This was supposed to be the warm-up for the victory lap.
For eight years, Patriots fans had endured suggestions of tainted championships. But this year’s would be clean, the team’s worst transgression its simply being that much smarter than everyone else. This was a Super Bowl berth earned on the strength of an all-time coaching job from the Patriots brain trust and an aging quarterback willing his pumpkin to remain a carriage for one more season.
And now it’s all dashed, because of a bag of under-inflated balls.
That harshest suggestion comes courtesy of Indianapolis-area sports columnist Bob Kravitz, who has led the charge against Belichick since breaking Deflategate on Sunday night. Make no mistake — that allegiance is no coincidence. As the ostensible “victims’’ of Deflategate, the Colts are justified in their outrage. But it’s likewise become the latest talking point in the prevailing, Spygate-fueled narrative of the Patriots’ win-at-all-costs philosophy.
They stole signals, you see, and have you heard Aaron Hernandez was charged with murder? Now, this.
The simple fact is, if this weren’t the Patriots, it wouldn’t be an issue. Tampering with the football NFL equivalent of speeding: everyone does it, and they only get burned when they do it too recklessly or in too fast a car. And the Patriots drive the hottest rod in the league.
Take Aaron Rodgers, who in November was subject to fawning by CBS commentators over his practice of overinflating his footballs. Or Eli Manning, whose months-long process of choosing and preparing his footballs was detailed two years ago by the New York Times.
Earlier this season, during a particularly cold game, Panthers sideline attendants were caught warming balls on the sidelines in open defiance of rules prohibiting this. Their punishment? A reminder not to do it again. And this morning, reports surfaced that former Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson admitted to paying bribes to have his footballs doctored before Super Bowl XXXVII — a contest his team won.
Last year, former Steelers coach and frequent Patriots punching bag Bill Cowher claimed the Patriots were scapegoated when they were fined their top draft pick in Spygate’s wake.
In this, as they were eight years ago, the Patriots are the victims of their own success.
From sound of it, DeflateGate is a lot like pitchers using sunscreen to get a better grip on balls. Everyone does it. No one really cares.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 21, 2015
Every team tampers with the footballs. Ask any Qb In the league, this is ridiculous!!— Matt Leinart (@MattLeinartQB) January 21, 2015
In terms of game impact, the use of a deflated ball is negligible. Sure, it allows for a slightly better grip and easier catch. But consider this: the ball that kicked off the controversy was put in the Colts’ hands via Tom Brady’s sole thrown interception — his worst pass of the game. Nevermind the Patriots’ out-scoring the Colts 21-0 in the third quarter, after the bad balls were swapped out.
The Patriots are, by virtue of their perennial greatness and the perceived taint of Spygate, always going to be under more scrutiny than other franchises. They’re a red Ferrari in a speed trap, while everyone else might as well drive a Prius. It’s a bumpy ride, but isn’t it fun?