As a football fan, I hate the New England Patriots as much as any red-blooded American who doesn’t call a beer a pop and doesn’t refer to a sub as a “grindah.”
But, as a writer, I have no animus against the Evil Empire North. As they taught me in Journalism 101, I don’t root for or against them, I root for the story.
And that’s why Roger Goodell’s pronouncement today that the investigation into Bill Belichick’s filming of other teams’ activities is (barring the introduction of new evidence) over, was such bitterly disappointing news.
There’s no story to root for.
Had Matt Walsh been in possession of even shadowy images of the St. Louis Rams going through their pre-Super Bowl walk-through, the long two months, traditionally barren of news, would have been filled with enough fodder to keep column inches and blog space full 24/7.
At least the news, or lack thereof, didn’t come like a bolt out of the blue. We got a strong indication that there was nothing here a few weeks ago when Walsh’s lawyer said that his client was not in possession of a tape of the Rams the day before the Pats upset them in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Still, there was some hope that something would come out of the Goodell-Walsh meeting—a few snapshots of the Rams’ formations, some detailed notes, a secret tape recording (even one with an 18-minute gap), anything. Maybe not a smoking gun, but one that was still a bit above room temperature.
But, no. Nothing.
The organization delivered one of the juiciest stories ever in February when the undefeated Pats couldn’t seal the deal as the best team ever (read the book, they’ll tell you they were) against a decent but hardly dominating Wild Card Giants team.
But not this time.
The promise of so many good stories and delicious sights is, like the original batch of cheating evidence, up in smoke.
We’re deprived of the chance to see Belichick—possibly the most arrogant, unlikeable person ever to patrol an NFL sideline—twisting in the wind.
We’re deprived of finding out how long a suspension Goodell would have doled out, and if Robert Kraft would have stood by his coach or if he would have kicked him to the curb.
We’re deprived of seeing the New England Patriot organization, the smartest guys in any room, get raked over the coals while the legitimacy of what they had accomplished this decade was called into question.
Perhaps they would have had to crawl back into the hole they existed in for most of the 40 years before they stumbled into drafting Tom Brady in the sixth round. That made everything else they did seem a lot smarter.
The facts, however, are what they are. Belichick and his crew just dipped a toe, maybe one foot, into the cheating pool. They didn’t dive in headfirst.
The truth is that the evidence presently available to us is that the Patriots cheated in a fairly small way, taking video of something that was visible to everyone in the stadium.
They were punished in a fairly substantial manner (although I still contend that Belichick should have been suspended).
And that is that. And that’s the truth.
But sometimes, like today, the truth hurts.