"Is it better to be loved or feared? That’s a good question. It’s great to be both, but it’s very difficult. But if I had my choice, I would rather be feared. Fear lasts longer than love." — Sonny, "A Bronx Tale"
"Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta." — Geto Boys
I don’t recall the exact moment this thought occurred to me Monday night. It might have been in the fourth quarter, just after James Sanders picked off Mark Sanchez, and the Patriots, clinging to a five-touchdown lead with just under 13 minutes to go, came out and threw the ball on the first play.
Or it might have been the end of the third quarter when Bill Belichick huddled the whole team together and told the players to stay focused, play 60 minutes of football, grind the Jets' bones for their bread, make a suit from their freshly peeled skin, shave their livers, and squeeze the jelly from their eyes. Or words to that effect.
Whenever it was exactly, the point is that at some point during the Jets game it became obvious the Patriots were doing nothing less than running up the score. And I liked it.
Not for any practical reason. It won’t improve the Pats' record or help their playoff seeding. I know it’ll never be a factor in a tiebreaker down the road. I’m under no delusion that last touchdown broke the Jets’ will and if they have to come back to Foxboro in January they’ll all fake their own deaths to get out of it. No, I’m glad Belichick decided to pile on the points for the simple reason that it will make the rest of the football world hate the Patriots even more than they already do.
It took 10 years of unprecedented success, but I’ve finally come around on this. It used to bother me somewhat that the rest of the country hated the Boston teams, and in a guilt-by-association kind of way, Boston fans. I could shrug it off for a while. Justify it with, “They just hate us because they want to be us.” But now, finally, I’m getting comfortable with it. I’m learning to embrace the hatred. Even to thrive on it.
Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. Hate me because I giggled like a school kid on nitrous oxide while BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran an unnecessary touchdown down your throats on national TV.
The debate about running up the score, which ruled WEEI’s airwaves in 2007 but became a moot point, is back at last. Dennis & Callahan have made the case that in a league full of maniacal rageaholics like Ndamukong Suh or James Harrison, feral lunatics who are already looking to destroy quarterbacks, why give them anything more to be pissed off about? But I think that misses the point. The rest of the league is out to maim as it is. Hell, Suh tried to hurt Jay Cutler, who’s been nothing but a friend to opposing defenses his whole career. With all due respect, once they get out on the field, NFL defensive players are acting on pure brain stem. Given the chance, they’d no sooner let up on breaking Tom Brady’s leg because he took a knee in the Jets game than one of “The Walking Dead” would stop trying to eat fresh brains.
America hates the Patriots not because they won’t punt on first down up by 35 points. America hates them because they’re successful. Consider Belichick. As much as people like to talk about “Spygate” or “Running Up the Score Gate” or his lousy press conferences or how he refuses to give back rubs during the postgame handshake, his colleagues around the league don’t like him because he makes them look bad by comparison. Period. If he was sitting in the bottom of the division giving away easy wins like they were Halloween candy like Jeff Fisher is, the other coaches would love him. Instead, they resent him like Salieri resented Mozart — because he is their superior. They watch his game plans like the one that unfolded Monday night and see them “finished as no music is ever finished. Displace one note and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase and the structure would fall.”
There was a time not too long ago when Boston teams weren’t hated. If I recall correctly, we called this place “Loserville” back then. The Patriots were an embarrassment the rest of the league fattened up on while they laughed at our expense. Red Sox fans were seen as this stereotype of lovable buffoons. We were supposed to be chasing ghosts around and fishing around in ponds for Babe Ruth’s piano but always expecting the worst to happen. Or so we were told.
And when the Pats and Red Sox finally broke through and changed their fortunes, America loved them for it. The 2001 Patriots were the Cinderellas who got introduced as a team and proved you can win without superstars. The '04 Sox were embraced by the world and everyone loved to hear us talk about our dear departed grandfathers with our goofy accents like we were saying “Park your car in Harvard Yard.”
But that kind of love has a short shelf life. Once the Pats dominated the world in 2003-04, the love affair was over. As soon as the Beckett/Pedroia/Papelbon Sox went box-to-wire in 2007, they were just another powerhouse, big-market, high-salary team. And we were just the obnoxious, front running Massholes who jumped on their bandwagon.
Well, I’d rather be a hated winner than a lovable loser. I mean, when was the last time any dynasty was beloved? The Ming? The Carringtons? Look at Duke basketball. Is there really any reason to hate the Blue Devils? As they always like to remind the rest of us, they run a clean program. They haven’t had any major scandals. It seems like Duke players actually go to school and all that stuff we’re supposed to care about even though we don’t. So why are they reviled from coast to coast? Because they win. The difference between the Dukies and me, though, is they sincerely want to be liked. Whereas from here on in, I’m wearing the hatred like a badge of honor.
I remember once in the '80s watching, of all things, “The Arsenio Hall Show.” Whether it was because the remote control hadn’t been invented yet or I was paralyzed from the waist down or whatever, I can’t recall. But I remember he did an entire monologue about the Celtics. As in he went through their entire starting lineup and “joked” about how ugly they all were. “McHale looks like Frankenstein! [Laugh track] And what’s the deal with Dennis Johnson’s butt sticking out like that?!? [More laugh track]” The fact that an NBA team’s starting five was fodder for a bad standup routine isn’t a comment on how funny looking the players were, but how many championships they won.
So, the fact remains. When you’re successful, people hate you. It’s the Bucket O' Crabs Theory of Life. If you’ve ever seen a bucket of crabs, they all try to scramble out of the top of the bucket. And as soon as one crab gets close, the others grab his legs, pull him down, and climb up his back. That’s what life is like, and that’s what pro sports is like. If you don’t want anyone pulling you down, don’t climb up. And if you do happen to get your claws around the rim of the bucket, by all means enjoy the view. And do whatever it takes to knock the rest of them the hell down where they belong. They hate you anyway.
Bill Belichick could’ve taken a knee, let the Jets cover the spread, given them Danny Woodhead back and spooned with Rex Ryan on the 50-yard line afterward. But until he gives those three Lombardis back, the world will go on hating. So I say make the most of it. Because fear lasts longer than love.