Opinion: Give the New England Patriots their due

Richie Mulhall is a junior multimedia news major. Contact him at [email protected].

Richie Mulhall

On Sunday night, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady cemented their legacy in the NFL (as if they already hadn’t anyway).

The NFL’s most dynamic duo captured won their fourth Super Bowl and fourth Lombardi Trophy in 15 years together, and the narrow victory certainly didn’t come without its fair share of drama.

In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX, the Patriots clung to a four-point lead after Kent State graduate and Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman caught a 3-yard pass from Brady to put the Pats on top, 28-24, with just 2:02 left to play. All seemed well with the game well in hand for the New England, until things got a little dicey on the defensive end of the ball.

Seattle Seahawks’ Jermaine Kearse managed an on-his-back juggling catch good for 33 yards downfield,reminiscent of David Tyree’s “improbable on-the-helmet catch in crunch time of Super Bowl XLII. Thanks to his crazy catch, the Seahawks threatened to take the lead with less than a minute left to play in regulation.

Mere moments later, as unexpected as Kearse’s circus grab,undrafted cornerback Malcolm Butler leapt in the air and made a clutch, game-saving interception in the end zone to put Seattle away for good. Butler’s pick, undoubtedly the climax of Super Bowl XLIX, signifying a satisfying and calming end to an otherwise turbulent season for New England.

Let’s rewind.

First, thePatriots began the 2014 campaign with a middle-of-the-pack 2-2 record and an “uncomfortable” 41-14 loss to the Kansas Chiefs. At the time, the Patriots’ offense looked like a shell of its former self, much to the chagrin Patriots fans everywhere. The nation saw Brady get benched, and the Patriots’ dynasty suddenly resembled that a dying empire, a sinking ship.

Once they dug out of the basement and evaded an apparent crisis (in Patriots’ terms of win-loss record),the Patriots righted the ship and sustained a steady winning season, clinching the AFC East Division.

Fast-forward a few weeks until hell freezes over in Foxboro.

The notorious Deflategate scandal hits just before the Super Bowl, stemming from allegations that the Pats deliberately or negligently under inflated footballs used in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The sour grapes Colts, still reeling from the 45-7 beating they took, accused the Patriots of using deflated balls, alleging that 11 of the team’s 12 balls used in the first half were below the inflation level mandated by the NFL rulebook. The controversy is still undergoing NFL investigation, but the distraction had already done the damage.

Conversations swept across major news media, as many speculated whether or not the Patriots cheated to win. As an organization-wide media probe ensued,critics clamored for the Patriots to be out of the Super Bowl. People called the entire Patriots’ integrity into question,wondering if this complication would ultimately taint Belichick prolific legacy and Brady’s illustrious career.

The roster spent the majority of the two weeks leading up to the big game answering questions they didn’t know the answers to while Seattle regrouped and focused on the task at hand.

Amidst this giant swirl of controversy, though, the Patriots weathered the storm anddefeated the best team in football two years running. They earned their title and deserve all the credit for it, yet critics still challenged them.

During and after the game, longtime NFL announcer Chris Collinsworth – my opinions of whom I will save for another day and column –referenced Deflategate and said would always blemish the win and come back to haunt them. Even the NFL reporter tried to bring it up to Patriots owner Robert Kraft during their post-Super Bowl interview.

Why even bring it up right now? The NFL investigation is ongoing, and when its investigation is complete, then it will be the time to discuss pending disciplinary actions. The deflated balls incident and the Super Bowl win, at that moment, didn’t coincide with each other. Fine the team, take away a draft pick, do what you have to do to punish them for any transgressions they committed during the AFC Championship game, but don’t spoil the moment with trivial questions and unconfirmed accusations.

The saying goes, “Give the devil his due,” and this year’s Super Bowl should be indicative of that mantra because even though the general public might not like it, the Patriots played their hearts out, won fair and square and deservedly hoisted a trophy high in the end to show for it. And I refer to them as “the devil,” so-to-speak, for a reason.

To many, the Patriots are the devil of the NFL. Although they have represented the benchmark for excellence in the NFL for more than a decade now,it seems that unless you’re from New England, people just love to hate them.

Might sound like a pretty bold statement, but it couldn’t be anymore further from the truth.

People hate Brady because he’s good-looking and a bit overzealous at times. People hate Belicheck because of his flatline personality and gruff temperament. People hate the Patriots because they “supposedly” cheat.

But most of all – as much as it kills them to admit it – people hate the Patriots simply because they’re good. They’re the gold standard other teams strive for, but fail to attain, and people hate that. And as much as people hate to see the Pats succeed, they love to watch them fail even more, as the Giants 2007 and 2012 Super Bowls might as well have been wins for everyone south of Massachusettes.

The point is that every time the Patriots thrive, there’s always someone trying to take it away from them. The minute New England goes undefeated, wins a playoff game or seizes a Super Bowl win, the media and the NFL are there waiting to accuse the Patriots of cheating, instead of recognizing a team that has earned its success.

A few years ago during the Patriots’ impressive 16-0 undefeated regular-season run, the 2007 New England Patriots videotaping controversy, widely dubbed “Spygate” by many a clever ESPN writer, the NFL disciplined the team for videotaping the New York Jets’ signals during a September 9 game. Granted, the Patriots were caught red-handed and deserved to be penalized for the faux-pas, but unfortunately their reputation has followed them eight years later.

Due to Brady and Belicheck’s association with Spygate, the Patriots would never be trusted again, as evidenced by Deflategate.

Aside from scandals and cheating, though, the Patriots couldn’t even elicit credit for defeating the Seahawks. An undrafted corner makes a Super Bowl-winning interception in the end zone as time expired to slam the door on Seattle’s second straight Super Bowl win. What a great story! But what does everyone decide to emphasize and accredit the win to? Bad play calling on Pete Carroll’s part. Are you kidding me? So hypothetically if Carroll had decided to run the ball four times, and the Patriots stopped “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch, would critics have argued that Russel Wilson should have thrown the ball?

Saying Carrol’s play calling might arguably be the worst call in Super Bowl history is absurd, and not the reason why Seattle lost. Sunday night’s game-deciding interception was a bang-bang play that could have went either way. It was a fitting end to a frenzied, gripping game, and to justify the end result,the Seahawks didn’t hand the Pats the game. New England won it. Butler and the Patriots did happen to get lucky, but sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Here’s the point I’m trying to make, though.

I realize some people will always hate the Patriots. I realize people will always think them cheaters. But can’t fans just give New England one night of congratulations? Can’t fans shake the hand of the better man just this once instead of throwing biased, unwarranted jabs? I know chivalry is dead for sore losers, but can’t the rest of the world tip their hats to a job well done?

Without a doubt,Brady and Belichick solidified their legacy Sunday night, and I implore the general public to recognize how special their year was. Because at the end of the day, haters hate, but winners win championship. Last I checked the Patriots have four. How many do you have?