When I was growing up, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. I wanted to be the underdog, the good guy who took on the evil Empire and triumphed. As a Patriots fan since the early '80s, I’ve lived the fan-equivalent to being young Skywalker.
First, in 2001, the Pats were the young upstarts, who somehow managed to fire their photon torpedoes into the Death Star that was the St. Louis Rams and become unlikely champions of the world.
For the first half of this decade, the Pats were praised as the ultimate team. They didn’t always have the stars but they always seemed to come out on top. Peyton Manning could have his commercials and glossy receivers, the Patriots did just fine with a collection of castoffs and overachieving rookies.
In 2007 things changed. Maybe it was Spygate, maybe it was Bill Belichick’s demeanor, maybe Tom Brady’s good looks and dating habits, or the addition of all-stars like Adalius Thomas and Randy Moss, but the Patriots were no longer Luke Skywalker. They became Darth Vader.
At first I really didn’t want to be Darth Vader. I wanted to be the good guy. I wanted to be respected and admired by sports networks and opposing fans alike as a team that was the model of what a professional sports franchise should be.
Unfortunately, and maybe this is an indictment of American society as a whole, but when you’re on top it’s natural for people to want to tear you down. Spygate became the catalyst that transformed this century's “America’s Team” into the newest Evil Empire in sports.
No one mourned the Patriots when the Giants defeated them in the this years Super Bowl, closing the book on what was almost the most magical season in NFL history—just like no one mourned the Death Star when Luke blew it into oblivion.
As to how much effect the tapes of Spygate had on the three Super Bowls wins and countless other victories is debatable. Pats fans will say they had zero effect, while Pats haters will say it was actually one of the tapes and not Adam Vinatieri that kicked the game winners in XXXVI and XXXIX.
Regardless, in the eyes of the NFL—the only people that truly matter when it comes to the legacy of the game—and owners like Pittsburgh’s Art Rooney, the videotaping scandal had little-to-no impact on the outcome of any games. That’s good enough for me, no matter what any opposing fans or “pundits” like Mark “Go Broncos” Schlereth say.
Sure, it stung at first when people would say the Patriots legacy was tainted, that they were cheaters, that the Super Bowl seasons deserved asterisks. Then I realized something…
In the words of Bill Murray in Meatballs, IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER.
This is sports and rooting for the bad guy is actually a whole lot more fun. Who wants to be the fan of a team that everyone loves? What fun is that? Do we want fans of other teams to come up to us and tell us how great our team is? That they wish they were fans of our team instead of their own? No.
What I want as a fan is to watch my team win. That is what the Patriots have done and, with the conclusion of Spygate, will continue to do.
That’s right. We’re evil. And we’re going to hang fifty points on your team and continue to pour it on until the final gun sounds. Sorry guys—Belichick’s going to be running the Patriots for at least another five years. So instead of whining about Spygate, maybe you should start following another sport. I hear Cricket is a rip-roaring good time.
That is why “Embrace the Hate in ‘08” has become my slogan for this season’s Patriots, because ultimately, underneath the cries of “cheaters” and “asterisks” is nothing but jealousy. Jealousy that their team isn’t the one blowing teams off the field, that they don’t get to enjoy putting up 52 points on the supposedly respectable Redskins.
Does anyone really think that Joe Fan really gives two craps about the "integrity of the game"? You don’t think they’d trade their own team bending the rules for an undefeated regular season and a few Super Bowls?
So I say to my fellow Pats fans: The hard times are almost over. Spygate will be dead to the only people who matter—us Pats fans and the NFL.
For those who hate us—specifically, opposing fans—it will continue to live on. That’s fine.
With each New England victory, their reliance on “cheaters” as a put-down will become increasingly more comical, and will do nothing to prevent their team’s annihilation on the gridiron.
Embrace the hate. We’re Darth Vader. And they’re living on Alderaan.