It all went perfectly according to plan.
The Patriots didn’t just win, they won big. They turned in a playoff performance for the ages.
Unable to sleep and wanting more, I turned to the ‘Deep Throat’ of Patriots porn, the 2001 Super Bowl video. Yes a video, as in VHS. It’s easy to forget that the legend of Belichick and Brady was born all the way back before DVDs ruled the world. But it was. That’s how long they’ve been this good.
As I melted into the couch, the familiar story played out as beautifully as it always does. Pats are supposed to be a last place team. Franchise QB goes down and they start 0-2. Scrawny kid from Michigan and the bottom of the depth chart steps in and things start changing. Big wins over the Colts and Chargers. Big wins over the Bills and Saints.
An offense led by the powerful running of Antowain Smith. The big plays of Troy Brown and David Patten. And Brady introducing the world to Brady.
I’m in heaven reliving this regular season, and then it’s time for the Snow Bowl.
A magical night that changed the football world forever. Storybook stuff. A wildest dream come true.
Follow that up with the win in Pittsburgh, and you can’t help but think that this is the greatest single season in the history of Patriots football (sorry 2007, but, ya know…). Bledsoe comes back to save the day, Troy Brown returns a punt. Big play after big play. It was an incredible win, and as I watch it unfold, 13 years later, I’m shaking with the anticipation of the big game in New Orleans.
Keep in mind I’ve seen this video dozens of times. It’s that good. The story is that amazing.
The bulbs flash, Vinatieri kicks it off, and suddenly, something unexpected happened within me. I encountered a hitch in my joy.
The Patriots came to play, and it shows. They are beating the Rams up, chipping receivers at the line of scrimmage, blitzing at all the right times, and the looks on the faces of the Rams players tell a story of frustration and disbelief. Their eyes seem to show a helpless feeling. It’s almost as if the Patriots knew what was coming.
And that’s when it hit me.
The Patriots might have known exactly what was coming.
Some have said and many still believe that they videotaped the Rams in the Superdome in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. I refuse to believe this actually happened, but, I will concede that at the very least somebody might have seen the walkthrough and talked about it. They sure as hell looked like a team that was playing with an unfair advantage.
Not sure why, eight years after Spygate, it finally sunk in, but it did. Maybe there was something to all these allegations after all. Maybe BB was fined a half a million dollars for a reason.
And as I watched the befuddled Rams retreat to the locker room, my Patriots up 14-3 at the half, for the first time ever I felt bad for Kurt Warner and company.
I watched the Rams come back in the second half – almost all the way back – and I couldn’t help but wonder how the game would have turned out if Matt Walsh hadn’t been on the Patriots staff in 2001. I hated myself for thinking these thoughts, but I thought them all the same.
However, in the end, the Masshole in me prevailed and I relished the victory as always. I got choked up when Vinatieri made the kick. I grinned like an idiot when Mr. Kraft reminded me that we are all Patriots. And I went to bed on that oh so familiar Sunday night cloud of superiority that Patriots fans know better than anyone else.
I was ready to once again bury the truth of the trickery and deceit like I have for the past eight years. Ready to win the Super Bowl yet again. Because hey, if we win a fourth fair and square who cares if we cheated a little for the first one, right?
The next morning I was filling a glass of water, my car packed, about to say my goodbyes to New England for a few months.
“Have you heard some Indy media guys are accusing the Patriots of deflating their balls last night?” my dad asked. I hadn’t heard that, but I didn’t really think much of it. Those poor poor loser Colts, I thought. They must be looking for anything they can to justify that spanking.
Then I listened to Brady laughing off the allegations. That was all I needed to hear.
On to Seattle. Let the haters say whatever they want. This is will be the one that silences them all.
But it didn’t go away.
Deflategate became a word. And now it seems that that’s because it happened. Somehow, some way, the Patriots manipulated their footballs.
Brady must have known, as he sat there laughing, that the allegations that were 100% true.
The Patriots, it seems, found another way to push the limits of fair play. And they got busted. Again.
So now whenever I watch the 2001 Super Bowl video, I will feel just a little bit sorry for the Rams.
When I celebrate the fourth Super Bowl title 10 days from now, it won’t be perfect.
From now on, for the rest of my life, whenever I’m forced to defend the honor of my franchise, my coach and my quarterback – I will, but without the certainty that what I’m saying is just and true.
It will always be just a little bit off.
No one will ever be able to deny that this dynasty, in terms of wins and losses, is the greatest of all time. In any sport. But, at the same time, no one will ever be able to successfully argue that it was built on a foundation of integrity.
That, my friends, is a horrible, sobering thought. And one that we, as Patriots fans, all better come to grips with pretty soon.
We can rationalize and deny it all we want, but the facts are the facts.
As the greatest coach in NFL history has reminded us time and time again, sadly, it is what it is.