John F. Russell: Living with a reputation
Steamboat Springs — Nobody likes a cheater.
That was more than apparent this week as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots opened the 2015-16 season in New England. Brady was allowed to start the game after winning his appeal of a four-game suspension that would have left him on the bench for the first part of the season. Truth is, I’m happy Brady won his appeal, and it was clear that he and many Patriot fans saw it as a victory.
But winning the appeal did little to clear the New England Patriots quarterback’s name, despite what the fans were chanting Thursday night. The appeal did not deny that Brady and the Patriots cheated on the road to last year’s Super Bowl title. It really can’t be denied, nor can the idea that some equipment guy made the choice to let a little air out of a ball. The ruling simply said the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell failed to follow the proper process when it came to punishing Brady.
As a sports fan, I agree. Brady shouldn’t pay the price for Deflategate; he shouldn’t have taken the blame when the Patriots filmed the other team’s sidelines in order to steal signals or for all the other times the Patriots have stepped over the line to ensure they had an edge over the team on the other side of the field.
There is no question the team is one of the greatest in the history of the game, and there is no question Brady is one of the best quarterbacks to stop on the field or that Bill Belichick is the face of a well-oiled organization.
But outside of Foxborough, the Patriots’ reputation is no better than the boy who cried wolf in those childhood books we used to read. No matter how brightly the Patriots and Brady shine on the football field, it will take years for the team and the man to repair their reputations. Most sports fans will forget Brady won the appeal, and they will look past his incredible stats; instead, most will recall the guy who stonewalled the NFL, who was accused of destroying evidence and who cheated in the AFC Championships game.
I have to wonder how many fans across the United States stood up and cheered last year when Patriots rookie Malcolm Butler made a game-saving interception of Russell Wilson’s throw in the final seconds of the game. I mean, I’m a Broncos fan, still stinging from the day Seattle embarrassed Denver in the Super Bowl, 43-8. The only thing I know for sure is, most of them lived in New England. Those fans are quick to point out that Brady won his appeal, and they are just as quick to contend the rest of the world is just jealous. Did it really matter that the balls the Patriots were using didn’t have the proper air pressure? After all, the Patriots dominated the championship game against the Colts.
In the end, the Patriots are the champions, and the scandal will never change that. But Brady and the Patriots have built a reputation of pushing the rules to the limits and doing whatever is necessary to win, including stretching the rules to make sure New England has every advantage when they step on the field at Gillette Stadium. The team has to live with the reputation they have built and the idea that nobody, outside of New England, likes a cheater.
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