|ERIC MANGINI The whistle-blower|
We wrote this story back in January when the Jets were coming to Foxborough for a playoff game.
It was Hate Bowl I. Rod Smith was going to give his XFL He Hate Me jersey to Eric Mangini. Bill Belichick and the Patriots were going to torch the Jets with the proverbial fire of 1,000 suns. The game would be played to the soundtrack of Dylan's "Positively 4th Street" ("What a drag it is to see you"). Patriot Place would be renamed Hate-Ashbury.
And all that was before Spygate.
Belichick and the Patriots had plenty of reasons to dislike Mangini and the Jets before the events of September. There had been tampering charges and claims that Mangini attempted to raid the New England coaching staff. A former president of the Jets once questioned Belichick's mental stability, and there always will be the perception the Jets cut a deal with Bill Parcells while the Tuna was getting the '96 Patriots ready for the first Super Bowl of the Kraft Era. Oh, and did anybody mention Curtis Martin? Pete Carroll still says letting Martin go to the Jets torpedoed his time as HC of the NEP.
So the Patriots hated the Jets. Belichick hated the Jets. Bob and Jonathan Kraft hated the Jets.
Then came the cheating scandal, which cost New England a first-round draft pick, $750,000 in fines, and considerable reputation.
Cooler heads insist that the NFL is the heavy. All teams were warned to cease the practice of videotaping opposing coaches' signals. The Patriots got caught by the league because Belichick was arrogant. That's the spin that gets the Jets off the hook.
No one is buying in New England. The Patriots think Mangini ratted them out - broke a coach's code of dishonor. Belichick and the Patriots blame the Jets for the sanctions and the embarrassment. They blame the Jets for tarnishing three Super Bowl trophies. Patriot-haters - and they are legion - forever are armed in the wake of Spygate. If you want to diminish what the Patriots have done (what they almost certainly will do between now and Feb. 3), all you have to do is say, "They got caught cheating. How do we know they didn't cheat their way to all those wins?"
And so a plane flies over Gillette on game day with a banner that equates New England's Super Bowl victories with Barry Bonds's home run record. ESPN's Tom Jackson laughs and says his little girl thought Sunday's matchup was "Cheaters against Stealers." The New York Post each day lists the Patriots on top of the AFC East with an unbeaten record and an asterisk - "caught cheating."
It is illogical and immature. And it has provided the fuel for the fury of New England's incredible 2007 run through NFL America.
The Jets are coming to Foxborough Sunday and the bill has come due. The Patriots are an angry Garden mob and the Jets are Ulf Samuelsson. The Patriots are Roger Clemens and the Jets are Dan Duquette.
In 1967, heavyweight contender Ernie Terrell refused to acknowledge Muhammad Ali's new name. The challenger insisted on calling the champ "Cassius Clay," and when they met in the ring at the Astrodome, Ali brutalized Terrell, all the while taunting him with, "What's my name?"
Sports Illustrated's Tex Maule called it "a barbarous display of cruelty." Sports columnist Jerry Izenberg told author Thomas Hauser, "Ali went out there to make it painful and embarrassing and humiliating for Ernie Terrell. It was a vicious, ugly, horrible fight."
Which is exactly what we are expecting Sunday. The Patriots already have won games by scores of 52-7 and 56-10 this year. They beat the Jets, 38-14, in the season opener, and that was before they knew how much they hated the New Yorkers. New England in 2007 is renowned for leaving starters on the field, going for it on fourth down in fourth-quarter routs, and staying in shotgun formation with a four-touchdown lead.
A local sports radio caller suggested that Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point night in Hershey, Pa., might be revisited. TV talking head Cris Collinsworth said an NBA scoreboard is being erected at Gillette for Sunday's joust. The Patriots opened in Vegas as 27-point favorites.
John Updike famously wrote that a home run cannot be produced at will. What about a humiliating rout? We know the Patriots are going for it. Will the Jets allow it? Will the elements allow it?
The Bears beat the Redskins, 73-0, in the 1940 NFL Championship game. The Rangers beat the Orioles, 30-3, last summer. Georgia Tech beat Cumberland, 222-0, in a college football game in 1916 - before videotaping was invented.
Now we go to Foxborough, anticipating a revenge-driven annihilation of the Jets.
Pay no attention to the hollow words spoken between now and Sunday afternoon. The Patriots and their coach will do their best to paint this as just another game, blah, blah, blah . . .
No way. This time it's personal.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.