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New England Patriots still polarize football fans

New England Patriots (14-4) take on Seattle Seahawks (14-4) this Sunday, Feb. 1 at 3:30 pm on NBC for Super Bowl XLIX.
New England Patriots (14-4) take on Seattle Seahawks (14-4) this Sunday, Feb. 1 at 3:30 pm on NBC for Super Bowl XLIX.

It’s a dream match-up between the two best teams in the NFL.

The Legion of Doom vs. the Legion of Boom.

New England’s high-scoring offense against Seattle’s stingy and swarming defense.

Yet despite this highly-anticipated contest, a cloud of controversy has followed the Patriots from New England to Arizona for this year’s Super Bowl. “Deflategate” just won’t seem to go away, and once again the Patriots are at the center of the media storm.

Taken by itself, “Deflategate” is a story that has probably been blown out of proportion. Whether the footballs were regulation or not probably wouldn’t have mattered as the Patriots blew away the Colts 45-7 in the AFC championship game.

But what this issue really comes down to is credibility and integrity, an issue the Patriots have fumbled in the past.

It all started with “Spygate” in 2007, when New England was found to be videotaping defensive signals used by opponents. Head coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 (chump change to New England owner Robert Kraft) and the Pats lost a first-round draft pick. So what?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell blew it big time (what else is new) by not suspending Belichick and sending a stern message to the rest of the league about the importance of integrity and fair play. After all, this is the same incompetent commissioner who pounded down the hammer on coach Sean Payton and his New Orleans Saints for “Bountygate” in 2012. Peyton was suspended an entire year, and players were penalized as well.

In comparison, the Patriots seemed to get off easy for “Spygate.” Somehow in that 2007 season, the Patriots were able to turn their misdeeds into motivation — an “us against the world” battle cry — and dominated the league with 18 straight wins. But many football fans around the country were happy to see New England get its comeuppance in a stunning Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants.

So much for the perfect season. So much for history. Don Shula and his 1972 Miami Dolphins were ecstatic by the outcome.

Four years later, the Patriots lost again to the Giants in another dramatic Super Bowl finish. Again, “Patriot haters” were jubilant. Justice prevailed, at least on the football field.

Ever since “Spygate” the Patriots have been the most polarizing team in the league. While Belichick is undoubtedly brilliant when it comes to coaching strategy, critics have questioned his “win at all costs” methods. He often comes across as grumpy and guarded and evasive with the press.

No matter how much he wins, Belichick will probably never be as revered as Shula or Lombardi or Landry. By all accounts those Hall of Fame coaches had integrity and would not cheat the game.

Luckily for Belichick, he’s relied on his Golden Boy quarterback Tom Brady to deflect the criticism against the Pats. But recently, Brady’s credibility has come into question concerning “Deflategate.” No doubt about it, Brady’s All-American image has taken a hit off the field. We’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out.

It’s been noted time and again that, despite boasting the best record since 2000, New England has yet to win a Super Bowl post-“Spygate.” The Pats have been close several times, but always come up short of the Lombardi Trophy.

New England has another chance at that elusive fourth Super Bowl championship this Sunday in Arizona. But a few factors will make it very difficult.

First is the distractions caused by “Delfategate.” Will the Patriots be able to stay focused leading up to the Super Bowl vs. Seattle? There will be little margin for error against the defending champion Seahawks.

The biggest obstacle New England will face on Sunday is its opponent. It’s fascinating that Richard Sherman and the trash-talking defenders on Seattle will suddenly be seen as the “good guys” against the Patriots. Guess that shows how despised the Pats seem to be outside of New England.

But truthfully, the Patriots have put a lot of this on themselves because of “Spygate” and other allegations of unfair play. As to what role they had in “Delfategate,” only the Patriots know for sure.

But this much is certain: Sports should be competed on a level playing field for all the teams and participants. Winning isn’t everything. But winning the right way is what matters most.

And you can take that to the bank, Mr. Kraft.

Tags: , in Sports
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