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DeflateGate: Picking Up the Pieces

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I know things seem bleak right now. But let's all look big-picture.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

What a marvelous time to be a Patriots fan.

No, I haven't lost my mind; I honestly believe that. This is just such an amazing time to be a Patriots fan, and I'm so, so thankful that I was around to live through what New England has accomplished over these past fifteen years.

There are a lot of fans out there who are feeling pretty low right now, who are down on this team, on its owner, and on the league in general because of the events of the past few days. And thinking about that makes me sad; the offseason following a Super Bowl victory should never be anything but sunshine and rainbows, no matter who gets cut or what your rivals end up doing to improve their teams or what's in the media. But looking around Patriots Nation at the moment, you'd think that Malcolm Butler didn't make that pick and there isn't another Lombardi Trophy at One Patriot Place right now. The depression is palpable, and in simple terms, that just plain sucks.

So I'm going to try and cheer everyone up today. I don't know if it's going to be fully possible, but I'm going to try and figure out what exactly it is that's bothering you, break it down, and then tell you why there is way more reason to be happy than there is to be upset. It may work, it may not, but if I can right at least a few ships out there, then I'll consider it a success.

So here we go...

When the DeflateGate news first broke, nobody seemed too concerned about it. After all, how big of a deal could a slightly deflated football possibly be, right? I mean who honestly cares about that? Plus, there were all kinds of conflicting reports, shady information, impromptu press conferences, and a whole jumble of hazy facts that nobody really knew what to do with as the story more or less consumed the nation until the Super Bowl, at which point DeflateGate was immediately forgotten in lieu of one of the greatest games ever played. Any possible sanction that could come down took a very considerable backseat to another world championship.

But then some time passed, days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. As whatever passed for an investigation dragged on, Patriots fans were more confident than ever that nobody had anything, DeflateGate was all for naught, and some sort of announcement confirming it to be so would eventually spew forth from Roger Goodell's dry, wormy lips. Then The Wells Report was released, all 243 pages of it, and the words "more probable than not" suddenly found a whole new definition: 100% guilty and then some. Media reports of New England's filthy deceit dominated the internet. Tom Brady, once seen as the Golden Boy of the NFL, the man who has always been nothing but squeaky clean, was now a piece of trash. The Patriots were once again cheaters, and much of the world rejoiced. What's more, much of the world didn't waste any time making its opinions known.

But then a few more days passed. People actually decided to read the report instead of just reacting to whatever their favorite reporter said. Hole after hole after hole began showing up in the report, and much of Wells' findings were challenged. Questions arose as to whether or not there was anything impartial about the investigation whatsoever, as it seemed that Wells conveniently manipulated some facts in order to find definitive guilt where there was nothing definitive. And since there was no smoking gun, since there wasn't any real proof either way, and since the Patriots were significantly more cooperative than was first implied, it stood to reason that the league would adhere to prior precedent, hand out a small fine, and that would be that.

Not so much.

4 games, two draft picks, $1 million. Jaws dropped. The rest of the AFC East popped champagne. The anti-Patriots crowd rejoiced. The stiffest penalty in the history of the NFL, all over more probable than not at .5 PSI.

But not on Bob Kraft's watch.

Where he initially said he would reluctantly accept whatever punishment the league was going to hand out, he instead said "screw this." He stood up for his franchise, his fans, and his quarterback. He launched his own website which refuted much of what Wells had to say. He raised legitimate questions. He called out the absurdity of the penalty and threatened to appeal this decision to the very end. Patriots fans, once despondent, rose up united behind their owner, ready and willing to defend the wall at all costs, proud that they had someone in their corner who wasn't going to take this lying down. Finally, somebody with the means to do so decided that enough was enough.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Kraft laid down.

He announced that he wouldn't appeal. He came to the podium, stoop-shouldered and defeated, and announced that he would accept whatever the league handed out. He announced that the agenda of one team was not more important than the other 31. And just like that, the war was over.

Maybe something went on behind closed doors. Maybe the NFL had more information on the Patriots than they initially let on. Maybe there's some kind of deal in place. Maybe the owners all got together and gave Kraft some version of "just let it go." Maybe all of these things happened, and maybe none of them did. None of us will likely ever know.

What we do know is that here the Patriots fans sit, bewildered, frustrated, and angry over what just transpired. But mostly, they're just plain tired.

Tired of constantly defending this team.

Tired of one minor rule infraction back in 2007 somehow, almost a decade later, representing a culture of constant, perpetual, and inexcusable cheating to a very large number of the population.

Tired of Belichick's ability to read the NFL rulebook, a rulebook that is over 200 pages long and contains very convoluted language, better than anyone else being equated to this team constantly bending the rules and getting away with it because of who they are and who their quarterback is. That maybe the rulebook shouldn't be so long and contain such oddly parsed language is never a concern; only that Belichick is adept at manipulating them matters.

