I know it's been the question TGWNA readers have been constantly asking themselves.
"What the fuck does it take to compel Diesel to actually write a post anymore?"
/Jim Nantz voice
Well, here's an easy answer: Play the fucking "respect" card.
I realize that Big C's mini-rant w/r/t the Patriots did not actually involve the word "respect," but he and I both know that it wasn't for a lack of intimation. His entire post dripped of so much respect-baiting that it shorted my computer's power supply when I read it.
I'll be more than willing to say that what the Patriots have done to this point in the season is one of the more impressive team sports accomplishments of my lifetime, ranking alongside Arsenal's undefeated 2003-04 campaign in the English Premier League, the Yankees' 1998 season, the Red Sox's comeback against the Yanks in 2004, and the Chicago Bulls' 1995-96 season. And I'm willing to say that with or without a win in the Super Bowl, since I'm not very concerned with worrying about whether or not this Pats team is the greatest in the history of the sport (while I can see why others are into this argument, the lack of objective reference points makes it simply a point of conjecture ... there is no way to properly compare football across eras, as far as I know).
That said, the Patriots as currently constituted, are a blight on the NFL. Their coach, a brilliant tactician for sure, is also a cheating boor who believes — like too many transcendent sports figures — that his talent and ability allow him to exist in a realm where condescension and surliness are acceptable characteristics for a public figure (see footnote). The team's star wide receiver is probably a sociopath who has the audacity to claim that the fawning sports media is somehow out to paint him as something he is not, when he has received more free passes for intolerable behavior both on and off the field during his career than all but a select few peers, regardless of sport. And the team as a whole has copped the same, tired "us against the world" shit pretty much since the beginning of its multi-year run of league domination, despite the fact that it's clear the world has been anything but against them for quite some time. My love of Leonard Cohen aside, I prefer my entertainers to be a little less monotone, and those who claim persecution to have an actual basis for the accusation.
As for the fans, what can be said about them that hasn't already been said about paranoid schizophrenics off their medication? I remember, faintly, being somewhat satisfied when the Patriots beat the despicable Rams in Superbowl XXXVI, and when the Sox mounted sports' most improbable comeback against the Yankees. But those days are long gone, and any conception of New England-area fans as somehow being "lovable" seem ridiculous now. When people ask me why I really don't have steadfast affiliations with teams any longer, I point to the guy in the Red Sox hat who acts in precisely the same manner as his "hated" Yankees cohorts. I am loathe to be associated, in any form, with the type of person who believes that the justifiable reaction to a win by his favorite team is to try and start a fight in the bar with all the "haters."
I could probably slag on the Pats and Pats fans for another 1,000 words (who am I kidding? I could probably do it for 10,000 more words), but it's neither important nor original at this point. What I'm wondering — and this isn't rhetorical, Big C — is who the fuck cares what anyone says about the Patriots? Why does a superlative team of accomplished veterans feel the need to trot out the stupid "bulletin board" shit that bad high school coaches have relied on for decades? Why do the fans require the acquiescence of all those in attendance every time "his" team's supermodel-impregnating quarterback continues to prove he's worthy of the plaudits handed out with alarming frequency by analysts? Since when did anything matter to the fans of a team more than on-field success? Do you really need a fucking hug in addition to your fourth Superbowl win?
I've long considered a need for constant affirmation to be a sign of weakness, particularly on the part of men. Those who claim to be dedicated to any cause should lack a need for approval. Those who claim to be better than others shouldn't need those others to admit as much, particularly when there are organized and regulated contests at hand to allow for some objective measure of the claim. And those who are claim millions to ply their trade shouldn't allow themselves — at least publicly — to admit that they still require more in the way of appreciation to feel like they've truly accomplished something.
The Patriots, and their fans, have come to embody everything that makes sports and its fans appear so puerile. The real "haters" are the scores of right-minded people who see the sociology of sports as a disturbing and collective softening of brains. Here we are debating the level of respect given to whiny, spoiled athletes and an equally whiny and spoiled fanbase that somehow thinks its entitled to some modicum of special treatment they've never afforded to others (lest we forget the "Jeter Swallows" shirts that have been extremely popular in the uncomfortable seats of Fenway for some time). I'm all for a good sports debate, even if it doesn't adhere to the same strict intellectual rigor I attempt to apply to arguments of outside interests. Hell, I'm even fine with some good, old-fashioned mindless taunting, as evidenced by my ownership of a "Jesus Hates the Yankees" shirt. Sports are a diversion, if not an opportunity for those of us no longer blessed with more than a geriatrics's range of motion to live and play vicariously through athletes. And fandom is an opportunity to identify one's self with a specific group, for the purposes of pride and differentiation. I do not begrudge anyone his or her rooting interests, nor the success(es) of his or her favorite team(s).
But it will be a cold day in hell before I think there's any reason to give the Patriots special consideration because they're excellent at football. I will not tip my cap, genuflect at the altar of Belicheck, or condemn representatives of the '72 Dolphins for sounding like perspectiveless brats when dissing another group of perspectiveless brats. I will simply hope that whomever coaches the Bills will adopt some of Belicheck's strategic approach without acquiring his willingness to be a reprehensible asshole, and proceed to beat the ever-loving shit out of that franchise for the next decade.
Yes, I do hate the Patriots, because they and their fans make me extremely aware of what a base pursuit being a fan of sports is, and what kind of company one should expect to keep if he wants to watch football in a bar on Sundays. I hate that sports writers have cheapened the word "genius" in the process of reporting on Belicheck. I hate the idea that Randy Moss is being given a relative free pass on a serious charge because commentators are more concerned with how this issue might effect the team than the individuals involved in the alleged assault. I hate the fact that every time Tom Brady has an irregular stool it leads ESPN.com.
But, more than anything, I hate all the "respect" talk. And if that makes me a bad sports fan, or whatever, then I'll happily take my sour grapes home with me and dine with Mercury Morris.
# # #
Footnote: Bill Belicheck is a cheater; I don't think this point is arguable. Despite his, and Big C's, claim that the camera issue isn't worth talking about any longer, it still constitutes a breach of NFL rules and was clearly carried out to gain a material advantage in an otherwise fair contest. Furthermore, while Belicheck was only caught cheating during the Jets game, it's entirely likely that he had cheated in that same fashion during other contests.
Belicheck is also a Grade-A son of a bitch. He is the very image of a modern-day athletic megalomaniac, right down to his unwillingness to abide the most basic rules of the league that's made him famous, as evidenced by his violating the league's standards for coaching attire and his constant fucking around with the injury report.
Barry Bonds is all of these things as well: Cheater, flouter of the rules, son of a bitch.
The main difference is how the men are perceived: Bonds as a pariah, Belicheck as a genius with flaws. The prime example of this double-standard is the way Bob Costas, one of the most respected figures in the sports media, approaches the two men. When the subject is Bonds, Costas can barely disguise his contempt. When the subject is Belicheck, however, Costas chooses to focus on the coach's accomplishments and overlook his personality deficiencies.
I don't really care to examine why this double-standard exists, only to point out that it does and is further proof that the Patriots are given an easier ride than most N.E. fans would have you believe, particularly by the media.