It's tough being a New England Patriots fan. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown and all that.
Sure, (arguably) the greatest coach in NFL history sports a Patriots logo on his sleeveless sweatshirt, and (arguably) the best quarterback of all-time dons a Flying Elvis on his helmet, but every other God-fearing football fan across this great nation has yet to bow at the altar of Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Discussions about football would be a whole lot simpler if everyone could get it through their thick skulls that the game we all knew in a bygone era has since been reinvented by that holy trinity. Instead, you can't log onto Facebook or travel south of Hartford every February without somebody pointing out the Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl since the Spygate scandal revealed them to be cheaters.
Never mind the 16-0 regular season that ensued once they stopped videotaping sideline signals. The Patriots couldn't beat Eli Manning of all QBs without having studied film of the backside of a laminated white sheet of paper covering his offensive coordinator's mouth. Heck, even God himself got involved by gluing a football to David Tyree's helmet just to spite them for their sins, proving once and for all Brady — despite his three championship rings and supermodel wife — is in fact not the second coming.
Now, deflate-gate has only reinforced the rest of the country's resolve to hate the Patriots. Sure, a New Englander can explain away deflated footballs and videotaped signals — as Belichick did — with science and the idea that cameras only caught on film what 80,000 people could see in plain sight, but all every other un-Patriotic football fan hears is Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart" drowning out your excuses.
So, if you're from the Northeast corner like I am, know that the best way to crawl under every other football fan's skin is to offer up the only excuse that should be universally accepted in NFL circles by now: Everybody cheats.
As famed 21st-century philosopher Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. has hypothesized, the best defense is a good offense, so here's the New Englander's guide to labeling every other NFL team a cheat. Even if it's baseless. Because if we've learned anything in the past 10 days, you're guilty before proven innocent.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: They had two Pro Bowl defenders — LaRon Landry and Robert Mathis — suspended for PED use and still couldn't stop Jonas Gray or LeGarrette Blount. Not to mention they allegedly pumped crowd noise into the RCA Dome to beat the Pats in the 2006 AFC Championship.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: Ah, the easiest fans of all to take up residence within their bird brains. Three simple words: Deer-antler spray. And if those don't work, remember five-time All-Pro defensive lineman Haloti Ngata got busted for performance-enhancing drugs just last month. Or mention that — while the Ravens rightfully cut Ray Rice — somehow their other All-Pro defensive stud, Terrell Suggs, remains on the roster despite a pair of equally disturbing domestic violence allegations against him. See, you don't even need to bring up the double-murder indictment of Ray Lewis to incite a Baltimore riot. Oh, wait.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: The Seahawks lead the league in performance-enhancing drug use since Pete Carroll's arrival in 2010, and that doesn't even include the overturning of Richard Sherman's positive test before the first of three straight playoff appearances. Talk about deflated balls in the Super Bowl.
NEW YORK GIANTS: Former coach Jim Fassel may have explained away radio signal stealing allegations in 2001 by feigning ignorance, calling such high-tech cheating "impossible to even try," but the Giants already admitted to intercepting radio waves — in 1956. It's not like technology has progressed in the past half-century or anything. No wonder they beat the Pats in 2007 and 2011.
ATLANTA FALCONS: Speaking of listening in on conversations, assistant general manager Scott Pioli is a notorious offender, having allegedly bugged former Chiefs coach Todd Haley's phones during his GM tenure in Kansas City. (Please pay no attention Pioli's presence in New England during Spygate.)
NEW YORK JETS: The only reason New York ratted on the Patriots for videotaping signals in 2007 is because New England threw a Jets employee out of Gillette Stadium for doing the same a year earlier. Of course, then-Jets coach Eric Mangini dubbed their misdeeds as "standard operating procedure." Not to be outdone, former New York strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi resorted to tripping a dude.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Current coach Mike Tomlin warranted a $100,000 fine when he interfered with a Jacoby Jones kickoff return in 2013, but it's best to hit Pittsburgh where it hurts most — puncturing a hole through the heart of the Steel Curtain. In making his own steroid admission as a player, former Steelers defensive coordinator Jim Haslett called all four of their Super Bowls in the 1970s into question.
MIAMI DOLPHINS: A pair of Fins got caught violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy, but that perfect 1972 season is the only thing the Miami faithful can hold over New Englanders' heads (well, that and the fact Floridians aren't covered in two feet of snow right now), so let's point out the Dolphins committed three counts of tampering in order to hire Don Shula as their coach.
BUFFALO BILLS: The Bills have been all about those banned substances for the past five decades, beginning with Haslett's admission to steroid use during his Buffalo career from 1979-85. When the NFL cracked down on steroids in the late 1980s, the Bills had more players suspended than any other team. Soon afterwards, Don Smith allegedly tested positive for steroid use before Super Bowl XXV, and then proceeded to score a touchdown in the first of four straight title losses. Before making a Pro Bowl, running back Travis Henry violated the league's substance policy, citing ephedra, as was the custom at the time. And more recently tight end Shawn Nelson earned his own four-game suspension. Whatever's in the sauce on those wings up there in Buffalo, maybe the Bills should be using more of it, because they haven't made the playoffs since New Englanders threw them a bone with Doug Flutie in 1999.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Bountygate.
DETROIT LIONS: Center Dominic Raiola and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh have both been fined multiple times for attempting to intentionally injure their opponents after the whistle, which is kinda like Bountygate, only without the monetary incentive — which kinda makes it even worse.
