Editorial: Sending the wrong signal

The Patriot Ledger

Many of today’s New England Patriots’ fans are too young or too new to the bandwagon to remember the days when the team was a laughingstock.

But this latest caper involving Bill Belichick and his attempt to steal an opponents’ signals hurts more and will linger longer with Patriots Nation than anything Billy Sullivan’s or Victor Kiam’s teams ever did.

Since Sullivan bought the franchise with a borrowed $25,000, it seemed the team should have had Joe Bfstplk, the old comic strip character with the cloud over his head, as the mascot instead of Pat Patriot.

For decades, the Patriots and their fans were viewed as buffoons, from a 1961 game when an unidentified fan in a trenchcoat knocked down a potential game-winning catch against the Pats to The Great Flush at the old Schaefer Stadium when team employees, sportswriters and vendors all flushed toilets at the same time just before the opening game to show the system could stand up to thousands of beer-guzzling fans.

There have been ugly incidents such as the sexual harassment of a female sportswriter and the revelations of rampant drug abuse on the team in the wake of their first NFL championship appearance, a near-historic drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX.

Oldtimers remember when Clive Rush was introduced as coach, stepped up to the microphone... and nearly got electrocuted.

There have been just plain bad teams, like the ones that finished low enough to garner number one draft picks such as Jim Plunkett, John Hannah, Irving Fryar and Drew Bledsoe.

But since Robert Kraft, who was one of us in the stands, bought the team in 1994, the old image of the Patsies has faded away, replaced by a new view, one envied around the country because of championships and the way the team conducted itself.

There have been some chinks in the Flying Elvii armor of late, both on and off the field. But like the Patriots games of old, we could recover from them.

That, though, has ended with this latest folderol. This latest storm has the capacity to taint all those wins and all those Lombardi trophies not just in the eyes of the jealous fandom elsewhere but right here among the local faithful.

We held this team up to our youth, pointing to their collective decision to be introduced as a team rather than individuals at the Super Bowl.

We were different, we won championships without mortgaging the future and without selfish players, just the best.

Well, it turns out we are no different. Whatever the competitive advantage videotaping an opponent does or doesn’t give you is irrelevant. Many of us longtime Pats fans feel worse today than anytime before when we were laughed at for wearing our colors.

Belichick will pay his $500,000 fine and the team will rebound from the loss of one of their two first round draft picks.

When Belichick issued his mea culpa, Wednesday, he apologized ‘‘most of all (to) ownership, staff and players.’’

Fans weren’t mentioned in his statement although he gave us passing mention in his response to the penalty Thursday night. Sometimes owners, coaches and players forget they don’t play their games in empty stadiums or vacuums. They have a job because we care. And we cared about this team because we thought they were special.

They aren’t and we feel betrayed - because we were betrayed.