In 2001, the Patriots won the Super Bowl and were touted as "America's Team." Remember how everyone cheered when the Patriots were announced as a single team in New Orleans, instead of as individual players? And how entire country celebrated when Vinitieri split the uprights to defeat the "greatest show on turf."
How much has changed in six years.
Now 16-0, the Patriots are the most hated team in football, the evil empire of the NFL.
What the heck happened?
The whole "Spy-Gate" thing causing such an uproar really bugs me. I get it, they did something they weren't supposed to ... but what team doesn't? Every time a player is elbowed at the bottom of a huddle, or when Fox airs a team's audibles (I'm not bitter at all), or when a coach calls a time out as the kicker is about to connect with the ball, or when a certain team pipes in extra noise to their stadium during a game, or when the sound for the visiting quarterback and his coaches is mysteriously not working (yes Indianapolis, I'm talking to you) ... these are all acceptable forms of getting an unfair edge. And yes, even YOUR team does it.
And what about those other "cheaters" such as Shawne Merriman. He has a Nike commercial, and is flown to Honolulu for the All Pro team after being suspended for using steroids (ie CHEATING) , then his teammate, LaDanian "cry baby" Tomlinson can whine and whine about how the Patriots are the cheaters ... well, that just bugs me to no end.
But yeah, I can see how the Patriots are the most hated team in the NFL: really unlikeable players, no work ethic, no competitive spirit, no team unity, and clearly the players can't stand each other or their hated coach.
I guess Tom Brady is apparently too perfect. I can see how he is annoying -- just completed the most prolific touchdown season of any quarterback; won three Super Bowls before the age of 30; makes millions upon millions of dollars; dates one of the most beautiful women in the entire world. But, deep down he is still a 7th-round draft pick with a chip on his shoulder -- and don't you forget it.
Bill Belichick, admittedly, is pretty much an a-hole, and difficult, if not impossible, to like. But he is also a football genius, and will go down as one of the greatest coaches ever. It's too bad that this incident will taint his reputation, because there is no way that any unallowed activity that he has done with the Patriots has effected any game enough to change the outcome. I honestly believe that.
But look at what the team has done -- they turned Randy Moss, prior to this year, one of the greatest "what could have beens" in the history of the game. Well, with the help of Belichick and Brady, we now know what he is capable of - having one of the best receiving seasons in NFL history (no one will top Rice's 21 TD in 12 games).
The linebacking core is defying nature - and not in the steroid-using, Roger Clemens kind of way - by keeping up with the younger players they are attacking, not by taking illegal supplements, but by using their heads and their hearts to out-think, out-hussle, and out-play their junior opponents. Junior Seau, just two years after nearly retiring, is a starter on the best team in the NFL. Tedy Bruschi came back last season after suffering a stroke in 2005. If those aren't feel-good storys, then what are?
It's a team that every veteran wants to play for; that players take a pay cut to suit up for; that has an owner who spares no expense, on his players and coaches or on their facilities.
Yeah, you really gotta hate these guys.
Instead of hating them because they're so good, perhaps other teams should take a page from their book. Then maybe someone else would win a Super Bowl once-in-a-while.
But not this year.