”All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
”Oh, peace! Pfft … SHUT UP!!!”
— Monty Python’s Life of Brian
I’ll begin with a hypothetical. Let’s say there’s a restaurant in your neighborhood that was never really very good. And at times it was awful. As in, “How are they still in business?” and, “Why hasn’t the Board of Health shut them down yet?” caliber awful. So bad in fact, at one point the place was rumored to be shutting down and moving operations out of state. And frankly, not too many people were shedding a tear over it because the whole block they were on was a blight upon the neighborhood.
Now let’s say one loyal customer decides, over his wife’s objections, to buy the place. He even pledges to turn it into a five-star restaurant and is summarily laughed at coast-to-coast. Early on, things look dicey. He gets into a fight with his award-winning chef over who should pick out the groceries and the guy quits on him. So the owner brings in another chef who is in over his head and gets fired after three bad years.
So the owner brings in an old assistant chef to run the place. And soon this new guy turns the place around. He’s such a success he’s being compared to the all time great chefs like Escoffier or Boyardee. And suddenly that little failed restaurant is in the Michelin Guide as one of the greatest dining experiences ever. Soon the owner is doing well enough that he tears down the old place and puts up his own money to build a new, state-of-the-art restaurant in its place. And then, in the middle of a crippling recession, let’s say he gets all sorts of retail shops to move into the block from hotels and bars to places to buy shower curtains and places to buy hunting rifles and puts hundreds of people to work in the process.
You’d think that a man like that and the restaurant he owns would get a pretty good treatment in the press. That he’d be hailed as a visionary. A bold leader in the community. An unquestionable success story and someone to be admired.
You’d think that, and you’d be right in any other instance. But with respect to this metaphor, change the restaurant to the Patriots, the owner to Robert Kraft, the chef to Bill Belichick and the press to the miserable, angry, bitter, grudge-holding, misanthropic troglodytes who make up the Boston football media, and what you get is exactly the opposite.
Almost from the moment the Kraft family bought the team, a majority of the Boston press has staked out the contrarian, antagonistic low ground against the ownership. Bill Parcells left town not because that’s what he does every three years or so, but because the owner’s own massive ego forced him out. Kraft turned his back on a deal with Hartford that would’ve been a license to print money for him, not because he wanted to keep the team in Foxboro, but out of some sort of reverse greed no one could ever clarify. He brought Belichick in out of misplaced loyalty, not because he saw in him the brilliance and demeanor to be one of the successful coaches ever.
And as for Belichick? He’s a dour, sullen, paranoid little troll. He’s Dick Nixon in a gray hoodie. Worse, he’s a cold, heartless taskmaster, incapable of feeling human emotions or understanding the suffering of his minions. Belichick is a taskmaster, cracking his whip while those in his servitude build the Patriots Place pyramids to the glorification Pharaoh Kraft.
OK, I exaggerate. But only slightly. I’ve been following the Boston sports scene since I was in the womb, and in my life I’ve never seen the level of vengeful animosity I’ve seen toward the Patriots during this era of unprecedented success they’re on. And I’ve spend the last several years being lucky enough to chronicle the anti-Patriot jihad on Barstool Sports, and honestly I can’t make any more sense out of it now than I ever have.
Take, for example, contract issues. It happens in all sports where a player and management have differing opinions on how much a player is worth. It’s the nature of the beast. And if you go back through your mental rolodex of high-profile contentious contract talks, invariably the player gets accused of 1) being greedy, 2) having an overinflated sense of self worth or 3) both. Yaz, John Hannah, rookie Larry Bird, Clemens, Pedro, Manny, and more recently, Rajon Rondo. Or does anyone care to recall Will McDonough calling Mo Vaughn “Mo Money”?
But when has the current Patriots management ever had a holdout where almost across the board the Boston media didn’t skewer the team for being the greedheads in the deal? Law, Branch, Samuel, Seymour, Wilfork and a host of others were portrayed as victims of the Patriots' ruthless penny-pinching.
Never mind that the NFL has a real, bone fide salary cap, unlike the NBA’s pretend, joke shop cap. Or that the way the Pats distribute money among the 53-man roster is the same system that built a dynasty. According to the pundits, players are the poor, overworked, underpaid Spongebobs to Kraft’s miserly Mr. Krabs.
