BOSTON — Several years ago, a member of the Patriots’ entertainment department captured a video recording of the football field while he was seated in the press box. Several Cincinnati Bengals staff members were seated behind him. One of those Cincinnati Bengals staff members made a very big deal out of it. The NFL decided to punish the Patriots for it, considering … the history. And then, essentially everyone in the world forgot about the incident.
Yet the moment referred to some as “Spygate 2.0” is getting a revival of sorts, thanks to the social media team of the Cincinnati Bengals.
To celebrate “International Cat Day” (a very real, extremely popular day, no doubt) on Monday, the Bengals compiled some pictures of cats set in environments that match the cities of the Bengals’ opponents this upcoming season. The Dallas cat was wearing a cowboy hat. Adorable. The Jets cat had flight goggles on its furry face. Classic — cats can’t fly planes!! The Miami cat was sipping a cool drink by the beach. The New Orleans cat was all dolled up for Mardi Gras. The Tennessee cat was playing some live music. The Kansas City cat was cooking up from hot barbecue. The Buffalo cat was bundled up for the cold. You get it. Cute, fun stuff. Delightful.
The cat representing New England, though? That cat was gnawing away at a camera.
Much like the videographer working in the press box to document a day in the life of an NFL advance scout, the actual team likely had nothing to do with this particular shot across the bow of Bill Belichick’s team. Regardless, as a wise man in a press box, The damage is done, my friend.
Of course, the existence of that “scandal” in and of itself is a relic from another time — a period when the NFL was gravely concerned with the dominance of the Patriots that measures to impose varying levels of parity were executed every few years. It was a necessary enforcement, really, for a team that routinely won more than a dozen games per year and essentially turned the AFC Championship Game into The Belichick/Brady Invitational. That’s why, even though footage showed the Patriots’ employee had merely filmed what everyone in the stadium could have seen, the NFL “investigated” the matter for more than half of a calendar year before stripping the team of a third-round pick and fining the team $1.1 million.
Alas, the glory days have since faded away. Those 2019 Patriots, after dismantling the Bengals following the rise of the “scandal,” lost their regular-season finale and then lost their home playoff game in the wild card round. Then they lost Tom Brady. Since then, they’ve lost quite a few more games — 16 to be exact, which is two more losses than the team suffered across the previous four seasons combined. Suffice it to say, the excessive punishments for the most minor of infractions are no longer required.
In those old days, a tweet like the one Monday from the Bengals would have almost certainly prompted a 100-3 Patriots victory in the eventual head-to-head meeting this upcoming season on Christmas Eve — a spirit-crushing, demoralizing beatdown that would leave no doubt on the Patriots’ intentions. Now, though, it’s not particularly clear on which level the Patriots will be sitting in Week 16, but it just might be a rung or two below the reigning AFC champs.
So for now, the Patriots and all of New England will just have to stomach the fact that the Bengals are using felines and SLRs to take unprompted shots at the local football team on social media, and there’s not much anybody can do about it. The damage has indeed been done, my friend.