Buckley: Calling false alarm on Patriots garb-burner protests

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…

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