Patriots Fans: Don't Take Sides Against the Family Again—Ever

Stew WinkelSenior Analyst IMarch 4, 2008

Before I begin, let me say that I am a big fan of Bill Simmons, going back to his days as the “Boston Sports Guy” on the Web site Digital City Boston. 

Growing up an obsessed Boston sports fan, when I was old enough to realize I wasn’t going to make it as a starting point guard for the Celtics, I dreamed of becoming what Simmons has become.  Similar to Simmons, I would work at a Boston newspaper, but get frustrated with what I was doing.   Simmons stuck to what he wanted to do, writing about sports. He began his own Web site and eventually connected with ESPN. 

We all know the rest.  I, on the other hand, would turn away from sports and writing, and go in a different direction entirely. But, to this day, I still think about when I was younger and dreamed of being a sportswriter (probably why I am writing in my spare time for this Web site).

However, today, I went to Simmons’ page on ESPN.com and saw that he updated his links, with a link to his segment from the Dave Dameshek show (which every time I listen to Dameshek, I really enjoy his show). 

As a Patriot fan, I was bothered by what I heard come from Simmons’ mouth, especially considering he was talking to Dameshek, a Steeler fan.

“I need a break from the Patriots.  I don’t want to root for America’s villain.  I really don’t.”

When I heard this, I was reminded of the great line from one of my favorite movies, "The Godfather."  Michael Corleone telling his brother Fredo:

"Don’t ever take sides against the family again.  Ever."

Simmons went on to say, “I do think this team has passed the point where it is not that fun to root for them.  Everybody hates us.  We may have cheated all the way back to 2001. 

"I was in New Orleans, and I was with a couple of friends and we were walking to All-Star Saturday and we are walking to the Superdome, and you know the Superdome is a great place for me.  That is where we won the first Super Bowl. 

"And I pointed to the Superdome and said that is where the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI, and one of my friends that I was with said that is where they cheated to win Super Bowl XXXVI.  And I had no come back. . .  And I honestly started to feel they would be better to start new."

Listening to Simmons I could almost hear Fredo saying to Michael, "Mike! You do not come to Las Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Greene like that!"

Admittedly, it is a difficult time to be a New England Patriots fan.  The Patriots find themselves in a similar situation to the one the Corleone family found themselves in at the time in the movie when Michael delivered that line—being attacked from all sides.

They were caught cheating.

There are allegations that the cheating went on for years and was more than just taping defensive signals.  

The last two seasons have ended in crushing defeats.

Their chance at perfection ended in what will be remembered as one of the great upsets in Super Bowl history that consisted of a play that will be replayed forever.

Their players are so hated that fans, in Hawaii nonetheless, booed them at the Pro Bowl.

A U.S. Senator, who based on his party affiliation should believe in less government, is using his tax-payer-paid staff to investigate a situation that is a league matter and had already been investigated.

All these, as well as many other attacks are the equivalent, if not worse, than the perception of the Corleones being run out of New York by Barzini and the other families.

If you listen to the clip from the Dameshek show, you will even hear Dameshek try to use the fact that the Jets told their own player that he can try to work a trade with any team but the Patriots, as a sign of how the teams in the NFL all hate the Patriots.  Really Dave? A team in the Patriots division not wanting to trade with the team that has won the division five years in a row?  Under any circumstances, would the Jets trade with the Patriots? 

The Patriots cheated.  They were arrogant in many ways, most notably for ignoring a letter from the get-tough commissioner warning teams not to do exactly what the Patriots did in week one of the season. For cheating, and for that arrogance, they were punished. Severely.  How nice would it be right now for New England to have two first-round picks?

But other football teams have cheated and not faced the backlash that New England has faced.  

The Denver Broncos were punished twice by the NFL for circumventing the salary cap between 1996 and 1998.  These violations allowed the Broncos to defer $29 million in payments to John Elway and Terrell Davis, two minor pieces in their Super Bowl victories.

