By Bruce Allen
Let me first start by saying that this column was going to be written even if the Patriots had won on Sunday night. The only difference is that the column would’ve been entitled “The Most Miserable Perfect Season in History.”
On the field, this Patriots team was a fan’s dream. They were talented, charismatic and had an obvious flair for the dramatic. They had the highest scoring offense of all time, with the superstar quarterback and ridiculously gifted wide receiver each breaking high-profile NFL records in the process. They had a resourceful defense, which while aging, still had experience and guile unmatched by most units across the league.
Yet, in talking to a number of people, this was the least fun that they’ve had following football that they can ever remember.
What made it that way? Certainly not the games. The games – even the blowouts, were all marvelously entertaining.
It was the coverage of this team. Right from training camp, there was always something to pick at and criticize. Randy Moss didn’t play a single down in the preseason – there was talk that he just didn’t want to work. Some speculated that he wouldn’t even make the team out of training camp. How silly does that notion look now? Others stated that Tom Brady was going to be distracted because of his personal life, having just become a new father, and trying to keep up with his supermodel girlfriend who wasn’t the mother of the child would somehow effect his performance on the field. With all that has happened since that time, these issues might seem like ancient history, but during training camp, we got almost daily reminders of these stories.
It turned out that that was just the beginning. There was Spygate. Then the Patriots were winning by too much and the media complained endlessly that they were running up the scores, humiliating their opponents and that they had no class. Meanwhile, the wins were piling up, one after the other. Teams around the league suddenly figured out that by being the team that handed the Patriots their first loss, they would reap untold reams of media adulation. So they started making games against the Patriots their personal Super Bowl. Teams like the Eagles, Ravens and Jets put everything they could into their games against the Patriots, only to come up short. But since they made the games close, all of a sudden the media was knocking the Patriots because they weren’t winning by enough. Then they might not be able to play in the cold. Then they didn’t have a running game. Then Randy Moss ended up having a restraining order issued against him in Florida. The Patriots were a dirty team that took cheap shots at helpless opponents.
It seemed that almost every day this season there was some drama going on that took away from the football. From the first day of training camp to the last second of the Super Bowl, there the naysayers and finger-waggers were lined up, doing their best to be “objective” in their coverage.
The worst part was that you couldn’t get away from it if you tried.
I think if one word sums up the coverage of the Patriots this season, it is embarrassing.
This season marked a change in a number of ways in which the Patriots have been covered. For one, the Boston Herald went to much more of a tabloid/gossip style of reporting. Fitting because they are a tabloid. It wasn’t always this way. In the early years of the Tom Brady era, the Herald had the best coverage of the team, hands down, while the Globe assigned bitter old men like Nick Cafardo and Ron Borges to the Patriots beat. (To be fair, the Herald did saddle us with Kevin Mannix for many years.)
Even at the start of this season, things were as good as they’ve ever been in terms of beat reporter coverage. Albert Breer was contributing to the Herald through the MetroWest Daily News, and formed a solid 1-2 punch on the Herald’s The Point After blog. When the business relationship between the papers ended, and Breer headed to Dallas, the Herald started sending Karen Guregian to work with Tomase on the beat. While Guregian is a competent reporter, the coverage immediately suffered with the loss of Breer. The Herald started featuring the Patriots in the Inside Track as much as they did in the sports pages, and sensationalistic headlines atop meaningless and pointless articles started to become the norm. The Herald appears to be a New York Post wannabe these days, and that’s not a favorable comparison.
Meanwhile, at The Boston Globe, the day-to-day reporting is in the very capable hands of Mike Reiss and Chris Gasper. They do a tremendous job at bringing us the facts, and analyzing the facts. They stick to football for the most part, and when required to cover issues like Spygate, report in a neutral fashion, not injecting their own criticism or judgments. The problem with the Globe comes when Dan Shaughnessy or Jackie MacMullan sink their teeth into the Patriots. The former always has to defend his paper’s 17% ownership of the Red Sox by putting down the Patriots at the expense of the baseball club, while MacMullan has made a name among Patriots fans for her profiles of a player, agent or competitor with an axe to grind against the organization. The Globe/Boston.com has also been doing more of the gossip-style material on the web as well.
The other papers really weren’t the problem with the Patriots coverage this season. Radio and Television, as well as national websites and publications were what made this a really miserable season. Herr Gregg Easterbook took highly publicized weekly shots at the team in his ESPN.com Page2 column, accusing the Patriots of everything short of being an Al Qaeda splinter cell hell-bent on bringing the free world to its knees. Peter King demanded to know what was the tapes destroyed by the NFL, talked about the Patriots past accomplishments being tainted, and put words in the mouth of an opposing coach (Wade Phillips) about how what the Patriots had done was a “black mark” on the NFL. The other columnists on the national sites lined up to take their shots on seemingly a daily basis. From Bob Cook to John Czarnecki, Michael Silver, Mike Celizic and Dr Z. On TV, Merril Hoge, Marshall Faulk, Mike Ditka, Terrell Davis – they all did the same on the air. The list is endless. Now mind you, I understand that part of the price that you pay by being on top is that everyone wants to take you down. How fun or interesting is it for people just to praise you all the time anyway…but these articles were more than just that, they were personal. They were nasty, and they popped up almost every day.
