The National Football League has been out of our immediate consciousness for a good three weeks now, at least since the Denver Broncos rescued their once-woebegone quarterback from the ranks of football’s largest underachievers and into a two-time Super Bowl-winning champ on the strength of what was clearly a generational defense.
So clearly it’s become time for the powers that be to pursue an avenue that makes the NFL, once again, become the focus of March’s slow sports world, and overly more concerned with protecting its already-maligned image.
Well, here we are once again, primed to allow ourselves to be taken for all of our collective stupidity. So, quite obviously, the NFL must be making news.
In other words, welcome back to Deflategate.
This isn’t our fault, you understand; not yours, nor mine, but somebody has to be to blame for us dealing with such nonsensical atrocities. Thus, where do we lay the fictional, yet emphatic complaints?
Thursday brings us yet the latest, unwanted round of the NFL’s sordid “Deflategate’’ case against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who of course somehow found a United States District Court judge slippery enough in the pursuit of sagacity in order to escape the four-game penalty handed down to him by the league’s overwhelming shadow of high priest Roger Goodell late last summer. Instead of serving a punishment, Brady went on to lead his team to the AFC title game, where it lost to the Broncos in a contest overshadowed by the Patriots’ inequalities rather than Denver’s dominance.
All right, all right. So, the timeline didn’t work out the way many of following the ridiculous saga of deflating footballs might have, with Brady winning the league’s MVP trophy (which went to Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton) the evening before he whipped out a fifth Super Bowl trophy right in San Mateo, Calif. backyard.
Instead, fans booed Brady as he walked onto the field with the rest of his Super Bowl MVP brethren prior to the Broncos-Panthers showdown last month in Santa Clara. At least Goodell was probably tickled.
Well, on Thursday the commissioner gets to rub his whole jelly-white belly with the anticipation of pleasure when the NFL’s appeal of Berman’s Sept. 3 vacation of the suspension begins. A trio of judges will hear the arguments in court in New York, and, at least according to Michael McCann of the University of New Hampshire School of Law, will not be attended by either Brady or Goodell. “The hearing will only consist of the two short oral arguments. No one will testify and no evidence will be considered.’’
Ah, hell. This $#@# again?
McCann went on to note in his comprehensive explainer: “No decision will be made on Thursday. In fact, it will likely be several months before the three-judge panel issues a decision. Typically about 10-to-14 months pass between the filing of a notice of appeal and a decision on the appeal. The NFL filed a notice of appeal in Sept. 2015, meaning the three-judge panel might not issue a decision until the summer or even the fall. This raises the possibility of a scenario that Bill Belichick, Brady and Patriots fans won’t want to hear: Brady could be quarterbacking the Patriots well into the 2016 regular season and then the three-judge panel could issue a decision in the NFL’s favor. The NFL could then force Brady to sit out four games in the middle or end of the 2016 regular season, thereby altering the Patriots season and playoff hopes.’’
So, there’s that.
Here we are, more than a year from the initial accusations of the Patriots deflating footballs in last season’s AFC Championship Game. We’ve been through the Wells Report, the Wells Report “In Context,’’ an appeal hearing, and the never-ending delight of daily trots to Berman’s courtroom last summer. Patriots owner Bob Kraft has already fallen on the sword for his commissioner, surrendering $1 million and a pair of costly draft picks for reasons that nobody has ever really explained except in the line of he’s “one of the rich guys.’’
Brady, of course, hasn’t gone down quite so easily.
Nobody really quite understands what to expect this time around. These three stooges might side very clearly with Berman and not have much else to judge on the league’s never-changing passion to suspend Brady for four games for the “integrity’’ of the sport or some other made up claptrap. Then again, what if they see something in the NFL’s argument that makes them reverse course? According to McCann, they could even compel Judge Berman to schedule additional hearings. Oh, hell.
“Instead of continued litigation into 2017,’’ McCann writes, “it is also possible the NFL could drop the case or reach a settlement with the NFLPA and Brady.’’
Really? At this point, that all sort of feels like praying for rain while buried underground.
The Patriots won’t be getting their No. 1 draft pick back, nor their million dollars. The most they can hope for it a full season of their quarterback in 2016. Maybe 2017 too, depending on how long this idiocy lasts. There will be no breaking of bread between Brady and Goodell at CBS Scene in Foxborough anytime soon. Hell, the NFL is just dandy and fine with the “more probable’’ nature of investigation as it is with anything else involving Deflategate. But if Brady gets four games, it wins all the way around for something the accused so hotly contests that it will only go as one more unworthy ribbon laid upon the commissioner’s desk.
As former NFL executive Jeff Diamond (Titans, Vikings) wrote in The Sporting News: “But now Deflategate can rear its ugly head again. At a time when NFL fans and media should be focused on free agency (which begins March 9) and the draft, how can it be beneficial for the NFL to have the spotlight shifted back to deflated footballs?
“My proposition: All parties should agree to a settlement before stepping into that New York courtroom, and the NFL should take the lead by dropping its appeal. The league already has extracted its pound of flesh from owner Robert Kraft and the Patriots. See the million-dollar fine, plus the loss of a first-round pick in the 2016 draft and a fourth-rounder in 2017.
“Such a gesture from the NFL is the fair thing to do after Kraft reluctantly agreed to accept the penalties nine months ago. Unlike Brady, who had the NFLPA behind him, Kraft had no union to carry on his fight if he appealed the sanctions. And based on the facts of the case, Kraft could have appealed. He declined, citing the best interests of the league and preferring not to be perceived as being at odds with fellow NFL owners, who quietly cheered his decision.’’
Welcome back, Deflategate.
Peyton Manning still hasn’t retired, by the way.
Timeline of Deflategate