When I first heard about Deflate-Gate I thought it was much ado about nothing. New England waxed Indianapolis 45-7 and the game wasn’t even that close. Who cares if a few footballs were not inflated to specifications.
As I learned more about the ramifications and effects of a deflated football I quickly changed my tune. The game may not have had a different outcome, but the intention behind the malfeasance is what draws my ire.
This is not new for the New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick. He has skirted the rules before. We all remember the Spy-Gate fiasco in 2007 when the Patriots and Belichick admitted to taping the defensive signals of the New York Jets during a September 2007 game. They taped them from their very own sideline. During the investigation it was revealed the Patriots had been taping opponents since the year 2000. Belichick was fined an NFL record 500 thousand dollars. The Patriots were dinged with a 250 thousand dollar fine and New England lost their first-round draft pick in 2008.
The actions were widely criticized by those in the NFL. Not just for the action, but also the “surprise” Belichick showed upon “learning” that taping opponents coaches’ signals was illegal. Belichick’s peers and those who had covered him for more than two decades saw his feign of surprise as utterly disingenuous. Analysts believed Belichick knew exactly what he was doing and just happened to get caught. And now, the hooded head man is in the cross-hairs again.
I did not know that each team playing in an NFL game was responsible for bringing their own footballs to use during that game. So, in Sunday’s match-up the Patriots brought 12 balls and the Colts brought 12 balls. The allegation is that someone affiliated with the Patriots deflated 11 of the 12 footballs used by the Patriots offense by nearly 2 pounds for each football during the first half. The 12 footballs that the Colts brought to the AFC Championship Game were all found to be within the 12.5 to 13.5 pound standard.
Two-and-a-half hours before the contest the officials for the game measure the pressure inside each football. That was done on Sunday and all the footballs were found to be within the 12.5 to 13.5 pound standard. But, something strange happened near the tail end of the first half.
When Colts Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a Tom Brady pass in the 2nd quarter he noticed that the ball felt different. He took his concerns to the Colts sideline where they notified NFL and members of the officiating crew. At halftime the referees measured all 24 footballs again. This time 11 of the 12 footballs the Patriots were using in the first half were found to be considerably altered. The Colts footballs were all within specifications. In the second half all footballs were inflated to standard specs.
Renowned quarterbacks have taken to the airwaves over the last 24 hours to state their disgust at the Patriots shenanigans. From Mark Brunell to Steve Young to Dan Marino, to a man they have all said that during inclimate weather it is easier to handle, hold, possess and pass a deflated football. The weather was cold and wet in Sunday’s AFC Championship game on Sunday. The football world is abuzz with this latest scandal involving the Patriots as it is becoming increasingly clear their organization is willing to win at all costs, even if that means playing fast and loose with the rules.
Let me be clear, I still think the Patriots win the game if the football’s pressure isn’t called into question. That is not the point, though. The point is, why do the Patriots continue cheating ? Why do they feel it is OK to skirt the rules ? There are not degrees of rules in football. You are either playing by the rules OR you are cheating. PERIOD. The New England Patriots are cheaters. It can’t be inferred. There isn’t any supposition. This is fact. They cheat.
There is a ton of blame to go around. First, Belichick deserves the lions share. This guy pushes and pushes and pushes. But, it appears he is now pushing to the point where he is finding tiny, hidden loop-holes in the rules where he might be able to gain an advantage. There is being competitive, and then there is being unsportsmanlike and shady.
Tom Brady looks real bad here. Sure, his defenders will claim, “it was cold, how was he to know the air pressure in the football ? Ah, you are just all haters.” Brady makes his living throwing a football. Ask any tradesman. He knows the tools of the trade and Brady knows what a regulation football and, what a deflated and lighter football feels like. He certainly knows what a regulation ball should feel like when it is raining and cold. For him not to recognize the different “feel” of the ball shows willful dis-regard for the spirit of competition and the game. He will claim he didn’t know the balls were under-inflated. In fact on WEEI radio this week he laughed off the controversy claiming “its always something” with the Patriot haters. The shine is off the stone. Brady may not be as ruthless as his head-coach, but in my mind he is just as culpable.
And lastly Patriots owner Robert Kraft. This guy is the ultimate enabler. He has won three championships and his franchise has been the model of consistency. But, when you allow Belichick to do as he pleases; with his record of disrepute, you get what you deserve. Kraft shoulders some of the blame for allowing Belichick to run rampant and throw the NFL rule book out the window.
Before Deflate-Gate there were those who felt the Patriots titles were tarnished. The Patriots taped opponents for seven years before they were caught. During that time they brought home Super Bowl titles and were the class of the NFL. Now they will be facing a fire-storm leading up to Super Bowl XXXXVIIII.
The NFL says they are still investigating but ESPN is standing behind their report. The Patriots cheated. Belichick, Brady and Patriots players will not be able to hide behind the hometown media in Glendale. The national media is going to hammer away at the Patriots. Their players will be forced to answer the tough questions leading up to the game. Belichick and Brady will not be able to hide and they will get grilled. More importantly, the NFL will continue to weed through the investigation. If they find Belichick knew about this deflation he should be suspended for the Super Bowl and the Patriots should lose multiple picks in the 2015 Draft. New England should also get hit on their salary cap. They should get a 7-10 million dollar hit to their cap, making it very difficult to sign free agents or resign their own players.
Harsh penalties, “yes.” But, as a repeat offender they deserve the harshest of penalties. Belichick, Brady and Kraft should be thankful the Three Strikes Law isn’t applicable in the NFL.