Or there is also this from former Cowboy and Dolphin head coach Jimmy Johnson, from an interview he did with WFAN Sept. 29, 2007 about the widespread use of taping opposing coaches, "I did it with video and so did a lot of other teams in the league.  Just to make sure that you could study it and take your time, because you're going to play the other team the second time around.  But a lot of coaches did it, this was commonplace."

In 2006, after the Miami Dolphins beat the Patriots 21-0, stories surfaced, and the Dolphins admitted, to using microphones on players to tape the audible calls of Tom Brady and then matching it up with video tape. 

Did this help the Dolphins beat the Patriots that day?  I don't know, but Miami would go on to lose 13 straight regular season games, while New England has won 19 straight regular season games.

The NFL quickly ruled that what Miami did was not cheating.  Maybe Ted Kennedy should investigate the NFL's investigation into the Dolphins. At the time this story broke, ESPN's John Clayton wrote a story that was teased on ESPN.com with this, "Teams are always trying to steal signs and signals off other teams. That's just football."

Now, is when the Patriots need their fans the most.

The Pats were punished for spying on the Jets.  It was against the rules; they deserved to be punished. 

But, I ask this: what would give a team more of an advantage—what the Patriots did or violating the salary cap in order to keep your star quarterback and running back (or at least saving cap money on those players that allowed the Broncos to keep other key players who surrounded the star quarterback and running back).  If given the chance to either sign Brady and Laurence Maroney, or videotape defensive signals, what choice do you think the Patriots would make? 

Simmons references the Matt Walsh story—that the Patriots taped the Rams walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI.  I don’t know if this happened or not.  I assume most, if not all, non-Pats fans believe it is true. 

But until I see something different, I am going to believe Belichick and the Patriots that they never asked for or had an employee tape another team’s practice.   I know I am probably being naïve, but am I supposed to believe Walsh?

The NFL offered Walsh complete immunity, as long as he tells the truth.  He turned it down.  I have seen many agreements in criminal trials where the government cuts deals to get people to testify against a defendant.  All are contingent on one thing: telling the truth.  Walsh refusing this agreement tells me all I need to know about his credibility.

Further, during the same Super Bowl, the New York Times reported on Feb. 2, 2002, from a source far more credible than Walsh, that "The Patriots practiced for one hour, 54 minutes in cool temperatures at Tulane University . . . .  Halfway through practice, Patriots' linebackers coach Pepper Johnson noticed something in a third-floor window of a house next to the field.  Club and league officials said a telescope was clearly visible in the window, according to a pool report, and that 15 minutes later, a person appeared at the window, and then vanished." 

Does this need investigating?  Isn’t this story, reported at the time it happened from an NFL assistant coach far more credible than Matt Walsh’s story that came out two days before Super Bowl XLII, six years after the events happened, years after Walsh had been fired and months after Patriots’ videotaping first became a public story? 

I know the Patriots violated league rules.  I know they have a head coach who is extremely easy for fans of every other team and the media not to like.  I know that even when caught, the Patriots and their coach continued to be arrogant and refused to offer the media or the public any real explanation of what exactly it is that they did. 

I also know that if it were the Colts or Steelers or any other team in the NFL, I would be calling that team cheaters every day.   I don’t expect any non-Patriots fans to agree with this article or to ever stop making "Patriots-cheated" jokes.  

But I am a Patriots fan.  It is like family, and you may get angry at your own family, you may disagree with your family, but you always stand by your family.  

In the Godafther, the don was sick, the other New York families were lining up against the Corleones, and the family was being turned over to the youngest son who, only a few years earlier, wanted nothing to do with the family business.   Michael knew he couldn’t count on anyone else at the time for help, but thought he could always rely on family.

When your friends make comments about cheating in Super Bowl XXXVI, or when other fans talk about how much they hate the Patriots,  or they come up with ridiculous reasons to prove your team is hated, it is this time when you need to be firm in your support for the Pats.  Remember New England fans, the Patriots are family.