Why Deflate-Gate cannot be merely written off as “much ado about nothing.”
By Bryan Pol
Prior to 2001, the New England Patriots were one of the NFL’s lesser “darling” franchises, a relative Cinderella story that warranted the nation’s collective fandom and mutual interest, at least for a spell. In Super Bowl XX, the Pats faced the mighty Bears’ defense, lowly underdogs in a matchup that saw them lose 46-10 in light of six turnovers and the “ability” to only post seven rushing yards. Eleven years later, in Super Bowl XXXI, Bill Parcells, in his fourth year of coaching New England, assembled a team worthy enough to represent the AFC in the title game, only to do so as an underdog–yet again–and lose to the Packers in a game whose score, 35-21, was no true indicator of just how much Green Bay dominated that contest.
Then came the ho-hum Pete Carroll era, when the Pats made the playoffs twice (in ’97 and ’98, the former of which was the result of an AFC East title), largely on the success of Parcells’s years as New England’s architect. By 1999, Carroll’s third year with the team, he was run out of town, relegated to the NCAA ranks with USC, where Coach Carroll encountered numerous NCAA sanctions before his infamous return to the NFL with the now-defending champion Seattle Seahawks. (Side note: Pete Carroll’s blunders with the New York Jets and Pats, along with his insidious tenure with USC, gives fans little reason to support him in his pursuit of a repeat Super Bowl title against the very same Patriots being demeaned in this editorial).
Enter a seemingly tumultuous 2001 campaign and Bill Belichick’s second season as head coach of the New England Patriots, two years after Coach Belichick spurned the Jets for greener pastures in Foxborough despite agreeing, in principle, to succeed Parcells as head coach after serving as Tuna’s defensive assistant in New York for three years (Another side note: Understand the Jet fanbase’s ire for the Patriots and Belichick after the latter’s inopportune decision to leave the Jets that came on the heels of a resignation notice he crudely scrawled on a looseleaf note that read, “I resign as HC of the NYJ,” this, in the midst of coming to the podium on a day when he was to be announced as the head coach of the Jets). Despite his work as Parcells’s protege and defensive coordinator for two New York Giants’ Super Bowls in ’86 and ’90, Belichick had marginal success as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, willing them to a collective record of 36-44 before a four-year spell of inactivity, sparked by a controversial move to Baltimore. In 2000, Belichick did not inspire much confidence either, willing the Pats to a 5-11 record.
As previously foretold, things would not get much brighter for Belichick in 2001 in Year 2 with the Pats, or so it would seem on the surface. In only the second game of that season, 28-year-old quarterback Drew Bledsoe, entering a season that began with his signing a ten-year, $103 million contract, was leveled by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, suffering a sheared blood vessel in his chest in the process. Belichick had no other recourse but to resort to Tom Brady, whom New England drafted from the University of Michigan in April of 2000 with the 199th pick in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. Outside of the greater metropolitan area of New York and its contingent who supported Gang Green, NFL fans were given yet another underdog story to pursue with Brady’s ascension to the top of New England’s depth chart as quarterback and surprising run to Super Bowl XXVI, the third appearance in franchise history, against the “Greatest Show on Turf” in the St. Louis Rams.
Although Brady only managed 145 yards passing and a touchdown in that Super Bowl, he was named the game’s MVP, while Bledsoe fled New England in the offseason for the Buffalo Bills, cementing Brady as the team’s starter for an unprecedented run with the Patriots that includes two regular season MVPs, two first-team All-Pro selections, twelve AFC East titles, and a litany of NFL records, including the most career playoff starts for a quarterback (28), the most NFL conference championship appearances for a quarterback (9), the most playoff wins for a quarterback (20), most career postseason passing yards, most career playoff passing touchdowns (49), and most Super Bowl appearances (6), the most recent coming as a result of a thorough 45-7 shellacking of the Indianapolis Colts that was mired by controversy and scandal befitting of Brady and Belichick’s tenure as quarterback and coach of the loathed New England Patriots, the team America collectively loves to hate. More on that Pat “victory” later.
Controversy is as much linked to Brady and Belichick’s Patriots on and off the field as the word dynasty is associated with the likes of the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s, the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s, and the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s. When speaking to the Patriot scandal and controversy, where does one begin?
- In the thick of Brady’s first Super Bowl run, the Patriots advanced in a 2001 divisional round playoff game against the Oakland Raiders, a 16-13 win that has since been referred to as the “Tuck Rule Game” and the “Snow Job Game.” Ray Lewis will tell you all about it.
