As the old saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. As we near the end of another NFL football season the New England Patriots are once again among the league’s best. And, as we near the end of another NFL football season the New England Patriots are once again accused of cheating.
While it is surprising how many people are willing to come down on the “no big deal” side of this Deflategate controversy, the fact is that it is a big deal. If not for those individuals involved—most notably the infamous Dynamic Duo of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady—then for the integrity and reputation of the sport.
The NFL makes rules regarding equipment standards for a reason. There must be consistency within the game for there to be any sense of fair play and meaning. The league has given its teams leeway, very generous leeway in my opinion, to enable the players to compete to their maximum potential while still maintaining this overall consistency and sense of fairness.
Certainly the NFL isn’t alone in this among major sports. Professional golf has standards for clubs and balls, the NHL has standards for the pads of goalies and, perhaps most relevant to this situation is Major League Baseball.
In Major League Baseball each hitter can choose the type of bat he desires. The choice depends on several very personal factors such as, the type of hitter he may be, his size and strength, as well as any number of others. Yet each player, while having a fairly wide variance with which to make his choice, must do so within the established guidelines provided. If a player were to step outside those guidelines and say, cork his bat, is there anyone anywhere who wouldn’t call that cheating?
This is not very different from the choices a quarterback may have when choosing which balls to use. The size of his hands, the strength of his grip, his arm strength, the type of receivers he may be throwing to as well as the particular weather conditions are all factors that could affect his preferences.
Just as with a baseball player corking his bat, a quarterback manipulating the condition of the ball outside established standards is cheating, there is no other way to see it. Doing so not only violates the spirit of fairness, it also casts a shadow on every accomplishment that was achieved.
The Indianapolis Colts first raised the question about the inflation of the Patriots’ balls earlier this season after their game in November. Because most non-professionals, and even some professionals, would have a difficult time distinguishing the difference of 2lbs. of pressure per square inch in a football, there is no telling how long the Patriots may have been playing this little game with the league’s rules.
If this has been a long-term practice, it is fair to question every statistic and accomplishment of the Patriots’ offense and by extension the entire team. In a game in which one big reception could make the difference between winning and losing we must ask, to what extent has the Patriots’ success been “inflated” as a result of this practice?
It is irrelevant what kind of second half the Patriots’ had against the Colts in the AFC Championship. Certainly Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense are capable of completing passes and making plays with regulation balls, but in those countless other situations throughout the season in which it might have really mattered—the continuation of a drive, the receiver holding on to that one pivotal throw, etc.—it definitely could make a difference.
Professional football is a sport in which just one win can make a huge difference in a team’s season. Often one win can make the difference between making the playoffs or going home, a home playoff game or even a first round bye. Small differences can matter greatly.
Making matters even worse is the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick hear no evil see no evil defense of the controversy.
This is what Tom Brady had to say regarding his personally inspecting and approving of the balls for play: “When I pick those footballs out, at that point, to me, they’re perfect. I don’t want anyone touching the balls after that…To me, those balls are perfect, and that’s what I expect when I show up on the field.”
Despite this, Tom Brady would have us believe that from the time he chose the balls for play and the time the game started he was unable to tell the difference in the balls even though they were no longer “perfect.” Seriously, if that were true then why does he bother to select them at all? To make it even more insulting he justifies this by stating that “squeezing” the ball is not part of his selection criteria.
However, Brady’s preference for deflated balls has been documented in the past. In 2011 following a question about Gronkowki’s spiking of the ball he stated, “When Gronk scores…he spikes the ball and he deflates the ball. I love that, because I like the deflated ball.”
Additionally Brady’s justification doesn’t seem to carry much weight with NFL experts and Hall of Famers such as Troy Aikman and John Madden.
Troy Aikman explains his take on it this way: “Used to, the home team provided all the balls. And now, each team brings their footballs the way they like them and break ’em in.…Used to you couldn’t break them in. So for the balls to be deflated, that doesn’t happen unless the quarterback wants that to happen, I can assure you of that.”
John Madden also gave his two cents stating: “Nobody, not even the head coach, would do anything to a football unilaterally, such as adjust the amount of pressure in a ball, without the quarterback not [sic] knowing.…It would have to be the quarterback’s idea.”
Statements such as these from a Hall of Fame quarterback and a Hall of Fame coach, combined with Brady’s own self-admitted preference for a deflated ball, as well as accusations that the Patriots have done this in the past and suddenly the evidence, as circumstantial as it may be, becomes damning.
As for Bill Belichick, with the exception of the fact that he wasn’t personally handling the balls, his own personal denial is every bit as thin. To begin, his capacity for operating outside the rules has been well established since his $500,000 fine for the Spygate controversy back in 2007.
When you look at the details it is virtually unthinkable that Bill Belichick could be so unaware of what was going on.
Bill Belichick’s statement on hearing of the controversy: “I was shocked to learn of the footballs on Monday. I had no knowledge until Monday morning. I’d say I’ve learned a lot more about this process in the last three days than I knew, or had talked about it, in the last 40 years that I’ve coached in this league.”
This is the same Bill Belichick who is known for his almost unnatural ability to dot every i and cross every t.
This is the same Bill Belichick with nearly 40 years of NFL experience, 232 career wins, three NFL Coach of the Year Awards and three NFL Super Bowl Championships as a head coach, and he would have us believe that he had no idea how the ball selection for each game worked?
To go further with this absurdity, the league inspected his team’s balls at halftime and ruled most of them unfit for play, and somehow no one from his coaching staff or equipment staff ever bothered to mention this little fact to him? Let’s face it, this is not a common occurrence, still, nobody from any level on the team thought it significant enough to bring it to his attention? Some might call this willful ignorance and it is not believable in the least.
Yet Belichick still had the gall to publicly state how “shocked,” he was and that he, “had no knowledge until Monday morning.” A whole day later? Is anyone really buying this?
To go even further Belichick has actually stated that they will have to make sure that the balls are inflated towards the upper end of the limit to ensure that any use will not drop them below the lower threshold. Let’s get something straight here, I have seen nothing released from the NFL that insinuates the level of deflation was so small that it could have been accounted for by simple game use. The NFL has reported that the balls were “substantially deflated.” It is clear that those balls were tampered with, period.
One other interesting note regarding all those who would blame the deflated balls on the temperature or wear from use in the game, the Colts’ balls were also inspected at halftime and all of their balls passed inspection. Isn’t it strange how all those factors that are being raised as excuses only seemed to have affected the Patriots’ balls?
The more Brady and Belichick dig their feet in and try to defend this indefensible act, the more unethical and guiltier they appear.
While Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are to be commended for their competitive spirit, it is a dog eat dog world out there after all, their characters leave a lot to be desired.
In a closing response to Tom Brady’s downplaying of this issue by comparing it to ISIS I will say this…while yes, it is indeed true that this is not ISIS and people are not dying as a result of this controversy, that doesn’t mean this issue is to be ignored and that it isn’t a big deal to the fans who love the game. Believe it or not Tom Brady, there are fans for each of the other 31 teams in the NFL and those fans want to know they weren’t cheated, just as anyone would. And believe it or not, yes, the integrity of the sport does matter to those who care about it.