Tired of every single victory supposedly representing something sketchy.

Tired of this remarkable - and I repeat, REMARKABLE - run called into question, surrounded by idiots screaming for asterisks, and somehow devalued because of popular opinion.

Tired of having to read articles like this that make no efforts to hide bias, ignore facts, and even go so far as to add an asterisk next to New England's name.

Tired of being the only dynasty that somehow doesn't deserve any of the success they have.

You were tired of all that.

And maybe, just maybe, Bob Kraft was tired of it too. Maybe he had finally decided to draw a line in the sand and stand up for the good name of a franchise he bought back when the notion of being so good that people cared about the pressure in the footballs thrown by its quarterback was absolutely laughable. Maybe with this appeal, enough was enough and the days of holding your breath every single time the Patriots won a game to see whether an opposing coach didn't particularly care for the manner in which that victory came were over.

But that didn't happen. In fact, it was just the opposite.

When Robert Kraft relented, the trolls won.

Troll isn't a word I particularly care to use, but it's going to have to do for now. With Kraft doing what he did, doing what he 100% had to do, he more or less legitimized everyone who ever called the Patriots cheaters and, in the eyes of most, straight up admitted that they were guilty. Anyone looking for even the slightest hint of validation to any of the accusations got it - and more -when Kraft backed down. And so, once again, it's back to dealing with all of the same crap you've been dealing with for the past 10 years. Back to no legitimate titles and the "lying, cheating scumbag" rhetoric and not being able to find a single online forum where you can just go to celebrate your team and enjoy this sport without someone who is also there specifically to make sure that anyone who will listen knows that the Patriots are cheaters. What was supposed to be the Super Bowl that exorcised all the SpyGate demons and the offseason that allowed us all to feel nothing but fantastic is now yet another stigma attached to this team that someone who wants to get under your skin can go to at every possible opportunity, and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it.

Now that's just a guess; maybe there are some other factors here as well that has folks so down right now.  But it seems to me, based on the conversations I've had and the general pulse of this site at the moment, that people are starting to question why they even bothered getting invested in any of this.

And to those people, I'd like to try and pose another question:

Who cares?

Seriously...who cares?

If there's one thing that I'm embarrassingly guilty of forgetting, it's that sports are supposed to be fun. We're supposed to watch sports because we enjoy it, because it's a nice break from reality and gives us a chance to just relax and get into a game for a few hours a week. And as sports fans, there are certain things we all do to enhance that enjoyment. Some of us are casual fans who catch games whenever we can and don't get too involved. Some of us go the opposite direction and get way more invested than any rational human has any business being. Some of us like talking about sports, or listening to others talk about it, or read about it, and some of us don't. Whatever kind of fan you are, you do whatever extras that you enjoy doing and make your relationship with sports as meaningful as possible.

And that's where the problem comes in. For a lot of people, maximizing their enjoyment of the game comes at the expense of the Patriots. I'm not going to get into my whole "rooting against other teams is fun" rant, because I've said that enough at this point - but I will reiterate that if people didn't enjoy rooting against the Pats, didn't enjoy trolling comments sections, didn't enjoy asserting that the Patriots are cheaters and nothing they have ever done or will ever do is tainted and invalid, then they wouldn't do it. If commenting about the Patriots didn't make them happy, they wouldn't be doing it. They would just keep watching the games, keep rooting for their teams, and leave the Patriots alone. And while it may not seem like it at the moment, I promise you that there are PLENTY of people who do just that - it's just that nobody ever sees them or hears from them. And why? Because they are far too busy doing other things and living their lives to give the slightest ounce of deer antler spray about whether or not Cheatriots6969 has any valid points when he takes to Facebook or Twitter to make sure that every single one of his 23 followers know that he is now of the opinion that Tom Brady is a cheater. And don't get me wrong; Mr. Cheatriots6969 has every single right in the world to do and say whatever he wants. He clearly enjoys it, he likes the reactions, debates, and responses that come from his decisions, and by no means should he ever kowtow to others just because they don't like it. The only real conflict comes in how much one fan's enjoyment decreases another's. I imagine there are tons of you out there whose football watching experience is significantly worse because of the way the Patriots are perceived. Tons of you out there who would love nothing more than to ignore the anti-Pats crowd, but you just keep getting sucked in over and over again and it feels like you're banging your head against the wall. And because you have less fun, because you're ready to just call it quits, because you keep getting pulled back into pointless debates with people whose opinions were sent in stone long before any of this news broke, the fans who have more fun when you have less fun end up having way more fun, which means you have less fun. On and on we go.