On the local radio airwaves we had no shortage of the same type of thing. Dennis and Callahan, (WEEI) The Mike Felger Show, (890 ESPN) even the Patriots own pregame show on WBCN all pounded listeners regularly with stupid, pointless speculation and “concern” and moralizing. Very little actual between-the-lines football was discussed. Things were so bad this season that I felt the need to listen to WEEI’s Big Show to hear their incessant sucking up to the team just to get away from the negativity. Even the Patriots own website had Podcasts with the Patriots Football Weekly writers who made needlessly nasty insults about players and insinuated all sorts of things throughout the season.
On television we were treated to many of the same characters, saying all the exact same things on a nightly basis on outlets such as Comcast SportsNet, NESN and NECN. Sportscasters on the late-night news did all they could to tease you into watching their segments by promising the latest scoop on some worry of the day. What’s worse, during the biggest points of the season we were subjected to the regular news folk getting involved with the team, leading their newscasts with misleading, provocative lead-ins, and showing up at press conferences to demand answers from the coach. Those scenes had a very paparazzi-like feel to them. In fact, the whole season did, right down to the final weekend.
The day before the Super Bowl, John Tomase ran a piece citing a single unnamed source stating that an unnamed person taped the walk-through practice of the St Louis Rams prior to the 2002 Super Bowl. This unnamed source did not know what the unnamed cameraman did with the tape, nor if this mystery person did this under instruction or on their own. This story garnered outrage across the country, with even former St Louis quarterback Kurt Warner speaking out. However, it was also reported that a telescope was spotted out of a window observing the Patriots practice, but that fact somehow didn’t generate the same outrage. The fact that the Rams went through red-zone formations in the walk-through and then converted their only red-zone possession into a touchdown in the Super Bowl has also been lost in the chaos.
Tomase took a beating on the Boston Herald comments section for his story. It was brutal, with some readers even threatening him. (The Herald has since shut down comments on the blog.) For a little while I felt sorry for him and even considered sending him a note to hang in there. Then as I noted that the item had been picked up by ESPN, CNN, NPR and every other media outlet known by an acronym, I realized that he didn’t need support. He knew what the local reaction would be, and went with it anyway. A few years back when writing for the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, Tomase had written a piece on Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez, which was not well received by most fans. However, the article made a bigger name for Tomase, who got sports radio appearances out of it, and then eventually a promotion to the Herald, where he ended up on the Patriots beat.
This story could be another stepping-stone for Tomase, as the story received national attention. But really, that’s how it has been the entire season. One person after another, out to break the big story, to make a name for themselves. Congratulations to all who achieved this noble goal this season.
It’s amazing to me that all these outlets truly believe that the type of coverage that we saw this season is what the people really want. Yes, none of this was by accident. They really believe that they’re giving the public what they want.
What they did was almost ruin a fantastically entertaining season – a on-field season like none other in NFL history. Even though it ended in bitter disappointment, the accomplishments of the 2007 Patriots will be remembered for decades. Yet, apparently there wasn’t enough going on on the field to keep people busy. They made a circus out the season, sucking out any joy that could be had from watching this marvelous team. We had it all here in front of us, and too often, we had to look away because someone else wanted to make their own name in front of us. They made following this team a miserable experience at times.
Let’s get something straight here, these are not the ramblings of a person who believes that only good things should be said and written about the team. When they deserve the criticism…let ’em have it. They deserved criticism for the Spygate episode, but not the massive, belligerent splash-back that actually occurred. People act as though they got off scott-free from that incident, but in reality they received an unprecedented punishment in the history of team sports. This isn’t about legitimate criticism, it’s about the exaggerated dramas and made up “crisis-es” which result in breathless reports “from the scene” and the like.
When we have our Patriots Daily offseason meetings sometime in the next few weeks, I’m seriously considering proposing the idea that the site focus solely on the on-the-field product, and the transactions that affect that product. No more reacting to this media report or that idiot spouting off about tainted titles. Just football. We’d probably have a hard time accomplishing that, but think about it. How cool would it be to have a discussion site where everyone talked about what they say with their own eyes…not about what they heard some talking head mediot spout on his fifth radio appearance of the day. It would be an interesting experiment, I don’t know how far it would go, though.
I just wish I had been able to do it this season.