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May 18, 2015

Deflategate proves best part of New England is leaving it

As someone who lived the first 32 years of his life in New England, I know from experience what an uncomfortable place it is for a sports fan who knows the difference between right and wrong. The worship of heroes is maddening. The blind devotion is overpowering. A Boston TV analyst last week compared fans there to Scientologists.

Against that backdrop, I offer this personal response to the outrageous and embarrassing behavior of the football team that resides there, and the zealots who support it. What happened last week was appalling to most American sports fans, and even more so to people like me who were fortunate to escape New England with their souls intact.

It is hardly a secret that the Patriots are the most arrogant organization in sports, with their braggart owner Robert Kraft, their condescending coach Bill Belichick and their disingenuous quarterback Tom Brady. These three men have won four Super Bowls so far, but none without cheating. And yet they stand together as the elite of their sport, in their own minds.

What non-New Englanders may not know is that the Patriots are empowered by a fan base that can see, hear and speak no evil. Kraft declared war on the NFL after Brady was suspended for four games last week because the fans wanted and expected him to do so. In fact, they demanded it.

Remember, these same Patriots robbed the Eagles, among others, of a fair chance to win a Super Bowl by illegally spying on opponents. That nasty Spygate episode in 2005 cost the Belichick and the Patriots $750,000 and a first-round draft pick, though New England fans will tell you, to this day, that their football heroes did nothing wrong.

Not that I needed any reminders, but the past week has reinforced my belief that I made the best decision of my professional life 32 years ago. I got the hell out of New England.

New England fans feel a sense of entitlement like no other region in America. Not only do they have no desire to deal with reality; they turn away when confronted with it. Why else did all of those fans in Salem, Mass. , cheer Brady on the very day he was branded a cheat? Why else did they clog social media with attacks against Brady’s critics?

And, in the saddest twist of all, why did they create a GoFundMe account to raise the money to help Kraft pay the $1 million fine? Let that sad truth sink in for a moment. Working people in New England are chipping in to cover the expenses of a man worth $4 billion. If that isn’t sick, what is?

When I was writing columns In New England more than three decades ago, I got to see first-hand the scope of this aversion to reality. One time, I quoted Larry Bird saying some ridiculous things, and was crushed by the public response. Even after I produced a tape verifying my reporting, the message was clear. Don’t mess with Larry Bird.

My approach to writing opinion then was not really any different than it is today. I took a critical approach, provided facts to support the premise and sheltered no sacred cows. My style of writing is pom-pom free. That’s the No. 1 reason I no longer live in New England.

As someone who has lived the past 32 years in and around Philadelphia, I also know from experience that none of our teams would ever receive the kind of blind allegiance the Patriots get from their fans. Eagles supporters would not cheer a cheat. They would not raise money for billionaires. And they would not encourage arrogance.

The reporter who compared Patriots fans to Scientologists, a brave soul from Comcast Sportsnet New England named Gary Tanguay, blamed Brady’s conceit on this latest episode of cheating by the Patriots. Brady knows he can do no wrong in New England, so he does whatever he wants — including the deflating of footballs and lying about it afterwards.

Patriots fans have enjoyed an embarrassment of riches in the past 14 years — four championships, the most heralded coach in sports, the most appealing player, an owner respected by all. But they remain far behind in the human race, where they lack the basic ability to differentiate good from evil, heroes from villains.

Not that I needed any reminders, but the past week has reinforced my belief that I made the best decision of my professional life 32 years ago. I got the hell out of New England.


All you need to know about the hiring of Dave Hakstol as the Flyers new head coach is that Al Morganti and Keith Jones – hockey analysts with over 40 years of experience between them – had no idea who the guy was when the news broke on my WIP radio show this morning.

Hakstol is a 46-year-old hockey lifer who has been hiding out at the University of North Dakota for the past 11 years, where he has developed 20 NHL players and won roughly two out of every three games. He appears confident despite no NHL pedigree of his own – perhaps the second coming of Mike Keenan, minus the snarl.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, Flyers GM Ron Hextall found Haxstol (these two names could get confusing) when Brett Hextall, Ron’s son, played at North Dakota. In other words, the intense search for successor to Craig Berube entailed Ron calling Brett and asking, “Hey, how was that guy who coached you in college?”

Hakstol may not be the sexiest name available, but he does represent another encouraging example of the culture change on the Flyers. The new coach is not a former Flyer, like Berube, nor is he a shopworn veteran who will run out of ideas in a year or two. He is truly new, as is the approach the Flyers finally appear to be taking.

After 40 years without a Stanley Cup, has chairman Ed Snider actually adopted a new philosophy in running his franchise? Is he allowing his GM to make the big decisions? Is Snider admitting his way has been the wrong way, for a very long time?

Yes, yes and yes. Times really are changing for the Flyers. Even if nobody has ever heard of the new coach.


The Phillies are in the midst of an aggressive rebuilding plan. Unfortunately, it is becoming clearer by the day that they have no idea how to execute it.

For example, the Phils sent Cody Asche back to Lehigh last week to learn a new position, left field. Asche has been in the organization for three years, and now, suddenly, he needs a new place to play. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said recently on my WIP radio show that Maikel Franco projects as a much better defender. Case closed.

What took so long for Amaro to make this obvious decision? Franco has been in the minor-league system for five years, Asche for three. Until this season, no one could see Franco’s advantage in talent over Asche at third base? Asche’s three errors in one game last year didn’t give it away? Franco’s powerful arm and soft hands were not good clues?

I had an exchange with Amaro last week that was one of the most awkward and revealing in two years of weekly interviews. It began when I asked if the Phillies were conflicted about honoring the icons of the recent past – Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, especially – by keeping them in the lineup while trying to develop new players to replace them.

“Yes,” Amaro said.

Is this difficult?


Actually, it is not difficult as all if a team truly is trying to rebuild. Every year, ex-stars are traded away or not re-signed to make way for the kids. Amaro and his front-office sentimentalists have not been willing to let go of the past, and – despite this deceiving five-game winning streak – they are paying the price.

Would the Phillies be better served right now with Cesar Hernandez at second base instead of Utley? Has Darin Ruf finally earned a chance to play first base every day, instead of Howard? Here’s the best question: Is there any chance Utley or Howard will be here when the Phillies are contender again?

The answers to all of those questions are obvious – to everyone except the people running the Phillies.

And finally . . . 

     • The NBA lottery is Tuesday night, and the excitement in Philadelphia is, well, non-existent. Where the Sixers pick in the draft, we have all learned by now, is not that big a deal. GM Sam Hinkie is going to draft the best available college player who is too injured to play for a while anyway.

     • Speaking of the Sixers, check out the stunning documentary, Iverson, currently playing on Showtime. You will fall in love with Iverson all over again, and you will recall with pride and sadness a time not so long ago when NBA basketball really mattered here.

     • Of all the insane developments in the past week of Deflategate, the nuttiest is the Patriots’ insistence that their two locker-room guys, John Jastremski and Jim McNally, did nothing wrong – absolutely nothing – and yet the team fired them anyway. The Patriots can’t even keep track of their own lies any more.

     • Tiger Woods has a problem, and I’m not talking about the declining state of his golf game. Last week, his three-year relationship with skier Lindsey Vonn ended amid rumors that Woods was cheating on her. If a man who has lost family and fame chasing women keeps chasing women, he definitely has a problem.

     • The Eagles signed all of their draft picks in record time this spring, raising the question: Who was in charge of doing those deals? Why, it was former GM Howie Roseman – the same Howie Roseman who was demoted four months ago. Life is funny sometimes, isn’t it?