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Rich Hofmann | Perfect team to root for


BASED UPON a careful analysis of current e-mail traffic, as well as an assiduous tabulation of radio talk-show callers' comments, approximately 90 percent of the complaints concerning a certain Philadelphia football team fit into one of three areas: that the people who run things are stupid, or they are cheap, or that they care less about winning than the fans do.

And you thought Andy Reid's playbook was predictable.

There is another e-mail truth, too: that people hate the New England Patriots. Write something nice about them, even just a sentence or two, and you get a bunch of missives calling them cheaters. Write something about how their cheating was nothing more than a technologically sophisticated way of doing what every team in the league already does, and you get hundreds of e-mails saying you are an apologist for a guy you have never even met.

But the Pats are 13-0 and on the way to the NFL's first undefeated season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. This week, the 3-10 New York Jets visit beautiful Foxborough for a game that puts the grrrr in grudge match, and does it in a way that we may never have seen before.

Everybody knows the details: that in the season opener, it was the Jets who told the NFL about the Patriots' illegal use of a camera to record opponents' defensive signals (as opposed to just doing it with the naked eye or binoculars, as every other team does); and that the Jets are coached by Eric Mangini, a former assistant to Pats coach Bill Belichick.

(And, really, I am not an apologist for Belichick. I don't know the man. I still have to Google the spelling of his name every time I write it. Really.)

Belichick was fined $500,000 by the NFL and the Pats were fined $250,000 and lost a first-round draft choice, and even more than those very big penalties, the whole thing was mucho embarrassing for a franchise that has won three Super Bowls. The Pats' response has been scorched earth.

People hate them because they ran up a couple of scores, and because Belichick is so publicly dismissive of everything and everybody. It is a real, visceral dislike. Again, based upon a scientific study, it seems as if nobody who lives south of New Haven - or nobody who has ever eaten in a Shula's Steakhouse - is rooting for the Patriots to go undefeated this season.

Which is crazy. You should not just be marveling at what the Patriots are doing - you should be praying for the Pats to go undefeated and win the whole thing, and that's especially true if you are one of the they're stupid/they're cheap/they don't care people who seem to have gotten hold of my e-mail address.

Because the Pats this year were not the stand Pats. For years, they had been the Eagles' philosophical twin: growing the quarterback at home, emphasizing the draft, managing the salary cap, unwilling to overpay for veteran players, willing to say goodbye, de-emphasizing certain positions (like wide receiver). And they won three Super Bowls.

But the change came this year. They sensed a problem and acted boldly with the fantasy-football fantasy of bringing in Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donté Stallworth to remake their wide-receiver position overnight with three high-profile names. They also spent a bunch of money on a linebacker, Adalius Thomas.

This is stuff that the Pats had never done, and that the Eagles had done only once (with the signings of Terrell Owens and Jevon Kearse in 2004). It was the bold stroke, the all-in move, that an emotional fan craves.

When the Eagles went all-in, they got to the Super Bowl, lost, and saw it all blow up. And what if the same thing happens to the Pats?

The worst thing that could happen would be for the Patriots to stumble here, or to get tripped up later in the AFC Championship Game, or to lose the Super Bowl as a prohibitive favorite. Repeat: the worst thing.

Because if that were to happen, where would be the incentive for another owner to make those kinds of moves in the offseason, all bunched together? Where would be the push to make the bold stroke, to go all-in? If it doesn't work for New England, why would anyone else try?

I'm kind of rooting for the Patriots because I want to see history, and because I admire excellence, and because they are so different from the typical team in pro sports today, where everyone is trying to escape from a crud swamp of mediocrity.

But you should be rooting for the Pats for a different reason. Simply, if you want to see a bold stroke - in whatever sport, in whatever town, not just in Philadelphia, not just with the Eagles - you have to root for the best and the boldest to succeed.


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