Throughout Deflategate some devout Patriots fans have cited a simple rallying cry that also is a reassuring lullaby — They Hate Us Cause They Ain't Us.
It's a tidy, T-shirt-ready, self-aggrandizing phrase that explains away any possible culpability the Patriots or quarterback Tom Brady might have in the deflated football imbroglio by pointing to the team's four Lombardi Trophies and 14 consecutive winning seasons. It's a slick motto that taps into the persecution-industrial complex of the Patriots and the paranoia of a vocal segment of their fanbase. It's a comforting notion that any tarnish or schadenfreude stemming from the Wells Report is really just old-fashioned jealously getting a Maybelline makeover.
If only it were true. Winning is not the only reason the Patriots inspire enmity from fans and commentators from other corners of the country. If that were the case, then every team that has enjoyed sustained success would be regarded with the same hostility. The San Antonio Spurs and St. Louis Cardinals would be regarded with the same disdain as the Patriots.
It's not just that the Patriots win. It's the belief that there is an element of unfair or untoward behavior attached to it. The Patriots have been tagged with the reputation — partly due to a self-inflicted wound (Spygate) and partly due to the lust for the blood of coach Bill Belichick that exists in the NFL — of being perpetual boundary pushers.
Spygate is ancient history here, much ado about filming from the wrong location. But its stain has set outside of Patriots Nation, and Deflategate has only shed an ultraviolet light on it.
It's a given in sports that sustained winning fosters envy and ennui. That's why teams such as the Celtics, the New York Yankees, the Montreal Canadiens, and Notre Dame college football are both revered and reviled.
But winning usually inspires just as many fans, if not more, to join your cause than it swells the ranks of those who root against you. The haters and the homers should be balanced.
If winning alone breeds contempt and league witch-hunts, why hasn't this happened to some of the Patriots pro sports contemporaries?
Since 1999, the Spurs have won five NBA titles, advanced to six NBA Finals, and played in nine conference finals. Like the Patriots, they have a brilliant, yet brusque coach who slaps down media members, Gregg Popovich. The Spurs are regarded as a franchise above reproach in the NBA.
Since 2000, the St. Louis Cardinals have been in the playoffs 11 times. They have played in nine National League Championship Series and four World Series, winning two championships. Where is the national animus for the Sons of Stan Musial?
If you say the Cardinals haven't won enough, then what about the San Francisco Giants, winners of three World Series in the last five seasons. The biggest criticism of the Giants is that they're manila envelope dull.
If you believe the contempt for the Patriots is bigger because the NFL sparks more passion and debate than the other sports, then why didn't this level of national distaste exist for the dynastic Bill Walsh-Joe Montana/Steve Young San Francisco 49ers? That team had a stretch of 16 consecutive winning seasons (1983 to 1998) and won five Super Bowls between the 1981 to 1994 seasons.
Face it, the Patriots exhibit an organizational arrogance that provides fodder for their detractors.
It's filming signals from an unauthorized location a year after the league sent out a memo warning all teams not to do so. It's arriving to the Super Bowl and immediately calling out the league and demanding an apology for the Deflategate investigation. It's resorting to the intricacies of jurisprudence instead of producing alleged deflator Jim McNally for a second interview with NFL investigator Ted Wells.
Patriots fans have a right to be angry about the pitchforks pointed at their team. The $1 million fine and docking of two draft picks, including a first-rounder by the NFL is an abuse of punitive power. It's absurd that Brady got a four-game suspension. It's a joke that he is being compared to epic con artists like Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong over such a trifling transgression.
However, if this were happening to Brady's quarterback contemporary, Peyton Manning, the reaction here would be similar to what it is for Brady in other NFL markets. That's the inconvenient truth.
Text messages between ball-handling lackeys would be more than enough to tarnish Manning's sterling legacy. The weight-loss explanation for one of Manning's attendants referring to himself as the Deflator would be ridiculed. There would be no cries for the NFL's capricious system of justice to be exposed in a court of law.
Manning would be mocked and derided, like he usually is, by Patriots fans.
Sports talk radio callers would be advocating that Manning's season records for touchdown passes and passing yards sport scarlet asterisks. It would be obvious that Manning's 55 TD pass season in 2013 — breaking Brady's record of 50 — was the byproduct of deflated footballs.
Patriotologists would be preaching Manning was obviously guilty because after numerous surgeries to his neck to correct a herniated disk he needed to find a way to grip the football with the force he had before the nerve damage.
It would seem a little odd that Manning had not declared his innocence publicly more than three weeks after the Wells Report was released.
The under-inflated football inquisition of Manning from the Foxborough Faithful would be in full effect, even though it would still be the same venial offense it is for Their Guy.
So, applying the objectivity test, the defending of the Patriots honor against the Patriots haters isn't really about justice being served or about the NFL's incompetence being exposed.
It's about allegiance and laundry logic.
People don't hate the Patriots simply because they win too much.
They hate them because they don't trust them.