Got a good column idea for you, my editor said Monday.
A fun one, one you’ll enjoy, he bragged.
It’ll be easy, he insisted.
Fifteen reasons people should hate the New England Patriots.
Easy, huh? He thinks it’s “easy” and “fun” to pare down to 15 my running list of 17,542 reasons to hate the Patriots? Three more reasons cross my mind driving my son to school every morning. And I’m sure he’s going to want it to be kid-friendly, too. No colorful language for effect? Come on.
Basically, I was told, “Have your magnum opus to me by 5 p.m. on Wednesday.”
I’ll do my best anyway.
15. Deflategate: This would rank higher on most lists, but to me it was, like, the 15th Patriots cheating scandal since 2001. I was a bit desensitized to it by then.
14. Bill O’Brien’s stories: Loved getting to know O’Brien those two seasons he served as Penn State’s head coach. Really. But if I had to hear one more story about how Danny Woodhead went to Chadron State and gritted out an NFL career, I’d have lost my mind. If I wanted to hear about how great the Patriots were, I’d have just turned on ESPN.
13. Bandwagon fans: How many New England Patriots fans did you personally know living in Pennsylvania, or anywhere outside of Boston, in the 1990s? Zero? Now, we all know four or five who’ve been lifelong fans of the team ever since it came into existence in 2001.
12. Automatic playoff berth: These guys should start the season with an “x-” before their names in the standings. No team in any professional sport in this country, ever, has had as easy a road to the playoffs the last 15 years. The Jets? The Bills? The Dolphins? The Patriots are 6-0 before Brady even takes off his Uggs on the first Sunday every September.
11. Belicheat: Bill Belichick is clearly a smart guy. Probably the smartest in the league. But he coaches to the edge of the spirit of the rules, then uses the language of the rules as a crutch to defend himself when called out. And he does it just to show how smart he is.
10. They’re the media darlings: “Bill, Rob Gronkowski didn’t practice today. Is he suffering from an injury that might keep him out Sunday?”
“You’re right. I should just go away and let you prepare for the big game against Buffalo. Thanks so much for your time, oh great Bill!”
9. Super Bowls XXXIX and LII: This is twice now — twice — that the Patriots have forced me to root for the Philadelphia Eagles. Sickening.
8. Revisionist historians: While I’m thinking about it, how many New England Patriots fans did you personally know who even lived in Boston in the 1990s? Zero? You might remember that after the 1993 season, the plan was to move the Patriots to St. Louis, where they’d become the St. Louis Stallions. And nobody in Boston really cared, because that franchise never won anything.
7. Tuck Rule: The Tuck Rule ruined officiating in the NFL, and it ruined replay. And the Patriots only challenged the play because they were desperate, had no other choice, would literally have lost otherwise and were hoping officials might help them out. Which, you guessed it, they did.
6. Aaron Hernandez: Sorry, but you can’t look at the Patriots and not accept the fact that they drafted, and repeatedly vouched for the questionable character of, one of the two most notorious players in the league’s history. Then, they got credited for being no-nonsense disciplinarians when they cut Hernandez after he was arrested. For murder.
5. You can’t touch Tommy: Most NFL quarterbacks can get hit without penalty because “they might run.” But Brady is so unathletic, no official even considers that a possibility. You’re best to just let him throw and take his inevitable 6-yard completion to Chris Hogan, instead of the 15 they’ll get if you pat him on the back for a job well done after the throw. And then there’s his constant whining....
4. Spygate: When it comes to challenging the boundaries of the rules, nobody does it better than the Patriots. They got caught videotaping the New York Jets’ sideline in 2007 and acted as if that was the first time they had ever done such a thing. We know better.
3. The pick plays.: I don’t blame officials for “missing” so many calls during Patriots games, because the Patriots make it impossible to officiate their games. Pretty much every one of their pass routes is designed to have one receiver brush a defender off a fellow receiver. Which is illegal if done “intentionally,” but legal if done “accidentally.” The Pats are masters at the accidental pick.
2. They get EVERY call: A few weeks ago, someone I follow on Twitter posted a poll asking which team had overcome the most to make the playoffs. The first respondent said, “The Patriots, because the league hates us.” Meanwhile, the rest of us can’t think of a significant call that has gone against New England in almost 20 years. Yeah, but those obstacles the Patriots face are scary.
1. They suck the fun out of the game: Part of me is glad they’ve been caught cheating, because if they didn’t, I’m not sure I’d care one way or another about this team.
What I used to love about the NFL was watching star players in big games, and outside of Brady and Gronk, they don’t bill their own best players as stars. I also used to love how often the offensive and defensive strategies had to change, because coaches were so good at figuring out how to stop the schemes that worked the year before. It made for a league that always seemed to be changing, always relied on its innovation. But the Patriots have just kind of taken such advantage of the rules restricting what defenses can do to receivers that it’s impossible to really stop what they figured out.
It’s so impressive that they caught lightning in a bottle and have managed to hold the lid on all this time. But at the same time, there is something so shady around what they’ve done that it almost diminishes it to those of us who don’t fawn over Belichick and Brady. It’s why I’ll be rooting so hard, Lord help me, for the Eagles on Sunday night. And why the Patriots will probably ruin my Super Bowl Sunday once again.
DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune (and a diehard Steelers fan for the record). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him @DonnieCollinsTT on Twitter.