The National Football League is in its death throes, and what better organization to serve as a poster child for this decline and moral decay than our very own New England Patriots?
The Patriots’ winning streak began in 2000 with the arrival of Bill Belichick as head coach. It’s worth noting that Belichick first committed to coaching the New York Jets, but after one day on that job he reneged and jumped ship to sign with New England, vaguely citing “various uncertainties surrounding my position as it relates to the [Jets’] new ownership.” Belichick’s sidekick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, pulled a similar act of chicanery last year, first committing to coach the Indianapolis Colts and then reneging on that promise hours after the team announced his hiring (and just two days after the Colts were devastated by the unexpected death of linebacker Edwin Jackson).
There must be some Patriots fans who possess a modicum of football knowledge. But far more typical is an acquaintance of mine who sheepishly admitted that he didn’t even know the Patriots existed before they began to win. Since then, he’s become a self-proclaimed football expert and has an excuse to drink beer on Sunday afternoons. Party on, Wayne.
The true legacy of the Patriots will not be about winning. Several teams have had similar or greater success over a shorter timespan, like the Packers of the ’60s (five championships in seven years), the Steelers of the ’70s (four championships in six years), the 49ers of the ’80s and early ’90s (five championships in 14 years). The Patriots have won six championships in 18 years. They’re also tied for the most Super Bowl losses (five).
Nope, sorry Pats fans, but what your team will be remembered for is their long and sordid history of cheating and other misdeeds, from a lengthy list of suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs (including a four-game suspension for this year’s Super Bowl MVP), to Spygate ($500,000 fine for Belichick, $250,000 fine for the team and the loss of its first-round draft pick), to Deflategate ($1 million fine for the team, two lost draft picks and a four-game suspension for Tom Brady).
Last month we saw the ugliest manifestation of “The Patriot Way” to date, when team owner Robert Kraft was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution at a seedy Florida massage parlor. The sting that caught multi-billionaire Kraft was part of an investigation of an alleged human trafficking ring involving women from Asia who were essentially being held captive as sex slaves. I could go on.
OK, I will. Conveniently unremarked upon when Pats fans crow about their victories is New England’s almost guaranteed route to the playoffs every year, often with home-field advantage throughout, due to their membership in the most pathetic division in all of football, the AFC East. The Patriots have won their division 16 out of the past 18 years. When you’re playing the Bills twice, the Dolphins twice and the Jets twice every season, you can count on five to six wins every year. And how much easier is it to prepare for legitimate opponents when you basically have half a dozen additional “bye” weeks written into your schedule every season?
Then there are the obnoxious political proclivities of Kraft, Belichick and Brady. Recall Brady, in all his smugness, displaying his “Make America Great Again” hat in the locker room during a press conference. Yet when pressed by the assembled sportswriters, the QB lacked the spine to acknowledge his support for candidate Trump.
Belichick is a dues-paying member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago country club. According to Trump (a serial liar, it must be noted), the coach wrote the candidate a “beautiful letter” to congratulate him for winning the Republican nomination, and then rewrote that letter to make it sound even more supportive before he granted Trump permission to read it during a rally in New Hampshire held the night before the general election.
Kraft’s business conglomerate, The Kraft Group, donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. Like Coach Belichick, Kraft is a frequent visitor to Mar-a-Lago, which is about 20 miles from the sleazy spa where Kraft was busted. These details are conveniently ignored in New England, the most politically progressive — and hypocritical? — region of the country.
This year’s Super Bowl was the least watched NFL championship in over a decade and, by many accounts of those who did tune in, it set a new low standard for boredom. Imagine what we might have seen if the referees hadn’t intervened and rescheduled what should have been a Saints-Chiefs Super Bowl?
What we are witnessing is the demise of the modern-day “opiate of the masses.” Makes one wonder what the poor Pats fans will do on chilly Sunday afternoons in future years.
Party on, Wayne.
Bill Lundgren is editor of the collection Smoke Signals: Oral Histories from Long Creek. He lives in Portland and teaches writing and literature at Southern Maine Community College.