This is a story about greatness, the eternal kind, and the story begins with the dumbest question of all time.
The question comes in various forms and levels of nastiness. It's always asked with aggression or cockiness. The worst fans of the worst teams ask it the most, which is always amusing. The question is used as an insult, a form of trolling punctuation to a vapid argument. The question always comes to life on message boards. Look below. See it in all of its primal glory.
The question goes like this: How many Super Bowls have the New England Patriots won since Spygate?
The answer, of course, is zero. But it's all a trap, because the question is pure idiocy.
As we watch Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on the precipice of yet another Super Bowl—they have already been to a staggering five, winning three—if they do advance, it should end all Spygate nonsense. There should be no Spygate nonsense to start with, but since there is, another Super Bowl should terminate all of it. Win or lose.
I'm not a fan of Brady and Belichick, just appreciative of what they've done in this impossible salary-cap era, and cognizant of what the Spygate punishment was truly about: teaching Belichick a lesson. The NFL never believed that Spygate gave Belichick a competitive advantage. They punished him because he thumbed his nose at them. More on that in a moment.
Back to that question. Let's go over some numbers. No, Brady and Belichick haven't won a Super Bowl since Spygate, but they've been to two. People who rip the duo act like that doesn't matter. Yes, they lost, but both times they lost to, genuinely, maybe the greatest clutch Super Bowl quarterback of his generation in Eli Manning, and not to mention on one of those teams was Hall of Famer Michael Strahan and there was also future Hall of Fame coach Tom Coughlin.
The Patriots lost to the better team. To credit Spygate for those losses is an insult to the Giants.
People who ask the dumb Spygate question also don't seem to understand how difficult it is to get to a Super Bowl. Peyton Manning has nine one-and-done playoff postseasons (no other quarterback has more than four). That's the same number of Brady AFC title game appearances. Think about that.
Belichick and Brady have won 161 games together. According to the NFL, that is the most since the 1970 merger. It's not just that they're the winningest duo; it's how far ahead they are of second place, which is Don Shula and Dan Marino at 116. Belichick and Brady are also 54 wins ahead of Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw…54.
So Spygate accounts for 161 wins? Was it Spygate when Belichick totally out-coached the Ravens last week?
If Belichick wins this Sunday, he'll have 21 playoff wins, passing Tom Landry for the most of all time. Is that Spygate, too?
Spygate is the nucleus of excuse-making, particularly for some fans. They hate getting their asses kicked yearly by Belichick and Brady, so their only retort is…Spygate!
Remember what Spygate was in the first place. The NFL asked all teams to stop videotaping coaching signals during games. That's the key: Almost every team in the NFL was doing it. The league sent out a memo. Belichick ignored it. That is why the league blasted Belichick. He basically told them he didn't care what they said.
Belichick gained nothing from the taping. Not a thing.
So why did he do it?
Because he's a control freak. All of the good coaches are. They look for any advantage possible.
After the controversy erupted, Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson had the best quote about it:
This is exactly how I was told to do it 18 years ago by a Kansas City Chiefs scout. I tried it, but I didn't think it helped us. Bill Belichick was wrong because he videotaped signals after a memo was sent out to all of the teams saying not to do it. But what irritates me is hearing some reactions from players and coaches. These players don't know what their coaches are doing. And some of the coaches have selective amnesia because I know for a fact there were various teams doing this. That's why the memo was sent to everybody. That doesn't make (Belichick) right, but a lot of teams are doing this.
That perspective has been totally lost. Shula recently called Belichick "Beli-cheat." I greatly admire Shula—after all, I wrote a book on his unbeaten team—but sometimes he takes his criticism of Belichick too far.
Ray Lewis, reviving the Brady-is-a-no-talent-pretty-boy meme, said this week we wouldn't know Brady without the tuck rule. The Ravens' Terrell Suggs, who was mic'd on Inside the NFL, said this to the ref about Brady during the Ravens' divisional loss to New England: "Please don't fall for the flop."
There's a theme with some teams and fans, that either the Patriots have cheated their way to success, or the tuck rule made them, or some alchemic combo of both.
The truth is, Belichick and Brady beating the Colts and returning to the Super Bowl would make them the best coach-quarterback pairing we've ever seen. If they aren't already.
Some would say the best two are Bill Walsh and Joe Montana. That's obviously a terrific choice, but the Belichick-Brady dominance has come in an era when the NFL has done its damnedest to eradicate dynasties with the salary cap.
We are watching something special, not tainted—brilliant, not buoyed by tuck.
So go ahead, ask the dumb question if you want.
The rest of us will be enjoying history.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.