many other teams Goodell has fucked over with his arrogant bungling, too many Pats fans saw their heroes as unique victims of a vicious conspiracy. Everybody hates us!
Saying that last sentence over and over is an excellent way of making it come true. Who could blame a Titans fan, should such exist, for noting the latest Lombardi Trophy in the Foxboro case and saying. "Get over yourselves, you jerks!"
Packaging the 2015 Pats' season as the Revenge Tour, which many fans and sadly, media members did was a surefire means of getting every other fan base eager to see New England take a hard, hard fall. During the Pats' 10-0 start one wished for at least one fan to point out that maybe when one is turning the 1972 Dolphins into sentimental favorites, rooting for the home team has taken a dark turn.
Look folks, it is demonstrable fact that the New England Patriots test the outside of the rules envelope as a matter of policy and this has led to broken rules. So what? The NFL has far too many trivial rules of game process, probably to compensate for its inability to protect players from the consequences of the sport's violence. Hitting a defenseless receiver in the head gets a 15-yard penalty, but as we learned last Sunday, so does staying out of bounds on punt coverage. Given this innate absurdity, why get bent out of shape if others call you heroes cheats?
The neurosis of Pats' fans that requires them to believe their home team actually ARE heroes, perfect in perfect in deed and thought, is now also demonstrable fact, a regrettable one. It gets their favorite team a bad rap it doesn't deserve. It makes the game less enjoyable for Pats' fans themselves. Strangest of all, it ignores the sports history of Boston itself.
Down by North Station, the city put up a statue honoring sports' ultimate heel, a genius who made villainy an art form, a man who reveled in the hatred he generated and who got his teams do the same. How many of the green and white banners in the Garden rafters are there because Red Auerbach taught the Celtics that hatred should be a source of pride and that villains have more fun? At least a couple of them, I believe.
So the Patriots are villains. All that really means is that they win a lot. If it wasn't Spygate and Deflategate, the world west of the Connecticut River would have some other reasons to hate them, trust me. Don't be paranoid about that, take it as your due.
Remember this. Nice guys don't always finish last, but for every sentimental favorite who grabs a trophy, 100 heels win big.