[caption id="attachment_953" align="aligncenter" width="474"] The season is finally upon us. Tom Brady is free, but the witch hunt continues. And that's just fine with Patriots fans, says the author.[/caption] By Mackie, Smack Zone contributor Just a few days after Tom Brady’s suspension was overturned and sports fans nationwide returned to their cubicles following Labor Day weekend, Patriots fans looked to have won the battle against the NFL and the media. … Until shortly after, stories dropped from ESPN and Sports Illustrated with many anonymous sources claiming Spygate was much more elaborate than it was portrayed to be nearly eight years ago, and that it went much further than the illegal video recording of opponents’ play calls in about 40 games. The accusations included claims that since 2000, the Patriots had been cheating in ways that included going into visiting team hotel rooms to rummage through trash cans and sneaking into opponent locker rooms to steal play sheets in hopes of finding anything that would give them an extra edge. The ESPN article also claims that low-level Patriots employees would go into opponent locker rooms and steal game plan play sheets, and that the organization even went as far as to bug opponent locker rooms and/or coach’s boxes. Am I a Patriots fan? Yes. Am I saying that we’ve never done anything wrong and that the Patriots didn’t ever cheat? No, we got caught and we have paid the price after Spygate, from the league and publicly. Is Tom Brady guilty of “being generally aware or having an elaborate scheme” of deflating footballs before the AFC Championship game? Honestly, none of us can say for sure. But what I do know is this: The New England Patriots have already been labeled as cheaters by football fans worldwide since the Spygate scandal dropped in 2007. With the Deflategate controversy, the Patriots are still labeled as cheaters, regardless of the ruling. It’s safe to say this label won’t be changed in the minds of football fans anytime soon. I’m sure you’ve either said or heard statements such as “The Patriots are a bunch of cheaters, that’s why they win all the time, that’s why they beat us.” But how long do you want to beat that dead horse? It is dead. Stop beating the horse. Yes, the Patriots were caught and punished for recording the signals of opponents 8 years ago illegally on the sidelines, rather than the regularly practiced and legal recording of signals from the Press Box. They were punished for it eight years ago, and all the damage has already been done. Do we really want to reopen that wound by tossing anonymous accusations out from something that might or might not have happened anywhere from eight to 15 years ago? But then, if the movies have taught us anything, it’s that people don’t forget (NSFW, language): [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9tcA_AM4BE] Tomorrow night marks the beginning of the NFL regular season. It’s a shame that around the country, the main headline and topic of conversation isn’t about who the favorite team is to win the Super Bowl or each division, or how good everyone’s fantasy football team is looking. News media and fans around the country aren’t even focused on the fact that FOOTBALL IS FINALLY HERE or excited to see some football TOMORROW NIGHT. The funniest part of all this to me is that regardless of whether what the Patriots did was illegal or just frowned upon, whether they are considered cheaters or not cheaters, they were winning a mental game against the rest of the league by a longshot, while being able to concentrate on preparing for the game itself. Essentially, the other teams were so focused on the possibility and perception that the Patriots are cheaters that they were warped with paranoia that every time they faced off against the Patriots, New England would cheat in some way. It's a nationwide phenomenon, evidently: [caption id="attachment_954" align="aligncenter" width="474"] Source: ESPN Sportsnation.[/caption] Commissioner Goodell and the rest of the NFL now have the Patriots on a tight leash, and it’s safe to say their every movement will be watched from here on out. Still want to call them cheaters and use that as an excuse for their success in the future? Fine, I encourage that. You want to know why? Because it’s what fuels a Patriots fan's passion: dedication and loyalty to our team. We Patriots fans are willing to put it all out there and fight to the figurative death. Our beloved sports teams have been the heart and pride of New England for as long as I have been alive and for many decades before that, back to when Red Auerbach led the Celtics to several championships, and even long before that. We aren’t about to abandon this great tradition, regardless of what people who aren’t us think about how our teams do what they do. (Which is, by the way, win. A lot. Deal with it.) So please, keep on calling us cheaters. When it comes down to it, all it does is make us look forward to kicking your team’s ass that much more! Mackie is a lifelong New England sports fan from down the Cape.