In some circles of thought, he is Iago, Patrick Bateman, and C. Montgomery Burns all wrapped together in one disheveled, hooded package.
He is the Evil Genius, the cheating coach, singled out for his shady tactics in a league satiated with similar approaches employed by every other staff on the field.
But Bill Belichick is ultimately different than the rest not only because of his proven superior gamesmanship and preparedness, but because he got caught. His name was dragged through the sludge. The legitimacy of the Patriots’ past glories came into question. Fines were paid, and a draft pick was lost, as the New England franchise fought to keep its reputation as the model for excellence.
And now, they're just considered the greatest team in NFL history.
As silly as the hubbub surrounding everything Spygate seems almost five months later, it hasn’t been forgotten on the national front, where the Patriots are seemingly viewed not so much as a team of destiny, but one of malevolence. Whether it be their gruff leader, a star wide receiver with a questionable past, a quarterback who spends his downtime hanging out with the world’s most popular supermodel, an increasing notion that certain members play dirty at the line of scrimmage, or just a general avariciousness for the continued success of all things athletic within Massachusetts state lines, there is a trendy hatred for the AFC champs.
The good vs. evil struggle percolated mostly prior to the Patriots’ November showdown in Indianapolis against the defending Super Bowl champs, Belichick and Colts head coach Tony Dungy depicted as the devil and angel, respectively, on numerous national sports sites. Yes, it was all pretty dumb (and as the Providence Journal’s Shalize Manza Young proposed prior to that contest, what about Colts president Bill Polian advocating his players break Doug Flutie’s legs in 2005 -- where does that fit in the angelic analysis of Indianapolis?) but the story line became prevalent: The Patriots, an All-Star football team, caught in the crosshairs of controversy, were suddenly on a mission for history. They are the best the NFL has to offer, and when you’re the best, you’re an obvious target.
That’s why, all of a sudden, it is the Giants -- a major market team out of Gotham, mind you, being seen as the loveable underdogs in next week’s Super Bowl. “New York, suddenly considered cute and lovable?” asks Newsday’s Shaun Powell.
Strangely, yes. They are the last hope, the final beacon of optimism for a nation of Patriot-haters, who think the best thing for the NFL is to watch a contest of comeuppance.
And if they win, well, that’s cool too.
"It's a weird thing," Edward Hirt, an Indiana University psychology professor who has studied fan behavior, told Time Magazine. "Fans' emotions are often conflicted, which is even surprising to themselves. The Pats offer a kind of win-win situation. You can root against them, but you kind of wouldn't mind seeing a perfect season. And if they lose, you'll enjoy seeing them get their comeuppance."
There’s a reason why “Empire” is generally regarded as the best of the “Star Wars” trilogy: The bad guys win. Certainly that might not be the best assessment of a culture striving for a sunny disposition, but sometimes we need reminders in a pop culture environment that always takes the easy way out. Rainbows, gumdrops, and teddy bears only go so far.
When evil triumphs in storytelling, it gives us a stronger sense of hope in a sort of backdoor way. It might not be immediate gratification, but the sense that good will eventually triumph drives us with interest even deeper. Would you rather spend your entertainment time watching “Lost,” where the questionable actions of the Others have a stranglehold on the way of life, or your average family sitcom, where resolution takes no more time than a typical oil change?
Good is what we strive for in life, but evil is a reality. An overflow of one of the other in the ways in which we spend our amusement dollars leads to something about as compelling as the plot of a coloring book. This is why the NFL couldn’t be more pleased with what the morality play that has transpired with these Patriots, punishment and all. Spygate was the best thing that could have possibly happened to Roger Goodell.
And it didn’t exactly hurt the Patriots, either.
Writes Foxsports.com’s Mark Krieger:
Do you really think New England would still be undefeated if not for Spygate? Among the episode's unintended consequences was the forging of the team's identity. It crystallized the coach's paranoid vision. It justified the Belichickian mantras: Us against Them, Trust No One, They All Hate Us. Football is not a game to be played dispassionately. You can't have too much motivation. Whenever one of the Pats talk about being called a cheater, you know somebody on the other side of the ball is about to get his ass kicked.
So with the Super Bowl approaching, it's worth noting that the New York Giants again find themselves at a major disadvantage. As it pertains to incentive, the Patriots had Spygate.
What do the Giants have?
Perception is everything, which certainly doesn’t make the Pats diabolical in a realistic realm. But that hasn’t stopped the tag from becoming a story line in a Super Bowl prep that is littered with plenty. Even some of their own fans have hopped on the bandwagon. Consider Evil Patriots.com, started by a fan of New England who revels in the sinister view of the team, complete with a “Temperature of the Nation” thermometer that forecasts the level of national hatred for the Patriots (currently having soared past the ’72 Dolphins, just above I %$#^ Hate You, and on its way to Furious Jealousy).
Oh, remember when they were just the plucky upstarts, led by Boy Wonder Tom Brady, whose Super Bowl debut was one for the annals. That was fun for New England sports fans.
This is fun too, quite obviously, because while the David vs. Goliath storyline is persuasive for the immediate moment, nothing grabs our attention like a Good vs. Evil strife because it is the very center of what every legend is based upon.
One week from Sunday, the Patriots set out to complete the script to their own.