See the above photo? You’ve probably seen it a hundred, if not a thousand times by now, usually in conjunction with saying how much the author of the piece says they hate the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. In Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything, Charles P. Pierce recounted how this now-famous GQ photo came to be.
It turns out that the goat photo was something of a surprise. Brady was taken to a farm. Someone handed him a goat. Someone else took the picture. The magazine published it, and the overall effect was that of Orlando Bloom in the role of Mr. Green Jeans. His teammates noticed, as he was sure they would.
The day after the magazine hit the stands, Brady brought the team up to the line of scrimmage, only to discover that tackle Matt Light and center Dan Koppen had fastened the goat photo to the backs of their jerseys. Practice convulsed for a long moment, and nobody laughed harder than the guy with a goat.
So this photo, a stalwart in the “JUST LOOK AT HIM WITH THAT STUPID GOAT I HATE THE PATRIOTS SO MUCH” pantheon, cracks Tom Brady up just as much as it does anybody else.
Which is just another reason in a hundred others I just cannot find it in my heart to keep hating the New England Patriots.
Don’t get me wrong, New England and Boston fans are the absolute worst thing that have happened to professional sports (and non-professional if you are old enough to remember when Boston College football was a real thing that mattered), and can suck the fun out of any tailgate, party, bar or even knitting circle if given half a chance. If given a choice between watching sports with a New England fan and having to watch sports in a cage full of tigers, mosquitos, chihuahuas and ostriches that has been lowered into three feet of piss water full of eels, leeches and piranhas, I’d ask what sort of dip do the piranhas like, what sort of juice the mosquitos would prefer I drink before I come over and would the ostriches mind if I brought along a few friends. Fuck going back in time and preventing wars, disease or famine; I’d go back and prevent the internet from happening just to prevent Barstool Sports from ever existing.
But the team? They’re self-aware. Bill Belichick knows he is loathed for creating a coaching tree of mediocre followers in his wake, he knows people laugh at his sideline garb and he knows people joke about his propensity for housewives. What does he do? He keeps McDaniels at his side (wouldn’t doubt that he advised him to bail on Cleveland), he keeps warm on the sideline no matter how ridiculous the garb and he brings his dates to basketball games. He loathes the weekly press conference and barely speaks, and somehow this is a bad thing? Have you met the Boston press? Would you want to talk to a group of people who count Dan Shaughnessy and Peter King as one of their own? This site has made its bones making fun of Peter King, we should be building a monument to Belichick, not giving him grief.
People hate Tom Brady for wearing a headband (as do dozens of other professional athletes with long hair), they hate his wife for being a super model (maybe an okay reason depending where you fall on the feminist spectrum, and oddly enough, a bad reason depending on where you fall on the misogyny spectrum), people hate his endorsement deals saying real men don’t wear Uggs, (sorry, the endless stream of incredibly fit surfers sporting them in Venice demonstrate otherwise, and as if a pair of Florsheims come with an extra set of testis attached to them). None of these are good reasons. We tell young people to have self-worth and ignore when some people don’t like how we wear our hair, are mean to our friends for being our friends and for bullying us about our clothes. And yet for some reason, when it’s hurled at Tom Brady, probably one of the best athletes we will ever seen in our lifetimes, it is acceptable.*
*(I of course have no quarter here. I’ve made fun of athletes and other celebrities here for far less than headbands. Publicly.)
Sure, cheating. Videotape. But in the years since then there have been allegations of cheating leveled against the Saints (with sanctions and then reversals of some of the suspensions), the Chargers (sticky stuff), Steelers (coach on the field during play), Broncos (well, they should have known what they were getting with McDaniels), and positive steroid tests from all corners. It’s tough for me to single out just the Patriots for cheating.
You can point to hearing about the “Patriot Way” endlessly from wonks like Cris Collinsworth as a reason to hate the Patriots. Maybe. But is it the team’s fault that Collinsworth is lazy and cannot think of a better descriptor when discussing players like Aqib Talib or when editors need a quick shorthanded phrase to pull a reader into a piece. “Patriot Way” appeared in the header of this article post on MMQB this morning, but not once is the term used in the the piece. Instead you get,
Regarding physical toughness, there is but one rule in Foxborough: if you’re not on the field, it’s as if you were never even there. It might sound cruel, but how else could the Patriots have gone 11-5 while enduring the loss of Brady in 2008? How about finishing 12-4 this season, despite losing Pro Bowl-level performers such as Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Spikes? You don’t lament departures. If you act like they were never there, then there’s nothing to miss.
Isn’t that what we all want out of our teams? To be able to put a winning squad together despite the comings and goings (and as an NFL fan, you have to be braced for any one of your favorite players to leave you at any time) of key members of the team? Isn’t that what we want in any part of our lives, stability at home, the office and the world?
Ultimately I think the only reason I may have any residual hate for the Patriots — obviously winning Super Bowl XL and XLIII went a long way to erasing 2002 for me, along with also losing Super Bowl XLV so I have some sense of how losing in Super Bowl XLII and XLVI felt — is that they’ve made it too easy to make fun of them, too easy to hate their obnoxious fans. If the Patriots didn’t win, we could ignore their fans for months on end. I can mentally block out the Red Sox until the pennant race, and I can find reason to like any team that makes St. Cardinals fans sad, enemy of my enemy type thing. In hockey you hate any team that isn’t your own, the closest thing we have to a true fandom bloodsport in North America. There is plenty of hate for everyone in the NHL.
But the Patriots? No. I cannot hate them. They’ve been amazing for the past decade and as a fan of football, I cannot take away from what they have accomplished on the field with something as petty as hate. Besides, they are the only thing standing between us and this:
No. Just, no.