I remember waking up the Monday morning after the AFC Championship Game this past January and feeling great and going on Twitter and — Deflategate. (“Also sometimes known as Ballghazi,” notes Wikipedia, correctly, as it’s still the better name.) The Patriots had just destroyed the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, to advance to the Super Bowl, but it was immediately obvious to me that we had another Patriots Cheated narrative on our hands and that no matter what resolution came of the matter, the dominant narrative of The Patriots Cheated would be cemented, forever and ever. And ever.
The narrative started with Spygate back in 2007. What was Spygate? If you’re like most casual followers of NFL pop culture, you’ll tell me it was about the Patriots secretly videotaping the practice sessions of other teams. Not so. What Spygate was, in total, was the Patriots videotaping an assistant coach of the New York Jets on the sidelines during an actual NFL game. Why is this a problem? Again per Wikipedia: “Videotaping opposing coaches is not illegal in the NFL but there are designated areas allowed by the league to do such taping. The Patriots were videotaping the Jets’ coaches from their own sideline which is not allowed.”
So the Patriots videotaped an opposing assistant coach from the wrong place in the stadium, during a game in front of a crowd of 60,000 people, all of whom could also presumably see and/or videotape the same assistant coach. Quelle scandal.
The obvious point being: the details of Spygate itself didn’t matter, and still don’t. In the minds of everyone who’re not Patriots fans, The Patriots Cheated. So when it became clear that something had happened with the footballs on January 18, 2015, the details didn’t matter either. The Patriots Cheated.
People — friends! — throw these lines in the face of New England sports fans. Heard it for years, will be hearing it for years to come. Here’s the thing: we don’t care. I believe there is some mechanism in the part of the brain that deals with sports fandom that simply suppresses these inconvenient details. It’s only sports, we remind ourselves. And the good guys won. (At least, our good guys.)
In the wake of Deflategate, I’m willing to go further. I now fully embrace the Dark Side. If you’d told me in the 1980′s, when the Patriots were a perennial fourth-place team playing at a run-down dump in Foxboro, MA where all the seating was metal benches perfect for a 28-degree day in December — a shithole the team was still playing in during the Tuck Rule Game in 2002 — that in the next century the Patriots would morph into a team so monstrous they would win four Super Bowls while assuming the mantle of League Villain, I would have welcomed it with glee. So hey: here we are! It’s actually pretty fun here. (By the way, Tom Brady obviously cheated. I’m fine with it.)
Which brings me to the St. Louis Cardinals, a baseball team which stands accused of doing things far worse than the Patriots ever did. Will Leitch, an avid Cardinals fan, bravely confronted the topic yesterday, asking and answering questions about the burgeoning scandal. This bit really got me:
Does this, if true, devalue the past decade-plus of success the Cardinals have had? Well, remember whom you’re talking to right now … but no, obviously not.
Will, let me welcome you to the Dark Side, because that is where you now reside. Whether or not Cards fans realize it yet, in the minds of many (most!), the hacking scandal absolutely will devalue the past decade of success, or a least the past five years or so of it. And so the Cardinals and their fans — an organization and group historically bathed in sunlight and respected as the best of their kind — will have to learn a new way to be.
A darker way to be.
Welcome to the Dark Side. It really is pretty fun over here, once you get used to it.