It’s been almost 7 months since it occurred. Just as sports media everywhere braced for the silence of the slow couple weeks between the playoffs and the Super Bowl, a miracle happened. D’Qwell Jackson, a linebacker for the Colts, intercepted a football.
This wasn’t any ordinary football. It contained less air in it than usual. To the Indianapolis Colts, that seemed to be a big deal. The guy who inadvertently threw him the ball is kind of a big deal, too. If you haven’t been living in a bunker with no Wi-Fi, a mile under an enormous rock for the last 6 months, you know the rest of the story. But is this really just a convenient scoop, gift-wrapped for the media to stretch into an epic saga when they needed it most, or is this a legacy-altering scandal for Brady, Belichick and the Patriots?
Deflategate is the perfect storm of media and sports hype. It’s compelling. It’s a touchdown of a story, accessible to the most well experienced football experts. It’s about air in a football. Air. Everyone knows a bit about that. Cue the experts! And of course, it’s not a scandal until you add a “-gate” at the end of it. Oh, and it rhymes. Bingo. Deflategate.
For those of you unaware of the controversy surrounding ‘Deflategate’, it all happened on a chilly January night in New England when the football being used was judged to be suspiciously soft. The ball was then given to the NFL officials at the game, then measured and deemed insufficiently inflated to meet the League standards. This led to all of the Patriots game balls being checked at halftime, several of which were found to be under-inflated, and then re-inflated to conform to the rules. Moreover, this led to an investigation by Ted Wells, which ultimately deemed the Patriots guilty of deliberately altering the balls to gain a competitive advantage.
Since the release of the Wells report, there have been many expressed opinions, of course. Many critical of the Patriots, finding the report has damned the Patriots as cheaters, Brady as an evasive cheater, and reinforcing the opinions that the Patriots are a deceptive and illegal organization undeserving of its otherwise favorable reputation. Others find that the investigation was biased, and complain that the Patriots are regularly unfairly accused of wrongdoing. I have some strong opinions on this matter. Others share some of these views as well, however some are not widely expressed.
Firstly, the League, if it were interested primarily in the integrity of the game and fair play, could have warned the Patriots that these allegations had been made, and that such activities would not be tolerated. Further, the League could have handled much of this better. The Patriots game balls in question were not even taken by the League after the game, but were kept by the Patriots, and requested that Monday by the League. Since the game ball pressures measured before the game were not recorded, we really do not, nor ever will, know if any of the game balls were precisely at the minimum legal pressure, nor the variations.
Additionally, this story isn’t as much about air pressure as it is about the culture of the New England Patriots. The Patriots are really good at two things: winning football games and not caring what you think about them. This modus operandi has earned the Patriots an equal number of fans and haters.
People thought that they’d finally see penitence. They’d get our coveted admission of guilt. We’d finally see Tom Brady and Bill Belichick sheepishly take the podium and whisper “mercy.” But all Tom and Bill proceeded to do was twist the knife. Tom stuck to his story. And so did Bill. Days later, Belichick stole the show by calling a press conference; he made the media wait, strolled in on his own timetable and went all Isaac Newton. The media, longing to get Coach Belichick’s time for years, finally had it; in the form of a physics lesson. It was beautiful.
I’m not saying the Patriots should skate free. If it comes out that the Patriots were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of bending or breaking league rules, they should be punished. However, there is absolutely no evidence. The way the NFL has handled the situation has been a complete farce. And this has led to Tom Brady lawyering up and taking the issue to court.
On opening night next month, the Patriots begin the season as world champions. My hope is that everyone will appreciate the Patriots for sustaining one of the greatest runs by a team in NFL history. It should be about Brady and Belichick’s taking their place in history alongside Noll and Bradshaw, Walsh and Montana. But as usual, some members of the media choose to go after the low hanging fruit. Either way, Bill Belichick couldn’t care less of what you think.