- In the midst of a masterful, undefeated regular season in 2007, buttressed by the Madden-like numbers produced by Brady, Wes Welker, and Randy Moss, New York Jets’ head coach Eric Mangini exposed Belichick for videotaping Jets defensive coaches’ signals on the sideline during a game on September 9, 2007. Commissioner Roger Goodell, seeing evident cheating perpetuated by the Patriots, considered the act a direct violation of league rules, a misdeed that resulted in a $500,000 fine for Belichick, the largest ever doled out onto a coach in league history. For their part in the incident, New England was fined $250,000, and the organization lost the 31st pick in that year’s NFL Draft. For the most obvious of reasons, many NFL teams and their fans cannot get past the scandal propagated by the Patriots. Not to worry: the upstart New York Giants would have the final say in karmically upending the Patriots’ magical 18-1 season in a 17-13 victory in Super Bowl XLII.
- Tom Brady, now married to worldwide supermodel and global sensation Gisele Bundchen, flat left girlfriend Bridget Moynahan in 2006, a woman who was still carrying Tom “Terrific’s” child. Again, no worries: Ms. Moynahan named the child John Edward Thomas Moynahan. Look again at what the initials to his first and middle names spells out.
- Bill Belichick and his scouts clearly did not look that deeply into Aaron Hernandez’s checkered past with the Miami Hurricanes. The former tight-end is currently serving as defendant on a murder trial that gets wilder by the day.
- Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh, fuming after his team’s 35-31 playoff loss to the Patriots in this year’s AFC divisional round, griped about the confusing, albeit legal, formations implemented by Belichick, moves that left Baltimore’s personnel somewhat confused as whom to cover and when on defense. Advantage, Patriots, despite another masterful January performance from Joe Flacco.
- Bill Belichick, shooting for his fourth Super Bowl title on Sunday, February 1 against the Seattle Seahawks, most recently became the winningest head coach in the NFL Playoffs: his win on Sunday against the Colts was the twenty-first playoff win in a career mired by press conference after press conference of unbridled smugness, monotone dictation, and ugly cutoff hoodies. Seriously, the man could not direct you anywhere close to a single Joseph A. Bank or Men’s Warehouse in the greater Boston area, nor can he learn to relish in a Patriot victory. As always, “onto (fill-in-the-blank with the most recent, upcoming New England opponent here).”
Let us not forget that Sunday game. As is being reported, D’Qwell Jackson, linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts, noticed something awry when gripping the ball after a second quarter interception. He took what felt like a deflated ball to the Colts’ equipment manager, who then informed head coach Chuck Pagano that the ball did not feel quite right. As of Monday, the NFL “is investigating the matter.”
Now, think of what advantage playing with a deflated ball provides: quarterbacks, like an aging, yet still supremely talented Tom Brady, can throw a deeper ball, and running backs, like the stable of castoffs and miscreants (LeGarrette Blount comes to mind) Belichick has utilized each Sunday this season, have an easier time gripping the ball, especially in the rainy conditions that defined Sunday’s Patriot win, conditions that had been predicted all week long. Critics looking to poke holes in this conspiracy theory suggest that the deflated ball did not aid Andrew Luck and the Colts any, but what if the Patriots had practiced with deflated balls not only the entire week leading up to Sunday, but all season in the weeks prior to each game at Foxborough? As Mike Francesa alluded to during Tuesday afternoon’s Mike’s On broadcast, Tom Brady is no stranger to practicing with, if not playing with, a deflated ball, an implement he much prefers to the alternative. And what if those same Patriots knew when and on what plays a deflated ball would be used? The Patriot equipment personnel could easily swap balls intermittently and surreptitiously, just enough to make a difference here and there in key moments against opposing teams. Such a thought makes Julian Edelman’s turn as quarterback that less impressive last week against the Ravens.
Did an alleged deflated ball help the Colts any? Evidently not, as Sunday’s lopsided score would indicate, but who is to say such balls were not used when Indy was on offense, but only when the Patriots possessed the ball? Likely, with no “smoking gun” to manifest in the thick of this, another New England controversy, the Colts look the part of the sore loser here, but with the Patriots’ history of cheating and gaining questionable advantages here and there, should we merely overlook “Deflate-Gate?” Patriot haters simply will not let that happen. May their vehemence boom louder in the weeks leading up to what just may be a classic Super Bowl at the University of Phoenix Field, the site of “18 Wins and 1 Giant Loss.”
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