Photo by Beth
Folks, it is on.
The irony of writing an article entitled "A few reasons we should let the spy game die" for ESPN.com was apparently lost on Michael Smith, but I am glad it was, because his was probably the sanest approach to the whole subplot this season I've read yet.
However, there was one idea of his with which I had to at least partially disagree:
If the Patriots' motivation for crushing the opposition this year has been revenge for the spying incident and any questioning of their legitimacy as past champions, then they're really twisted.
I think not.
Think about how backward the idea is: The head coach cheats, gets caught, people openly wonder just how much of an advantage they've gained over the years by said cheating, and -- the Patriots supposedly believe their critics are out of line?
No. I'd much rather believe the Patriots are sincere when they say their motivation comes from within and is not a reaction to what's said or written about them.
He's probably right when it comes to the players themselves. I often wonder what it must be like inside the inner sanctum of Gillette Stadium, a world that must be so gloriously free from the babblings of Cris Collinsworth and Dan Shaughnessy and Ron Borges, a world beyond the reach of WEEI and Pardon the Interruption, a world where, as Smith put it, the focus is on "an actual football game and not spy games."
But who knows whether that applies to the coaching staff. More than any other sport, the cults of personality and the personalities of franchises are shaped in football by the head coach, and by extension his coaching staff. You need look no further than the effect of Bill Parcells on the various franchises he's lead over the years, or the reaction in Atlanta to the sudden departure of its head coach last week, for evidence of that. Also, when it comes to football head coaches, emotions, pride, arrogance, ignorance and the-principle-of-the-thing come into play more often than we (and certainly Smith) would like to admit. If the coach is at the center of a team's competitive engine, it only makes sense if he runs a little hot. He's got to fuel the motivations of everyone else under his stewardship.
So do I believe that the Patriots "can't be that petty" when it comes to the question of how they'll approach this game with the Jets Sunday in light of Spygate? Absolutely not. I believe that there are many, many factors contributing to what is sure to be a different flavor of competition in Foxboro this Sunday than we've ever seen before, but I do believe that one of them is the aspersions cast by Spygate on the accomplishments of the Patriots, especially where Bill Belichick is concerned. If you think he won't be fueled by or conscious of the history between himself and the Jets' franchise and head coach in preparing for this game--even if the particular decisions he makes in executing his plan have more to do with the cerebral facts of the game than the underlying emotions--you're just crazy.
Add to that the rest of the icy history between the two teams, literally and figuratively, the fact that the Patriots' 12th man will have Spygate in his sights throughout the game, and the fact that it's theoretically possible that if this game goes the Patriots' way, it could bring Brady and / or Moss close to passing, catching and touchdown records...and you can be sure Big Bill is planning to take the Boy out to the woodshed this weekend.
There's a difference between bulletin-board material and actual strategy, of course, but absolutely no way can this game can be played in the kind of vacuum Smith seems to be envisioning. Especially when it comes to the stinging pride of a riled-up Patriots fan base, ESPN and its counterparts have helped to make that impossible.