By Tony Massarotti

Was born in Boston, grew up there, schooled there, still work there. And I’ve come to the simple conclusion that America hates the Patriots.

And I can’t say that I blame you.

Within hours of New England’s 45-7 dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game, reports began to surface that Patriots tampered with the footballs, deflating them below league standards so as to basically improve ball security. Now we have a report from Chris Mortensen of ESPN that 11 of the 12 footballs provided by the Patriots were indeed under-inflated by two pounds per square inch, though the NFL has made no official announcement regarding its “investigation.”

Me? I believe it. You almost certainly do, too. Whether such an act can truly impact the outcome of a game is highly debatable, but that’s not the point. Once again, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has opened the door for scrutiny, and it’s scrutiny he will get.

Beli-cheat. That’s what political animal Don Shula called Belichick roughly a week ago. Then Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh accused Belichick and the Patriots of “deception” during and following a divisional game in which the Patriots used just four true linemen. Now comes accusations of ball manipulation, adding further fuel to the notion that Belichick will set up camp in the gray areas, threatening or downright breaking the spirit of any rule, to simultaneously claim victory and thumb his nose at the establishment.

Meanwhile, the Patriots have filed tampering charges against the New York Jets and owner Woody Johnson for admittedly foolish and ultimately harmless comments about Darrelle Revis weeks ago.

Tampering? Please. Tampering rules are one of the biggest jokes in professional sports. Everybody tampers. Whether they do so as blatantly and openly as Woody did is another matter entirely, but then, that’s why Woody is Woody.

Of course, Belichick is also Belichick, and one of the true clichés about him is that if Belichick were not a football coach, he’d be a lacrosse coach. This is wrong. If Belichick were not a football coach, what he would be is a lawyer – and he’d be a darned good one, too. Again, finding the gray areas is only one of Belichick’s great gifts. Another is exploiting them as if he were carrying out some sort of vendetta.

So what’s the guy’s problem? You’ve got me. Because we all know that Belichick doesn’t need to do many of the things he does, particularly while possessing the first quarterback in history to take his team to six Super Bowls.

In defense of the Patriots and their fans, let’s not minimize the impact of New England’s success on the team’s image. When one person or entity gains a little too much power, there is inevitably a backlash. It happened to commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL earlier this season – justifiably so – and it is happening to Belichick and the Patriots again now. The transgressions of the Patriots and their coach, however large or small, always seem to boil when New England reaches another Super Bowl, which is hardly a coincidence. Since Belichick and Tom Brady became one during the 2001 season, New England has won more regular season games, postseason games and championships than any team in football. In a league that boasts of parity, the Patriots have damn near had a dictatorship, with murals of You Know Who all but decorating every stadium in America on Sunday afternoons.

Admit it: you’re sick of him. Belichick doesn’t smile a lot, often speaks as if he holds most everyone and everything in contempt, seems to take more pleasure in others losing than in his own winning. In this country and in this world, we place a great deal of emphasis on image. Belichick isn’t exactly loaded with charisma.

But before you do deem him to be dastardly, overrated or downright corrupted, stop and admit this: he is a great, great football coach, maybe the greatest ever. Let’s not cross wires. If Belichick were a free agent tomorrow and expressed a willingness to coach for the next 5-10 years, all 31 remaining teams would be lining up to hire him. The ones that didn’t – or claimed they had no interest – would do so for one of three reasons.

Either they couldn’t afford him.

Or they’re lying.

Or they’re the Jets.

To this point, of course, we have resisted what most New Englanders regard as the dreaded “S” word – Spygate – a scandal now at least partly synonymous with Belichick’s career. His critics are all too eager to remind everyone that Belichick has not won a Super Bowl since. Maybe that is coincidence. Maybe it isn’t. What is indisputable is the damage it has done to Belichick’s legacy, even now, more than seven years later. Which is why, at the time, Patriots owner Robert Kraft essentially came to a rather paradoxical conclusion when Belichick told him that videotaping the opposing sideline was of marginal benefit.

For an absurdly smart man, Bill Belichick does some awfully peculiar things that are downright stupid.

***

Tony Massarotti covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, and now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.

Tony Massarotti

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