By Jason Keidel
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Has there been a more potentially perfect Super Bowl media week in the history of the sport? The buffet couldn’t be more delicious, the beehive of media swarming around the Patriots’ brass, while Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the rest of the brain trust throws up semantic walls, saying they have nothing to add to their obvious malfeasance.
And it seemed to work on Tuesday. Belichick grunted his way through his Media Day session, belching his bromides before the forest of microphones, one monosyllabic lie at a time. Brady grinned his way to innocence, his high, Hollywood cheekbones distracting the masses just long enough to slide by. And “Bullet” Bob Kraft flipped the script, assuring us the team he owns is owed an apology.
The latest reports on “Deflate-gate,” stories broken by Jay Glazer and ProFootballTalk, centered around an attendant who snatched the inspected and approved balls and dashed into a bathroom for a few minutes. Do we know what he did in that bathroom? Did he even have time to manipulate the balls to Brady’s liking? The NFL’s investigative tentacles are surely wrapped around the young man in question.
But as Mike Francesa astutely asserted during Tuesday’s monologue, there were way more than a few moments for the Pats to play with their footballs. And how could all 11 balls be deflated the SAME amount? Not even Rod Serling could summon this kind of science fiction.
Belichick, the defensive savant, has had to flip his old-school sensibilities over the last decade, as a confluence of circumstances forced his hand. Between the old, Super Bowl salt retiring, his brain trust whiffing on key draft picks, and the league bending the rules so heavily toward the quarterback, he learned that the best defense is indeed a good offense.
And he used this coda of the gridiron the last week, boldly asserting he’s done with “Deflate-gate” and daring the NFL to take any punitive measures against his club. He and his phalanx of Patriot apologists have talked in scientific terms about how clashing climates and time can take a symbolic pin to pigskins, thus acting as de facto compressors, sans assistance from ball boys, equipment managers, or miscreants.
WFAN’s Jody Mac was recently ambushed by callers who were quoting MIT studies that proved the balls could be naturally doctored by a number of innocuous factors.
Sounds great, until you realize that this innocent alchemy only impacted the Patriots’ pigskins. Why didn’t these very elements work the same voodoo on the Colts’ footballs? How could 11 of the 12 balls inspected by officials be worked by this random magic yet somehow miraculously elude Indianapolis? The atmospheric theory is just hogwash on its own and impossible to prove when you realize it just affected one team’s equipment when both were exposed to the same conditions.
Forget the selective science and subjective arguments from fans and media blowhards for a moment. The truth is neither you nor I have played quarterback in huge NFL games, which means our assertions are speculative, at best.
So let’s listen to those who did play in the league. Mark Brunell, 17 years of NFL football under his belt, said he didn’t believe one word of Brady’s presser. And Troy Aikman told Francesa that there’s no way this was the first time the Patriots did this. There seems to be a conga line of luminaries who think the Patriots are lying.
The fallback defense of Patriots fans is that this would be a nonissue if it happened to any other team. Maybe. But all humans, from football players to bricklayers, are a composite of their past actions. We take our respective brilliance and our baggage with us wherever we go. So when you consider Spygate, the dubious outcome of the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory over the Rams, and the fact that they haven’t won a title since they were busted, then fans must expect and accept the fact that the Pats’ rap sheet will rear its rancorous head.
Richard Sherman, the loquacious cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, has made some biting but honest observations about the whole ordeal. When asked if he thought the long arm of the NFL law would reach Robert Kraft, Sherman chuckled while dismissing the notion. He said Roger Goodell and Kraft were way too chummy for the NFL commissioner to take any salient action against the Patriots.
And he’s probably right. Just as the owners flashed no onions when Goodell severely botched the Ray Rice disaster. Just about any other league czar would have seen the corporate guillotine. As a result, Goodell could show that he knows how to return a favor. If he takes any action against New England, it won’t be until well after the Super Bowl. And we can be fairly certain that his slap on Kraft’s wrist won’t leave a mark.
And now that Brady, Belichick, and Kraft are on the offensive, Goodell is pretending it will take weeks to get to the bottom of the scandal, when it should take a day or two, at most. And their denials and deflections distract us from the bedrock reality that the Patriots are known, proven, and punished cheats.
The NFL’s worst nightmare is a New England victory this Sunday. It will cast a pall over the playoffs, and stain the sacred Lombardi Trophy. If Seattle wins the league will surely bury the investigation deep into the bowels of bureaucracy, down the sterile, corporate walls and halls of the NFL headquarters. Should Seattle defend its title, we won’t even hear a vowel about Deflate-gate again.
But if Brady and Belichick get their fourth ring, they will be dragged down the nine rings of Hades, their legacy debated and disputed for eternity. Even if they win, they will fall through the trap door of their two Super Bowl losses, keeping them just short of the Walsh/Montana and Noll/Bradshaw pantheon. Add to that their curious, proven penchant for ignoring the rules, and the Patriots will forever be dogged by suspicion.
It’s funny how this biblical blizzard shifted slightly rightward, eastward, toward Boston, falling on Foxborough. Is it an omen or football metaphor? When does karma kick in? Back in 2007 they were busted for Spygate, then stormed to an 18-0 season, burying the NFL like the snow was burying Boston on Tuesday. But karma finally caught up to the Patriots when they lost to the rather inferior Giants.
Then they lost another Super Bowl to the underdog Giants. Both games were won on impossibly executed plays. David Tyree defied logic and gravity in the first game, and Eli Manning, an otherwise unpredictable thrower, threw perhaps the best ball in Super Bowl history, a divine rainbow down the left sideline, landing softly into Mario Manningham’s belly, between two perfectly placed defenders, a space smaller than an open wallet.
Could this Sunday be Karma Day Part III? The Patriots are giving us a snow job that rivals the epic storm that grazed Gotham but pounded New England. Weather metaphors abound. But no one west of Hartford will be laughing or lauding a Patriots win. Someone should measure the mileage between the towns of the two teams, and determine if there’s ever been a greater distance between Super Bowl squads. (According to mapquest, it’s 3,053 miles driving, and 2,506 miles flying.) Lord knows, they couldn’t be farther apart on the integrity meter. Indeed, the NFL would be best served by a Seattle victory.
So would we all.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel