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I’m Tired of Feeling Deflated

The story was supposed to disappear. Bill Belichick’s Patriots always make the story disappear. They are champions at answering “no comment” and being insanely boring to the point of the media losing interest. Their star tight end was accused of double homicide for crying out loud, and reporters basically gave up within a few days. So when it came out that the Patriots may have taken the air out of their footballs to gain an unfair advantage, I assumed the story would go away.

It didn’t.

It’s been a week, and espn.com’s homescreen is still touting new developments in “deflate-gate.”

We’ve had a rough seven days here in New England. People sometimes criticize fans for referring to themselves and the team collectively as “we,” when in reality “we” are the fans and “they” are the team. But the slings of criticism have been aimed at both of us. The players who cheated and the fans that rooted for them anyway.

The criticism has come from fans, media members, and even former players. We’ve been told our wins don’t count and that we should be kicked out of the Super Bowl. That we committed one of the worst crimes imaginable in NFL history. We tried to dismiss it, but it was upsetting in the way it can be when you’ve put on a few pounds and someone makes a fat joke. You can act like it doesn’t matter, but there’s something in there you believe too, and so it strikes a nerve.

Because when word came out that the Patriots may have broken the rules in an area of the game that no one bothered to police to gain an infinitesimal edge over an opponent, my first thought was, “Yeah, that sounds about right.” This is unfortunately the fly in the ointment of the Patriots’ success. We have all the benefits of rooting for a team being coached by a man who will do anything to win, but we have to accept the baggage that comes with that.

The reaction was so overwhelming that it made me question reality. Because when I heard the accusations, it sounded like when a pitcher puts some rosin on a ball or a basketball player tugs on his man’s jersey to make it harder to slide around a screen. Who cares? It’s one of those little if-you-ain’t-cheating-you-ain’t-trying pieces of gamesmanship that we all know goes on and that kind of makes us chuckle.

Or so I thought.

But when I saw the outpouring of vitriol, I thought maybe I was wrong. Maybe my New England heritage made me biased when I said it’s no big deal.

Then Belichick held a press conference in which he seemed to throw our star quarterback under the bus, and Tom Brady didn’t do himself any favors when his time at the podium came. There was a second press conference where the coach gave a rather convincing argument that his team was innocent, but then he took questions from the media and turned back into angry, defiant, intimidating Bill and suddenly you weren’t rooting for him anymore.

I, for one, was quick to point out that the team accusing us of “cheating” is the same team that for years pumped artificial noise into their stadium to amp up their homefield advantage, an offense that seemed equally inconsequential and amusing. Current and former players came out and said that they doctored the balls plenty when they had games coming up, comments that we New Englanders were quick to retweet. We were using the “everyone else does it” defense, which never looks good on anyone.

For a week, I felt guilty and defensive and childish, and even ashamed. I clung a bit too hard to Belichick’s second press conference, as though if the Patriots were proven innocent anyone would withdraw their criticism or hatred.

And that’s when I started to realize, oh yeah, it doesn’t really matter what the truth is. This has sunk to the level of political discourse, where anything the President does will immediately be considered the work of the devil by the opposition party, regardless of what he actually did.

And that’s the thing about that line: “everyone else is doing it.” It’s not that that makes it okay. It doesn’t. It’s that when other teams do this stuff, you guys don’t care. Pete Carroll, the guy with Belichick’s job on the Seahawks sideline, was head coach for a college program found guilty of paying its players and then for a professional team that’s led the league in PED suspensions ever since he got there, and you love him. Was Pete Carroll guilty of any wrong-doing in either situation? We’re not sure, but his role is the same as Bill’s: Guy in charge when the rule-breaking happened. And there too it seems there’s enough smoke to justify you crying “fire.” And yet you aren’t.

And suddenly we have an answer to the question “what exactly did the Patriots do to justify the explosion in vitriol?” Was it deflating the balls? Maybe a little. Was it the fact that Belichick has spent the last decade and a half being a douche? For sure that played a part. But what was the real problem? What did the Patriots do that accounted for the lion’s share of the outrage? Simple. Win 73% of their games, six AFC championships and three Super Bowls. We’re the Patriots, and everyone hates the winners.

Growing up, the team I hated was the Yankees. And how could I not? This was Boston and they were the motherfucking Yankees. I hated Derek Jeter and Joe Torre and Mariano Rivera and Paul O’Neil, even though they played the game with class and heart and an emphasis of team-over-self. It didn’t matter. They were the Yankees, and everyone hates the winners.

And though it pains me to say it, the New Yorkers of my youth handled it better than I did. They smiled and said “I’m sorry, it’s tough to hear you with 26 rings clogging my ears,” a taunt the fuckers got to update when they won number 27. To which we of course responded, “You wouldn’t have won if you didn’t outspend the rest of the league.”  In hindsight, their argument crushed ours. Winning always trumps whining.

All you opposing fans have spent the last week being the guy who sees someone else being successful, can’t handle it, and does anything he can to tear it down. I have spent the last week feeling guilty and ashamed. My bad.

Belichick finished his second press conference by saying he would take some questions and then he was done talking about this. He was right. We should have shelved this story, Patriots-style, a long time ago. You wanna know about deflate-gate? Cool. No comment. Boring answer. We have a game to get ready for.

The Pats are putting their focus where it counts and so am I. We as fans have a game that we’re entitled to be excited about, and so I’m done feeling bad, questioning whether your criticism is fair or not. You wanna play the role of self-righteous guardian of the integrity of the NFL shield? Go ahead. I know which role I’ll be playing this week: Passionate fan who doesn’t give a shit what you think. Fan who’s excited for Richard Sherman vs. Tom Brady and Darrelle Revis vs. Russell Wilson. Fan who can’t wait to see good defenses trying to halt the unstoppable forces that are Marshawn Lynch and Rob Gronkowski.

Passionate fan who’s thirsty for another banner in Gillette and another victory parade through Boston. You think we cheated? Fine. No, not fine. Good. You hate us? Wonderful. This team is better when you hate us and think we’re cheaters. The last time that happened, this team rewrote record books. But we left one game on the table. We want that one back, and this Sunday we’re taking it.

The Colts players wanna moan and bitch? Good. History shows that people who spend all their time whining accomplish truly great things. Of course, I don’t blame them. They need a way to fill their time now that they’re not playing anymore. As for us, we still have one game left.

I know what role I’m playing this week. How about you? Are you sure you wanna stick with whiny loser?