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Duckler: To some, cheaters never win, unless they’re the Patriots

  • Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, right, talks with Marshall Faulk of Thursday Night Football on the field after an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla., Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016. The Falcons won 43-28. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) Phelan M. Ebenhack



Monitor staff
Saturday, February 04, 2017

I haven’t yet read Tim O’Sullivan’s column, but I’m guessing Marshall Faulk wouldn’t like it.

Faulk is a Hall of Fame running back. He was a superstar when his St. Louis Rams lost to your New England Patriots in the 2002 Super Bowl. He maintains to this day that your team cheated.

It’s one of the reasons that, outside New England, most people don’t like your team. In fact, many NFL fans hate your team.

Faulk has long accused your Patriots of filming his team’s practice prior to Super Bowl XXXVI. It’s since been disproved, but Faulk doesn’t care.

He repeated his feelings this week in Houston, where the Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons will play tonight in Super Bowl LI.

Chad Finn, a sports columnist for the Boston Globe and Boston.com, was there, in Houston, watching Faulk. He told me by phone that Faulk wore dark glasses and texted while answering reporters’ questions.

“He’s not over losing that Super Bowl and they’ve cheated for everything they’ve gotten,” said Finn, my boss a decade ago. “He goes back to it when ever he’s asked about the Super Bowl, and he dwells specifically on what happened to him. He always turns it back. I don’t know if he thinks everything they accomplished has been tainted, but he thinks (the Rams) should have won.”

Instead, they lost, 20-17, in what turned out to be the start of the most amazing run in NFL history. The Patriots have won three more championships since, and they’ve played in six straight conference title games. Quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick have been there for the entire ride. Tonight, they’ll try to win their fifth Super Bowl title.

No one in the history of the game has won that many, yet the QB and the coach will forever walk in the shadow of perceived deceit and trickery.

At least in 44 states.

Finn and most everyone around these parts say the No. 1 reason for this is simple: jealousy. The Patriots have simply been too good for too long.

“They win a lot,” Finn told me. “It’s 16 years now, and the NFL is not designed for this. This is not supposed to happen here. There are supposed to be ebbs and flows, and everyone has a chance. They don’t want dynasties, and people get sick of them. They’re certainly sick of the Patriots.”

They certainly are. Scandals known as Spygate in 2007, and Deflategate in 2015 have added to the public perception that Belichick is corrupt and Brady isn’t as squeaky clean as he’d like you to believe.

To me, neither incident gave the Patriots any edge. Brady remains the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Belichick the greatest coach.

No one around here believes Brady tampered with footballs before the conference championship game against the Colts in 2015. And no one around here believes what the Patriots did during Spygate was any different than what other coaches in the NFL do on a regular basis.

But mix all those wins and all those championships and all that success with a pair of transgressions that actually led to penalties, and, viola, Faulk-like attitudes have surfaced all over the country.

“There’s the perception because they’ve had two scandals, Spygate being the bigger one,” Finn said. “People can say this (success) never would have happened had they been clean.”

I called Tom King, who’s covered the Patriots for the Nashua Telegraph since the 1980s. He’s in Houston, too. He told me fans who think the Patriots cheat are dead wrong.

“They’ve gotten the image of not being forthright,” King told me, “and people who don’t look at the facts think they’re cheaters, and people don’t like cheaters.”

King continued: “It’s amazing, because in 2001 everyone loved them as the Patriots after 9/11 and they were the underdogs, and now they’re a dynasty, and people outside of the area don’t root for a dynasty to keep winning.”

So which fans hate the Patriots most, I wondered? Which ones feel the most beaten down, the most battered, the most humiliated?

Finn mentioned New York Jets fans, but the Jets upset the Patriots in the playoffs six years ago. “That’s one victory over the Patriots they can hang their hats on,” Finn told me.

He also mentioned those loyal to the Ravens, Steelers and Giants, but added that those fan bases have had enough success against the Patriots, or at least enough success throughout history.

Chad?

“Buffalo fans haven’t enjoyed going to the playoffs since Brady and Belichick got here,” Finn said. “Buffalo really doesn’t have much.”

Which led me to a man named Duane Hertel. I went to college with him, meaning I’ve known him a long time. He grew up in Buffalo and still lives there.

He loves his Bills.

He hates your Patriots.

“Brady takes the cake,” Hertel said. “Besides kicking our asses for 17 years, he gets on TV in 2008 and cries literally because he almost didn’t get drafted. My plant closed down and I don’t know how I’m going to feed four kids or pay the mortgage. Hey, join the real world.”

Hertel also said this: “Probably it’s mostly jealousy, but to pile on, they and their fans are so (darn) arrogant, and then on top of it they had to cheat.”

Marshall Faulk would likely agree.