There are things that happen in history, and you say to yourself, “My goodness, we’re still talking about it all these years later!”
In the case of DeflateGate, any discussion should have ended a few days after the AFC Championship Game. This is nothing more than an equipment violation. Instead, it is beginning to resemble Tea Pot Dome, Watergate and Iran-Contra in terms of notoriety and the impugning of the guilty party.
What should have been over and done with in a quick and expedient matter instead has captured national attention, exhaustive media scrutiny, and the continued castigation of both the NFL and the New England Patriots. The NFL has had bounty hunters, woman beaters and drug abusers to deal with, but instead you have this incredulous fascination over some footballs that were slightly underinflated. The result has been a laughable farce that has been called a dog and pony show by many observers.
It’s not laughable, of course, if you belong to Patriot Nation. You are getting a front row seat to watching your team, the best NFL team of the 21st century, having their dynasty and reputation dragged through the mud. You have the best owner, coach and quarterback in the league, but you can’t enjoy that right now. All you hear is that your Patriots are cheaters.
DeflateGate is the biggest absurdity in NFL history. Nothing else comes close. You had the 1982 season decided by only nine regular season games, stupid NFL owners, the Redskins Fun Bunch, and Dennis Miller’s broadcasting career. But this beats all.
There are two defining elements which explain why this whole mess has become what it has become.
Everyone outside of New England hates the Patriots.
Bob Kraft has built the Patriots into the gold standard sports franchise, but nationwide hatred of the Patriots has led to a small matter like DeflateGate becoming more than it should have.
(USA TODAY Images)
Those of us with long perspectives on the Patriot organization still find this hard to believe. But it’s true. The Patriots are the Yankees of the NFL, not so much in terms of number of championships won, but in terms of national perception.
Young Patriot fans have no idea how awful the Patriots used to be. Jim Plunkett got killed in Foxborough because he had next to nobody nearly good enough to complement him, then he goes on to win three Vinces with the Raiders. If you remember players like Halvor Hagen, Honor Jackson and Sandy Durko, you have no life. Unbelievably, the 1981 and 1990 Patriots were worse than the Plunkett Pats. The Dick MacPherson Pats weren’t much better.
Today, you have a Patriot franchise that has won four Super Bowls. Tom Brady either holds or shares a ton of Super Bowl records. Bill Belichick is the unchallenged best coach in the league. Bob Kraft has transformed that corner of Route 1 in Foxborough from a stadium with toilets that couldn’t flush and fans who couldn’t stay out of jail into a gleaming sports palace, with a Taj Mahal known as Gillette Stadium and other upscale hot spots.
Since 2000, the Patriots have won 171 regular season games and have lost only 54. They have double-digit wins in every Belichick year except 2000 and 2002. NFL Films, which used to ignore the Patriots almost completely, now cannot get enough of these guys. They have become the gold standard of the NFL, and maybe in all of pro sports.
Because of this, the rest of the nation has grown to hate this team. SpyGate exacerbated this hatred to a significant degree, but this is a team that is so consistently excellent every year that everyone across the USA is simply sick and tired of the Patriots. Anything that cuts them down is hailed by everyone. What is bad for the Patriots is good for everyone else, and vice versa.
Which can act as a segue into the second reason why DeflateGate has become so absurd.
Roger Goodell has been charged with sticking it to the Patriots, and must do so – or else.
One must wonder what former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue must be thinking about his successor’s stewardship. One might also wonder what Pete Rozelle must be thinking from way up on high in NFL Valhalla. Tagliabue successfully proctored two nasty tiffs between the Patriots and the Jets. Rozelle helped broker an AFL-NFL merger, negotiated lucrative television contracts, and built the Super Bowl into what it is today.
Goodell? He botched BountyGate, handled the Ray Rice situation wrong, and is now staking his career and reputation on some slightly underinflated footballs.
Goodell had to make a national case out of this. The owners probably ordered Goodell to make an example out of the Patriots, leaving the means up to him. The result is this flawed investigation, a report that is more vague than it is factual, and a media which would no sooner reject a sexy story than they would a sexy human object of their desire.
Goodell has all the ingredients to placate his owners. Two equipment staffers who could probably star as Horace and Jasper in any subsequent remake of 101 Dalmatians. The dirty deed being done on the second biggest NFL stage. Best of all, a chance to make a big name for yourself by impugning the centerpiece name of the entire league, Tom Brady.
There you have it. Nail the Patriots, nail Brady, and you have lifetime job security. That $45 million annual salary will still keep coming in. The only price you have to pay is that Kraft is no longer your buddy. Never mind that he helped save your butt during a labor crisis when at the time he was dealing with the death of his wife Myra. Call it residual damage. Nothing personal, just business.
This is somewhat akin to the amazing story behind why the Baseball Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, New York and not Hoboken, New Jersey. Abner Doubleday had nothing to do with the invention of baseball, but a convoluted chain of events helped a Cooperstown millionaire bring the baseball museum to a place it has no business being in. Goodell is taking a minor slap on the wrist and turning it into a major personal defining moment, and Goodell will make it happen by hook or by crook.
In the end, Goodell will get his personal redemption, the Patriots will come away with some tarnish, and Brady will have to sit down for a few games even though he is adamant in professing his innocence. The rest of the league will applaud Goodell for finally doing something right, for being David and felling the giant Goliath.
So now, what becomes of the hated Patriots? Josh Lucas, who portrayed UTEP (Texas Western in 1966) head basketball coach Don Haskins in the movie Glory Road, offers up this excellent morsel of advice.
Shut them up. Win.