I am genetically unable to feel anything but antipathy for all Boston-related sports teams. Growing up in New York, the Celtics broke my heart every season with their Larry Bird–era greatness, and the sad-sack Red Sox were like that relative who overstays their welcome, sits on your couch, loses the remote, and never shuts the hell up. The New England Patriots were a merciful afterthought. Not only did they spend the 1980s and early 1990s ranging from middling to awful—save one Super Bowl appearance when they were blown out by the Bears—but they were easily the fourth-most-popular team in their own town (Maybe even fifth, after Harvard crew). That is why the ascension of the dynastic Belichick-Brady Patriots over the last—Jesus—13 years and counting has been like a spreading rash. Boston sports fans have discovered football, and now they have something else to yip about other than Sox spring training or that magical night they played darts with Matt Damon (half of Boston seems to have played darts with Matt Damon).
It is not just that the Patriots have been so successful, it is how they’ve done it. If you are a fan, you see head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady as more intense, more prepared, and more—whatever—gritty than the competition. The rest of the country has long seen them, to quote Charlie Murphy on Rick James, as “habitual line steppers,” people who skirt the rules to win. The Internet— using the rapier Dorothy Parker wit for which it has become known, long ago—dubbed them the “Cheatriots.” That is why so many people outside the Boston region howled for blood when Chris Mortensen at ESPN reported that “11 of the 12 balls” used in the AFC championship game against the Colts were deflated, giving them a nefarious advantage in their 45-7 win. (We now know that report was a lie.) Hell, I went on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes and said the Patriots should give their Super Bowl trophy to Seattle and the Seahawks should stage a parade down Broadway.
At the center of this ball-deflation scandal was not Belichick but Tom Brady, he of the life so charmed and chin so cleft, that one wondered when his deal with the devil—the real devil, not Belichick—was made. That is why when Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association emerged victorious in court against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday, his four-game suspension voided, many outside New England felt conflicted. No one likes Roger Goodell (literally no one) but I also heard from friends who really wanted Brady and the Patriots to finally pay a price. Chis Hayes asked me, “I don’t know how to feel about this because I am pro-labor, but… it’s Brady!”
This preamble is all to say that, as someone who cosigns every criticism of Brady, his team, and the sports fandom in the region they call home, I think today we should all rejoice. Judge Richard Berman’s decision spanked not only Roger Goodell but the very idea that being a boss somehow exempts you from the established norms of industrial-labor law. In the words of The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, Judge Berman “turned Roger Goodell’s desk over and spilled its embarrassingly sparse contents onto the floor. Goodell’s imperious conduct, faulty reasoning and vanity-driven clutching at authority in the Tom Brady case were all exposed in a 40-page decision of measured legal language. Lesson to first-year law students: Collective bargaining agreements don’t give an NFL commissioner the right to act like a petty prince.”