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Buckley: Calling false alarm on Patriots garb-burner protests

October 2, 2017

FOXBORO — A week earlier, it was Brandin Cooks who made the big play of the game, catching the touchdown pass that carried the Patriots to victory over the Houston Texans.

He followed up the big catch by delivering some very big words as he referenced his uncle and late father, both former U.S. Marines, in explaining why he didn’t stand for the national anthem.

It was different yesterday. Much different.

Instead of 16 Patriots players taking a knee prior to their team’s Gillette Stadium showdown against the Carolina Panthers, players stood with their right hand on their hearts, and with their left hand on a teammate’s shoulder.

But there was no game-winning touchdown by Cooks. There was no game-winning anything for the too-often-confused Patriots, as the Panthers emerged with a 33-30 victory on Graham Gano’s last-second 48-yard field goal.

And while Cooks did not deliver any very personal, deeply felt oratory about his father, about his uncle, or about what it means to stage a protest and still love your country, he did say: “We always have respect for the flag.”

Happy now, all you patriotic Patriots fans who last week tossed your official team garb into a fire pit to protest the protest?

Or is it really, really over between you and the Patriots?

Look, it would be hypocritical for anyone to push these folks up against a wall and tell them they can’t burn their officially licensed Patriots Pro Shop finery. But it’s fair to pose a question: Is this I’m-never-going-to-watch-them-again a forever breakup, or was it just a one-week statement?

If that’s all it was — a statement — that’s fine. It was quick, it was symbolic and, what the heck, it brought that guy from Swansea the kind of television exposure a politician would kill to get.

But if it’s permanent? That is, if the garb-burners plan never again to support their local National Football League franchise?

Good luck with that.

I write these words as someone who believes the National Football League is too big for its own good, that its obsession with being in our faces 24/7/365 is going to be its undoing in the years to come.

But in no way are we there yet. And if/when the day arrives when people do tune out, it won’t be because a collection of players on your favorite team chose to take a knee while a popular local crooner was performing the national anthem.

In other words, this is for you, all you true blue white folks who are very, very upset at the angry black men in shoulder pads: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Either do what the players had the guts to do — make a statement, and then make another statement — or enjoy living out your days in gridiron exile.

You garb-burners may have gotten some attention, but it’s not like it’s a movement. Gillette Stadium was packed yesterday. Either the 65,878 people in attendance never got the email about burning up their stuff, or they felt they had made their point and went out and bought new stuff.

And if the garb-burners haven’t destroyed their “In Bill We Trust” T-shirts, they might be interested in knowing that Bill Belichick, while not quite ready to take part in a sit-in on Boston Common, has not condemned, criticized or “fired” any of the 16 players who took a knee before the Houston game.

It’s true Belichick maintains he wrote that dopey letter that then-candidate Donald Trump read at a pre-Election Day rally in New Hampshire, and Coach Bill hasn’t criticized the president for calling players who protest the anthem “sons of bitches,” but his carefully chosen words suggest a man who is picking his battles.

“As a team, we do what we felt was best, so that’s what we did,” Belichick said after yesterday’s game, this in response to how the Patriots came up with their decision to send out a “unified message.”

So whattup, garb-burners, you gonna toss those “In Bill We Trust” T-shirts in the fire pit or what?

Nor has iconic Patriots quarterback Tom Brady criticized or condemned the 16 players. He didn’t do it last week, and after yesterday’s game he said, “I thought it was very well thought out and we responded that way.”

This from a man who went on WEEI last week and called the president’s comments “divisive.”

Anyone out there burning No. 12 shirts?