The Patriots won anyway. They missed Vince Wilfork in the middle, giving up almost all the yards, which may be a problem going forward. And they missed Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the secondary, where they gave up the rest of the yards, which may also be a problem. Still, they won.
What we missed was a long video commentary on ethics and cheating – Sunday school tutting grafted onto a contest where people beat their brains in.
The first game of the 2015 NFL season, an event that the NFL and networks typically treat like a four-hour tone poem and inaugural address, instead stuck mainly to the game. Even Bob Costas, reliable rider of sport’s highest horses, made a plea for a better arbitration system in a new collective bargaining agreement, then bid us all move on. The last bit seemed so un-Costasian that you wonder if he truncated the let’s just get past this sentiment to signal that he was encouraged from on high to echo a company line. Which is a problem, because we are knee-deep in America’s silly season, and everyday citizens like you and me need to know what the New England Patriots mean for America.
Earlier this week, the longform dropped like a ton of takes about the hidden extent of 2007’s “Spygate” incident. The Patriots’ taping and signal stealing, it turned out, was far greater than originally reported, which explained Roger Goodell’s going balls-to-the-wall over “Ballghazi:” this offseason was his make-up call for an evidence-shredding demi-punishment for “Spygate” that spawned endless resentment from other franchises. These disclosures seemed ripe with promise for fretful pundit echolalia about What Football and America Even Mean Anymore.
I will confess here to bias. I enjoy the Patriots. As a franchise, they are a hater’s paradise – they make so many insufferable teams and fanbases so spastically unhappy – and I genuinely believe that Bill Belichick is trolling the NFL and the media at all times, both of which deserve it. I also take constant satisfaction in the fact that their “maintaining basic levels of fucking competency” appears to be a near impossibility everywhere else in an NFL that considers sucking its own dick over its exquisite professionalism to be Job #2 after soaking the rubes.
Anyhow, all the charges flung at the Patriots seemed a little like a hill of whatever, given an NFL memory longer than a mayfly’s. There were former players and coaches at the time of “Spygate” who admitted to stealing team signals in earlier days of the NFL. That the Patriots interfered with opposing teams’ headset communications actually seems funny, given that Bill Belichick probably got the idea from sainted 49ers head coach Bill Walsh’s repeatedly doing that to the New York Giants. The idea of sneaking into locker rooms to poach lists of opening plays seems almost quaint compared to a league in which the Raiders of Al Davis (and the also-sainted John Madden) used to bug the visitors’ locker room and sent agents to team hotels, and it becomes screwball funny when you realize that teams started planting fake playlists for the Patriots in hopes they’d be stolen.
Honestly, that last bit sounds so much more fun than most things about the NFL. If Roger Goodell had an ounce of sense, he would legalize unrestricted Spy vs. Spy pregame warfare and let teams steal everything. Who knows? A much lower-key version of this may already occur, but figuring that out would require the lucky confluence of news organizations wanting to devote expensive resources to pursuing the story, a commissioner’s office as interested in burning other teams as Goodell was in burning the Patriots and NFL inside sources willing to engage in shit-stirring at the risk of having other teams’ officials telling journalists to look instead at what the league was putting in the stew. We all should dream of the day that we discover the NFL, as an organization, exists as a matrix of point/counterpoint, low-level ratfucking, but there will probably never be low enough risk for informed people to admit to it.