There has been much ado in the NFL for the last few months regarding the allegation that the Patriots tape-cheating scandal may have been more extensive than what the league released, and may have involved one or more Super Bowls.
As fans, we will never be privileged to know the absolute truth on the subject, not because the Patriots are the league darlings and are being protected in a Kafka-style conspiracy, and not because the tapes in question have been destroyed by the commissioners office without any real explanation.
The reason we will never hear the out and out truth is because of the consequences to the league and the totally unprecedented nature of the offense in question.
Would the Patriots be stripped of their crown? Would a Super Bowl win with an asterisk be added to the cheated team? How would the league be able to deal with this kind of negative PR in a period of wealth and unprecedented growth?
The simple answer is probably the right one for football: Let's not find out.
More than any other group of people, more than football as a business, there is one group that would be totally incapable of dealing with the ramifications of a conclusive proof of a defiled Super Bowl: the fans of the New England Patriots.
Pats fans as a group have handled success pretty well. Much better than the howling masses of Broncos fans who refuse to even enter into a conversation about how Denver circumvented the salary cap in a series of truly shady accounting moves in order to ensure cash was available to keep the supporting cast around Elway and Davis (the players whose salaries were 'deferred') in order to finally win a Super Bowl.
In general, Boston sports fans are a devoted bunch, suffering years of bad teams to finally be regarded with the raise of the Red Sox and the Patriots at the same time. Long suffering fans of the Sox proclaimed the Yankees performed every foul deed from juicing to pacts with the lord of darkness to ensure their success. Names like "Evil Empire" and "Steinbrenneristan" were thrown around, forever proclaiming "Next Year, F&@%er!!"
Pats fans acted the same, proclaiming they didn't receive a single fair call from an official in a game against Buffalo between the years of 1988 and 1999. The truth of it was, the Pats just fielded some bad teams and got some bad breaks.
A side effect of the long-awaited success of the Pats is the strange, though not uncommon, deification of their players. Just ask around, they'll happily tell you Tom Brady is not only the best QB to play the game, he is by far the sexiest man alive. And there isn't another person out there who is tougher than Teddy Bruschi. The list goes on—and this is OK.
It happens with nearly every team that has had prolonged success. Tell a Steelers' fan that the Fearsome Foursome of the LA Rams made the Steel Curtain look like a pack of Girls Scouts and see what they have to say. If you find yourself at SFO waiting on a flight, mention to the bartender that you think Joe Montana was overrated and doesn't hold a flame to Peyton Manning...then order a drink. I guarantee they are mysteriously "out" of whatever you ask for.
With the Pats, it has taken on a whole new and crazy life of its own. Because of this little tape issue, the fans of NE feel like it is them against the world, facing down accusations any time they mention their team being the best in a decade. It would be impossible to argue, if it weren't for the tapes.
If the truth was released, and IF (big if here) it turned out that the Pats had jobbed the Super Bowl and cheated to win, the fallout among the fans would be hellish. Torrents of beer-fueled weeping would ensue as Pats fans around the globe began their explanations about how Brady and the boys would have pulled it off anyway, they didn't need the tapes, they are that good...really.
Let me share a painful family secret with you all. My mother, to my shame, has been a Cowboys fan since the 70s. During the Aikman/Smith years and the Super Bowls I couldn't watch a Dallas game without losing my mind at least once about the blatant pushing and hand-checking Michael Ervin used to get open ON EVERY PLAY.
Of course it never got called. Not once. When asked about this little shading of the rules my mother will calmly explain, "Hell yes he was pushing! And it worked too!"
They were a team of felons. A team of trashy, vile, and very skilled players who bent the rules enough to walk away with three rings. Pats fans would never be so brazen. It would shatter the image they have created for their team and their players. Tom Brady: superstar, great QB, and cheat?
There is no way, with the strange cult that has formed in the Northeast around this team, that the fans of the Pats could avoid a mass suicide if the truth was that the mighty Pats had indeed cheated to win. Don't take this the wrong way...I respect New England for what they have accomplished. I was even kinda partial to them in the '07 Super Bowl (mostly because I am about Manninged out and I am REALLY tired of hearing about the '72 Fins).
But you have to admit, Pats fans, even if they are cheats you will never leave them or even entertain the notion that the Pats wouldn't have won without breaking the rules.