Patriots

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady Are Working in Unison to Deflate This Story Once and For All

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I believe everything Bill Belichick said in his morning press conference to talk about our long national nightmare of slightly under-inflated footballs except for the thing he said the most.

My hope for this press conference was that he would get up there and offer a mumbled homage to Allen Iverson that pointed out the utter absurdity of discussing slightly under-inflated footballs in the buildup to one of the most compelling Super Bowls in years.

Belichick is in his ninth Super Bowl as an NFL coach. He’s going for his fourth as a head coach. He’s facing the defending champions, who happen to be coached by his Patriots predecessor.

And yet, because of some gamesmanship in Sunday’s 38-point win over the Colts, the topic is something else, something silly that is being presented as sinister.

I hoped he would spin a monologue on the history of gamesmanship in the NFL. I hoped would point out the absurdity of all of this, perhaps the point of defiance.

“Footballs,” I wanted him to say with a snort and a shake of the head. “We’re talking about footballs.”

Slightly-no-impact-on-the-game-whatsoever-under-inflated footballs at that. You’d think Brady sneaked John Elway’s trusty old Vortex …

… onto the field in the third quarter given the melodramatic way we’re talking about this.

No such luck. Instead, Belichick … well, he talked about footballs. He talked about his history with them, his knowledge of procedures in preparing them, and how he likes to make them “wet … sticky … cold … slippery” in practice.

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Yes, he talked about practice.

That Belichick talked about any of this at all strongly suggests three things: 1) He was told by Robert Kraft he’d damn well better discuss it. 2) He’s nervous to some degree about the fallout and consequences since the commissioner is desperate for a victory in the court of public opinion. 3) He wants this to die down within a single cycle, which is why Tom Brady’s press conference was moved up from tomorrow to 4 p.m. this afternoon.

Whether the latter will happen remains to be seen and is dependent on what Brady says. But Belichick did his part, at least until the end of the 8 1/2-minute press conference. It was then that he repeated at least four times while fending off the spectacle-chasers in the national news media who asked him such hopeless questions as, “Coach, what do you say to your critics?” and “What do you say to the children whose hearts have been broken by the discovered that 11 footballs did not meet the standard DPI?”

(That last one wasn’t actually asked. That I heard, anyway.)

Belichick’s default response to the Q&A that was far more Q than A?

“I’ve told you everything I know.”

And there you have the six oft-repeated words that I do not believe, at least without this addendum:

“I’ve told you everything I know … about the rough guidelines of football inflation. But I sure as hell am not telling you everything I have learned since this #*$* non-story that you all hope stains my legacy blindsided me Monday morning. Particularly in how it relates to my quarterback. And I know everything there, believe me.”

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That is what Belichick knows and is not telling us: What, if anything, Tom Brady and/or an assigned underling did to the footballs after they were inspected by the officials.

Belichick is not just a brilliant football coach. He’s a brilliant football historian, and I can guarantee you he could have rattled off a string of anecdotes about quarterbacks throughout history doing goofy things to a football to get it to meet their personal preferences. (“When he was at the Naval Academy, Roger Staubach used to have a plebe scuff them up just so with the tender quills of a baby porcupine …”)

Maybe Belichick has plausible deniability in regard to Brady’s particular preferences. But he absolutely knows that Brady has preferences and that the quarterback, one of the few people on this planet who is obsessed with small details as Belichick, does something (or has something done) to make the footballs more to his liking. He more or less admitted it this morning.

“I think we all know that quarterbacks, kickers, specialists all have certain preferences on footballs,” Belichick said. “They know a lot more about it than I do. They’re a lot more sensitive to it than I am. And I hear them comment on it from time to time. But I can tell you — and they can tell you — that there is never any sympathy from me on that subject. Zero.

“Tom’s personal preferences on his footballs is something he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide.”

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I wrote in yesterday’s semi-facetious column that the Patriots should put Brady front-and-center on this. I did not expect that they would. But it makes all the sense in the world. Brady can offer further context to something so many quarterbacks have already confirmed: Every QB messes with the ball. It has minimal impact beyond peace of mind. He can borrow a favorite word of admitted football inflater Aaron Rodgers: Relax.

Do not listen to the jackals. This was not Belichick throwing Brady under the bus. This is not Belichick taking an end-around on responsibility. This was Phase 1 of a plan to stem this ridiculous distraction about slightly under-inflated footballs.

Phase 2 comes when Brady speaks later this afternoon. We can anxiously await what he’s going to say. Belichick? You don’t think he’s already had a long what-the-bleep-happened conversation with Brady about all of this? He knows why we’re all talking about slightly under-inflated footballs, and he damn sure knows exactly how Brady is going to explain it. That legendary attention to detail isn’t about to waver now.

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