And while it's easy to overlook Tweeters, Facebook posters, and comment threaders, as they aren't necessarily right, they just scream the loudest (the squeaky wheel gets the grease and all that good stuff), it's much harder to ignore the media members who are supposed to be objective about these things and report on nothing but the facts. It always seems to sting way more than any internet commenter ever could when a Felger or a Shank or Stephen A Smith or a Manish Mehta  writes some slam piece about what a disaster this all is and how is Brady ever going to look in the mirror ever again.

But once again, I say: who cares?

There's something else we all need to remember regarding the media. The fact of the matter is that we no longer live in an age where having more than a small handful of professional sports reporters is even remotely necessary. Sportswriters are rapidly becoming completely obsolete as fans get their news either directly from the team, from Twitter, or from the various "by the fan, for the fan" blogs and websites out there that provide excellent coverage and analysis while maintaining an unveiled rooting interest for one squad in particular. If you are a Jets fan who wants Jets news, you can go to any number of Jets sites and get plenty of great stuff, all written for free, by those who just love the team and the game.  If you don't like the Jets, you can find plenty of folks who feel the same way who also know what they're doing. There are Podcasts, YouTube channels, and local access shows that give amazing sports coverage, all by unpaid talent. We no longer have to rely on these sportswriters to get our news anymore. If 90% of the professional sportswriters out there suddenly went away, life would go on, we wouldn't miss a moment of any of our favorite team's news, and after a while we wouldn't even notice most of them were gone. And because of that, it's hard not to understand why these folks take the angles that they do. If these people don't get their articles clicked on, they don't have a job, plain and simple. If nobody is talking about something they wrote, it won't be long before they have to change careers. And so, in order to stay relevant, in order to get those pageviews and maintain those conversations, they have to take controversial stances. They have to make outrageous claims. They have to demand asterisks. They have to say what the other athletes who would love to land that cushy network job would be willing to say in order to get the ratings up. They have to do whatever they have to do in order to generate buzz and keep themselves afloat in an industry where they are essentially completely unnecessary. So when there is Patriots news to be had, positive or negative, of course they are going to write something overly incendiary or nauseatingly positive, because they have to. Nobody will care otherwise. It's just one Hail Mary after another as they try to stay relevant in a media landscape that has passed many of them by. Of course, there are quite a fair number of writers out there who still understand the value of journalistic integrity (looking your way, Mike Reiss), but there are plenty more who either don't have the talent to maintain it or are simply too busy trying to keep their jobs to care. So you have to cut them a little slack as well. And the good news is that there is plenty of other content out there that you can focus on instead that will allow you to speed them on their path to complete, unbridled irrelevance.

I don't care if ¾ of Facebook and Twitter thinks my team cheated. I don't care if I have to wade through a bunch of drivel before I get to some legitimate sports reporting. I don't care if someone wants to comment on this article about how I'm just putting my head in the sand and refusing to see the big picture or acknowledge that my team cheated and I should just accept it and move on. None of that is remotely important to me. None of that takes away from this reality: The New England Patriots are one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history. Tom Brady is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, quarterbacks of all time. Nothing he has done is tainted. Every pass he has thrown, every yard he has gained, and every accolade he has earned is 100% legitimate. And I will still assert that even if he comes on the air later and says that yes, he did in fact orchestrate deflating those footballs so they were just a shade softer than regulation. Because I know that there is much, much more to being an all-time great athlete than 0.5 PSI. I know that this is only as big a deal as it is because we're talking about the Patriots. I know that anyone reading these words and thinking "typical arrogant, delusional Pats fan" is coming at the situation with his or her bias as firmly entrenched as mine is, and will just be reacting in a manner that gives them the most pleasure, just as I am. There are plenty of healthy, rational sports fans out there who think that this whole thing is absolutely absurd and couldn't care less about any of it - they're just too busy not caring about the NFL in May in the middle of some amazing NBA and NHL playoffs to let you know that they agree with you via a few internet comments.

So let them talk. Let them call you delusional, or blind, or whatever they want to say. They have every right to do it, and it's fun for them, and it's fine to let them have it. And let the media rain down hellfire on this team, because if they don't nobody is going to care about what they have to say. The Patriots will just do what they always do: circle the wagons, let their play do the talking, win a bunch of games, and make a deep postseason run. It's going to be a blast. And if other fans want to invalidate it, that's totally fine. Don't let the way they enjoy their sports tarnish the way that you enjoy yours. That's what I'm going to do, and I'm hoping you'll at least try to do the same.

Plus, think of it this way: the way other fans decrease your enjoyment of this game is to tell you that the Patriots are cheaters and they are a disgrace to the game and their names should be stricken from the record books. The way you have decreased theirs is by rooting for a team that just keeps on winning, and winning, and winning, and winning, and they're completely sick of it. I'll take that trade-off any day of the week.