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Patriot’s Scandal Mostly Deflates Fans
January 25, 2015  | By Eric Gould

The media hysteria over 11 squishy footballs last week overshadowed coverage of a presidential address, the hunt for international terrorists, and now an asteroid about to make a near miss as it passes by Earth.

Last Thursday, to the symphonic sobriety of the CBS Evening News theme, anchor Scott Pelley led the broadcast intoning, “The integrity of the most popular sport in America is being called into question just days before its biggest game. Did the New England Patriots cheat their way into the Super Bowl by deflating game balls, making them easier for their quarterback to throw and the receivers to catch?”

To repeat, an asteroid the size of a mountain is about to buzz by the Earth, and life as we know it will survive. 

Bill Maher, observing the TV news hysteria, joked last Friday, “Nothing matters now in America except 'Deflategate'… On CNN, you would have thought that Tom Brady caught Ebola, passed out at the controls of a Malaysian airliner, and crashed into Benghazi.” 

First things first. I am a Boston guy. I used to love the Patriots and Tom Brady. It wasn't the hater’s “Cheatriots” pinned on them after the 2007 “Spygate" scandal that cooled my passions. You could never love coach Bill Belichick’s oddball, condescending monotone. But it was their improbable last-minute championship losses to the New York Giants in both 2008 and 2012 that pretty much did me in. Once was enough. Twice was unthinkable.

I just couldn’t take it anymore. I moved on to the Packers, the Eagles – anyone who didn’t wear blue, who lowered the stakes, and who wouldn’t keep me up at night. 

Today, I’m still a lower-key fan. But as much as I enjoy a Patriot win, I love the Boy Scout goodness of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and their ball-hawking defense. Either way, I’ll be happy with the victor next Sunday, in a game that matches up two of this year's best NFL teams.

The media frenzy over soft balls hasn’t been without its lessons and benefits. There have been insightful pieces about the integrity of the game and the Patriots having already been convicted in the press, their legacy now tarnished, no matter the result of the NFL investigation.

Others have humorously painted Belichick as a troubled, Nixonian character and one, by David Fleming at espn.com, compared Belichick to Darth Sidious, peering out from under his signature hoodie.

If someone on the Patriots was tampering with equipment, then, of course, it’s cheating, and let the chips fall where they may, vacated wins and all.

At an unscheduled press conference in Foxboro yesterday (Saturday), Belichick emphatically denied any wrongdoing and gave, ahem, some weight to the explanation that football prep and atmospheric conditions could explain the loss of pressure in the footballs supplied by the Patriots who wanted them set to the league minimum in wet, slippery weather.

If you’re a fan of the Pats, you’ll see the scandal as a little bit of hot air – 10-15 percent lower than the allowable, incidentally – missing from the ball that made it easier to grip in utterly foul weather last week in their landslide win over the Indianapolis Colts.

But what you see is what you get. If you’ve been on the losing end of the Patriots over the past decade, you’ll see a nutty, Kennedy-level of conspiracy theory around Belichick, Brady and their domination of a very tough league. It’s nothing more than “Beli-cheat” and the “Cheatriots,” and business as usual. 

With all that success, you might easily ask if they were cutting corners all that time. Belichick, after all, infamously hedged on player injury reports (forcing the league to change its rules on that) and, this year, began switching around players eligible to receive the ball, confusing defenses. All that was wily and ruthless – but within the rules.

Yesterday, he lamented that the whole story was unfortunate for the New England players: “The best team in the (AFC) postseason. That’s what’s this team is… I'm embarrassed to talk about the amount of time I've put into this relative to the other important challenge in front of us.”

That unfairness to the players is true, and we should include the Seahawks in that bunch. Getting to the Super Bowl and the two-week pre-game attention on it, should be the most memorable story in a football player's career -- not the physics of ball pressure.

And also add the steadfast New England fans (excluding certain TV writers), who perhaps are the biggest victims here. Real or imagined, the scandal makes them the ones who will have to listen to the cheater labels, and calls for asterisks next to Superbowl wins, for decades to come...

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