But the negativity from the Boston press goes beyond mere accusations of cheapness into an almost criminal charge of inciting panic. Or at the very least, disturbing the peace. Take the Tom Brady contract talks. Brady is entering his final year and would like to get an extension. Kraft says he wants to get a deal done. There’s uncertainty with the labor situation, but both sides reportedly are working on it, rather than talking about it in public. Sounds reasonable, right?
But not in this town. The media has been in lockdown for months on this. Full-on, five-alarm panic mode where we’re reading Brady’s body language and parsing every non-answer that comes out of his mouth and hearing reports about a “disconnect.” When he spoke at practice the other day and refused to give any details of the talks, a writer on the — ahem — “other” sports station in town called his evasiveness “telling.” In fact, his answers were the thesaurus antonym of “telling,” but what they told this writer that Brady is cheesed off and hates the team, his bosses and this whole lousy franchise. Of course I’d like to point out … and believe me I have … that the Brady-Pats situation is EXACTLY the same as the Peyton Manning-Colts situation. The only difference is Pay-me-a-ton and the Colts are both media darlings, but with the Pats, the press has never found a worst-case scenario they couldn’t make worse, so personal is their vendetta against the team.
You want another example? I've got a million of them. Consider the case last year of Adalius Thomas. When he and the rest of the Tardy Boys were sent home for being late to team meetings, it seemed like low-hanging fruit for cantankerous old sportswriters who love nothing more than saying what lazy, pampered sissies ath-a-letes are nowadays. In fact, it was more than low-hanging fruit; it was a veritable fruit salad, all cut up and melon-balled in a nice dish with a sprig of mint on top. So naturally, they responded by attacking … Bill Belichick.
When Thomas popped off, claiming he was stuck in traffic and saying, “This isn’t the Jetsons,” most of the Pats press portrayed him not as a selfish, underachieving malcontent, but as the leader in a player uprising against The Man like he was Spartacus. The coach had been mean and disrespectful to him — even benching him for no good reason earlier in the year — and Thomas had had all he could take of this degradation. Notwithstanding that the game Thomas sat out was a 59-10 win. Or that the other coaches and players made it on time, including the superstar quarterback who left his wife and newborn to make it on time. No, George Jetson spoke out against Belichick, and for that he was a hero. (Note: As I’m writing this, he still hasn’t hooked on with another ballclub.)
But it’s been like this throughout this unprecedented run. Belichick was wrong to draft Richard Seymour. Wrong to bench Bledsoe. Wrong to trade Bledsoe within the division. Wrong to cut Lawyer Milloy. Wrong to bring in a “troublemaker” like Randy Moss. Even during the stunning success of the 2007 season they weren’t happy. Spygate. Running Up the Scoregate. All the little Postgame Handshakegates. It got so bad that the Herald ran a fictitious anti-Patriot story on its front page the day before the Super Bowl. And after that gut-wrenching, for-the-ages loss, basically filled a hot tub with the Pats’ salty tears and threw an industry party in there.
And this year? The take is that they’re a team on the decline. That dynasty they denied ever existed is finished. Kraft’s Ocean State Job Lot discount ways and The Hooded One’s arrogance have finally caught up with them. There’s a new power in the AFC East and the Pats are the odds-on pick to finish third. “The window is closing” on Brady’s career. They’ve drafted poorly. There’s a leadership void. And on and on. If the Boston football writers were covering China in the 1400s, they would’ve said “The Yongle Emperor is crazy if he thinks expanding trade routes to the West is going to work. The Ming Dynasty is over.”
This is the part where the anti-Patriots jihadists call me a footsie pajama-wearing Kool-Aid-drinking suck up, which they did on the other station before I came to WEEI. But it’s a label I wear proudly. Do I think the team is above criticism? Hell, no. All I or any other pro-Patriots fan looks for is a little balance in the coverage, not some personal vendetta because you don’t like the way Belichick issues injury reports.
Last year I watched the team I grew up following — which was the laughingstocks in all of pro sports — go overseas and be received in Europe as THE iconic franchise of the NFL. Call me a rumpswab, call me a fan, but I think that’s worth something worthy of some praise. And I don’t think I as a fan should have to look beyond the Boston football press to hear a little of it. Bon appetit, Patriots.