Feeling Deflated

So, the New England Patriots were caught playing with deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game. While we wait for their inevitable excuse–my money’s on a reprise of Bill Belichick’s “We misinterpreted the rule” statement from Spygate–and for another inexplicably light punishment from Roger Goodell, I think I’ll take the opportunity to revise and extend my remarks on my hatred of the Pats and how it applies to this scandal.

Patriots fans, and New England sportswriters, like to whip out the tired canard that fans who hate their team hate their success. Now it is true that as a Raiders fan, I remain pissed off about the 2001 season and consider the Patriots’s Lombardi Trophy to be the stolen property of Al Davis. But in general, I don’t hate other teams for their success. The Raiders haven’t been good for the past 12 years, but I’ve had fun watching the Saints, the Colts, the Packers, and the Giants (for their wonderful Patriot-slayage, among other things). I even consider my local team, the Seahawks (the defending champions), fun to watch, though I’m less enthusiastic about their fans. I have lots of warm memories of Walsh’s 49ers, Parcells’s New York Giants, and even the Dallas Cowboys back when Landry and Jimmy Johnson were head coaches. So no, I don’t resent the Patriots because they win.

What I do resent is the way the Patriots win, and the attitude the Patriots project.

As a Raider fan, I know that the Raiders are thought of as a dirty, violent team. The Steelers once sued them for it:

And the thing is, the Raiders embrace the image. As John Madden said: “People say the Raiders play dirty, yeah we play dirty, what are you gonna do about it?” The Raiders were pirates and outlaws. They never pretended to be anything other than what they were. Marlon Brando played Al Davis in The Wild Ones. What was he rebelling against? What did you have?

And thanks to that attitude, that contempt for convention, Al Davis was not only a winner for the vast majority of his career, but he was also the league’s most progressive owner. (Admittedly, that’s not a contest with many entrants.) He took the lead in integrating pro football, in both player personnel and in coaching. He hired the first woman CEO of an NFL team. He made some big mistakes late in his career, the worst being letting Jon Gruden leave the building, but if you like some of the best things about the NFL today, Al Davis says, “You’re fuckin’ welcome”.

From George Carlin:

In football, I root for the Oakland Raiders because they hire castoffs, outlaws, and fuckups, they have lots of penalties, fights, and paybacks, and because Al Davis told the rest of the pig NFL owners to get fucked. Also, they don’t have a lot of Christians kneeling down to pray after touchdowns. Christians are ruining sports. Someday, the Raiders will be strong again, and the will dip the ball in shit and shove it down the throats of the wholesome, white, heartland teams that pray together and don’t deliver late hits.

The Patriots, on the other hand, present themselves as a model franchise, the kind you could take home to mother, full of “high character” players who “do things the right way” (the odd triple murderer aside). Everybody’s for the team. Everybody follows the company line, known around the league as “The Patriots Way”. They love to lecture other teams about being “classy” (please someone retire that word from the lexicon). It’s a team of company men, laborers in a crystal palace that’s a subsidiary of a still larger crystal palace. Everything’s clean; even the shit in their septic tank smells like Fabreeze.

The Patriots break the on-the-field rules that everyone else does, of course; but what really galls me are incidents like Spygate and–do we have to call it this?–DeflateGate. It’s the sneaky, thumbs on the scales kind of cheating that we’d expect of a corporate team; the same kind of shit that allows the Koch Brothers to slide a law through Congress that makes us pay their taxes for them and helps them slip around rules designed to protect the environment. If the image of the Raiders is John Matuszak riding out of New Orleans on a Harley with a case of Jack and Ron Jaworski’s severed head tied to the back, the image of the Patriots is of a lawyer handing you some documents that lay out the sketchy you-can’t-believe-this-is-legal-but-you-can’t-afford-to-fight-em-in-court reasons why Bob Kraft is allowed to sell your Mom.

To me, the Patriots were the perfect dynasty for the Bush years. The Bush years started with a bullshit ruling, made us slog through years of claims that “now the adults are in charge”, and ended with mountains of lies and claims that “we do not torture”. This latest cheating scandal for the Patriots is a lot like the Torture Report that’s become a bestseller, it paints a clear portrait of what we already knew about the mendacious, hypocritical establishment, whether in the NFL or in the White House.

And the ending will probably be the same. Bush and Cheney will never go on trial for their crimes, and the most that’s likely to happen to the Pats is another raft of fines and a few confiscated draft picks. Who knows? The Pats might even win the title in ten days, just like another Bush may win the presidency next year. And those wearing the livery of each in the press will herald their respective dynasties as ones for the ages. And we’ll all go to back to sleep, comforted that the adults are in charge,  until the next shift in the wind awakens us with a too-strong stench of Fabreeze.

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