BOSTON (AP) — Make no mistake: New England fans are pumped, not deflated.
As the NFL investigates how footballs got deflated during the AFC Championship game, and detractors accuse the team of cheating, very little air seems to have gone out of Patriots Nation and its Super Bowl euphoria.
Die-hard fans have been poking fun at the latest controversy swirling around the franchise. There are "Deflatriots" bumper stickers, "Deflaters Gonna Deflate" T-shirts and even "Deflategate" cookies shaped like saggy little footballs with icing laces.
"Much ado about nothing," said David Schultz, who works in IT in Boston.
"I think it's ridiculous. It's like they're going after Brady and Belichick," said David Ellis, a civil engineer from Falmouth.
Patriots fans are used to playing defense.
They're still fending off criticism of "Spygate" — revelations that New England videotaped the New York Jets' signals during a 2007 game. Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, and the team was fined $250,000 and stripped of its 2008 first-round draft choice by the league.
For several years, the Patriots have been the team the rest of America loves to hate, in part because of their success. Eight Super Bowl berths and three NFL titles (the last in 2004) will do that to a team.
Quarterback Tom Brady's good looks and supermodel wife probably don't help. Nor does Belichick's trademark scowl, worn on and off the field, with or without the hoodie. Those who revile New England accuse it of hypocrisy for using underinflated balls while preaching "the Patriot way" — Belichick's insistence that his players avoid trash talk and do their jobs.
Little wonder, then, that social media would blow up over "Deflategate," which was trending Thursday on Twitter. Or that Pats fans would laugh off that and other hashtags, which have included "Belicheat," ''Ballghazi" and "Hate-riots."
Nick Stevens, a popular online Boston sports commentator whose alter ego is "Fitzy," has a simple if crude response to anyone who suggests the Patriots gained an unfair advantage over the Colts and cheated their way to Glendale, Arizona:
"We ignore the noise, embrace the hate. It's the coal that fires our engines," he says in a mock Patriots news conference circulating on YouTube.
It's not just New England fans who are having a little fun at the team's expense. Krispy Kreme tweeted an ad showing a football-shaped doughnut with the line: "Ours are fully filled."
Etsy stores sprang up overnight, hawking shirts with slogans such as "They hate us 'cause they ain't us," a reference to a line James Franco uses in his latest movie with Seth Rogen, "The Interview."
Critics insist the Patriots' legacy will be forever tarnished no matter the outcome on Feb. 1. But faithful fans like Luis Mariano aren't buying that.
"Right now it's the Patriots vs the world," he said. "And I'm sticking with the Patriots."
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