DALLAS COWBOYS: Take your pick between the Cowboys' salary cap violations, Orlando Scandrick's PED suspension or Jerry Jones partying with NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino and a bunch of coeds in a bus outside Bootsy Bellows nightclub in Los Angeles. The third option seems the most fun.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Likewise, it's a toss-up between salary cap violations, widespread PED use, signing Andre' Woodson off the scrap heap to recreate the Giants' playbook and illegally calling out the Cowboys' snap count. It's really not that hard to rile up a fan base whose team's owner sued season-ticket holders during a recession and vehemently defends the use of a racially insensitive nickname.
CHICAGO BEARS: Forget former linebacker Brian Urlacher's concession that the Bears assigned "a designated dive guy" to fake injuries when opposing offenses got hot, current wideout Brandon Marshall suggested players use Viagra to gain an edge, which creates all sorts of problems in those pig piles.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: The Browns are currently being investigated for texting during games — a violation of NFL policy — suggesting these weren't just messages from Johnny Football's ladyfriends.
DENVER BRONCOS: Where do we begin? ESPN's Mark Schlereth and a couple Bronco buddies got popped for oiling themselves up in Vaseline before a playoff game, which seems minor in comparison to the team's pair of violations of the league's salary cap restrictions, including $29 million in deferred payments to John Elway and Terrell Davis — the two cogs in Denver's Super Bowl victories. (It's probably best not to mention Josh McDaniels earned a $50,000 fine for videotaping a 49ers practice.)
HOUSTON TEXANS: Three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Duane Brown got busted for PEDs before this season, but teammate Brian Cushing takes the cake. Following a season in which he won Defensive Rookie of the Year from the Associated Press in 2010, Cushing tested positive for a fertility drug (perhaps to counteract his opponents' Viagra consumption?). So, the AP took a revote, and he still won the award. It's always nice to see the media taking the moral high ground when it comes to football scandals.
TENNESSEE TITANS: The last time the Titans were any good, they had fullback Ahmard Hall paving the way for 1,000-yard rushers Travis Henry (yes, that Travis Henry), LenDale White and Chris Johnson from 2006-11. And Hall earned a performance-enhancing drug suspension at the end of that run.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Linebacker LaRoy Reynolds sat out four games for a PED suspension in 2013, but there's no use trying to incite a fan base that requires swimming pools, go-go dancers and two-for-one drink specials just to get enough fans in the front door to avoid television blackouts.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: GM Steve Keim can call Daryl Washington's indiscretions "unacceptable" all he wants, but when a team continues to employ an admitted domestic abuser and two-time violator of the league's substance abuse policy — including one positive PED test — simply because he has an All-Pro bid on his resume, it kind of gives off the impression that those actions are in fact acceptable.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: It's kind of boring when all the Bengals have done to cheat is use a few performance-enhancing drugs, as cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris was busted for earlier this season. Apparently, they prefer to do their misdeeds off the field, leading the league in legal battles last decade.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Ho hum. Just a run-of-the-mill PED ban for offensive tackle Donald Stephenson.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Two more PED suspensions this season. Boring.
OAKLAND RAIDERS: After Al Davis spent years suggesting Mike Shanahan's Broncos should have an asterisk next to their Super Bowl victories for violating the salary cap, his own organization was among four teams punished by the league for similar infractions a few years ago. Also, they're the Raiders.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: The Bucs aren't opposed to PED use, either, having received a pair of suspensions this past season, but don't forget Brad Johnson paid an NFL representative $7,500 to rub down his footballs prior to their Super Bowl XXXVII victory — the lone title in the team's 40-year existence.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: The Packers cheated so bad they had to buy their way back into the league, per Albert J. Figone's 2012 book, "Cheating the Spread": "The American Professional Football Association, organized in 1919, soon became embroiled in recruiting collegiate players. The Green Bay Packers had their franchise revoked in 1921 because they recruited three Notre Dame Players — Hunk Anderson, Ojay Larson, and Hee Garvey — for their final game of the season at Milwaukee. The story was broken by the Chicago Tribune, home of the Packers' archrival Staleys (later the Bears), coached by George Halas. The Green Bay franchise was reinstated in 1922 after Curly Lambeau paid a fee." Nowadays, Aaron Rodgers' over-inflation of balls keeps the proud cheating tradition established by Hunk, Ojay and Hee alive.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: As long as we're still on the subject of footballs, the Vikings like theirs warm, which also violates league policy. Oh, and Hall of Famer Cris Carter spearheaded his own Bountygate scandal.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: They heated their balls on the sidelines, too, but that's not quite as egregious as a trio of Carolina players filling prescriptions for steroids shortly before losing to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII — making former Panthers GM Marty Hurney's recent sour grapes all the more hilarious.
ST. LOUIS RAMS: Former running back turned NFL Network pundit Marshall Faulk can cry foul about the Patriots cheating him out of a second Super Bowl ring all he wants. He probably just accused New England of cheating again in the time I wrote that last sentence. But the Rams aren't innocent, either, fielding performance-enhancing drug abusers every season since the NFL ramped up its testing policy in 2011.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: LaDainian Tomlinson once said, "I think the Patriots actually live by the saying 'If you're not cheating, you're not trying,'" so it stands to reason his team didn't trying until he retired in 2012, since that's when the Chargers received a $20,000 fine for using a "Stickum"-like substance.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: In the late 1990s, the Niners were finally busted for a practice they had been accused of and denied during their dynastic run from 1981-94 — skirting the salary cap, including a violation involving Super Bowl XXIX MVP Steve Young. If that doesn't get a San Fran fan going, just let Bill Parcells do the finger-pointing for you, since he claims the 49ers twice disabled the Giants' phone communications in the mid-'80s. And Bill Belichick's defense still managed to win both games.
Now, cue all the angry emails from non-Patriots fans, who might finally understand how it feels to root for New England — only without all the Super Bowl appearances to make the cheating rumors worthwhile.
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