The question is not whether the New England Patriots deflated footballs to gain an unfair advantage in the AFC Championship against the Indianapolis Colts. The question is how much integrity the Patriots and the NFL have left.
The answer? Not much.
Let’s start with the Patriots.
The supposedly sophisticated New England fan base, which can seamlessly relate a fourth-inning Dustin Pedroia popup in the middle July to the cosmogony of Empedocles, doesn’t see how the rest of the country can even suspect the Patriots of any foul play.
To that, I’ve got two responses: a) Spygate. b) Your former star tight end is on trial for murder.
“That’s all beside the point,” Pats backers proclaim. “Who cares if the balls were underinflated? The Patriots win anyway.”
I imagine a child coming home to a parent after that parent has learned from a teacher that the child was caught cheating on that day’s test.
“Mom,” the child says, “I was going to pass the test anyway. In fact, as soon as I took the test, I knew I could have aced it without cheating. But I wanted to be so sure of succeeding that I did everything possible to prepare for the test, including cheating.”
Does the mom pat the son on the head and thank the son for such diligence? Or does it dawn on the mom that Watergate (the original -gate!) is one of the most disgraceful events in American history even though Richard Nixon topped George McGovern 520-17?
Tom Brady didn’t help matters when he held a press conference saying that he was very particular about the feel of his footballs, but that he didn’t notice they were underinflated in that AFC Championship.
That’s believable, right? After all, Beethoven had trouble hearing whether a piano was in tune in the closing stages of his career.
And then there was the Bill Belichick press conference blaming “atmospheric conditions” and the “rubbing process.” The man who plays in Gillette Stadium is obviously not familiar with Occam’s razor, which states that when multiple solutions are available and there is an absence of proof for all, select the one that makes the fewest assumptions — namely, that Belichick cheated again.
And now for the NFL, that noble institution that was blindsided by the Ray Rice incident because it is so worried about the head trauma to players that threatens to pull the plug on the whole enterprise.
And how’s that new concussion protocol doing, anyway? Well, in the final weeks of the season we see Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen run back onto the field after getting speared in the head by the Lions’ Ezekiel Ansah. After the game, Clausen develops delayed concussion symptoms that were not observed in sideline evaluation.
Cause for concern, right? Maybe when someone takes an obvious blow to the head, they should be held out just in case. Maybe a quick four- to five-minute test isn’t enough to flesh out some subtle signs of brain trauma.
Nah. In the playoffs, Ben Roethlisberger slams his head on the field, passes inspection, then goes back out and throws an interception. In the same game, Heath Miller is knocked woozy by a hit, passes inspection, then comes back in and immediately fumbles.
In the NFC Championship, Russell Wilson takes a head shot from Clay Matthews so gruesome that Matthews is fined $22,050. But the shot is not bad enough for Wilson to be examined for a concussion.
And this is the NFL we’re expecting to hold the Patriots in check? The league with over $9 billion in revenue now has been reduced to trying to figure out whether a ball boy went to the bathroom to relieve a synthetic or natural bladder.
Belichick strikes me as a quintessential figure of the American power elite. Remember the financial crisis of 2008? A bunch of big wigs at banks and mortgage companies play loose and fast with the rules, throw in a little regulatory capture for good measure, and ruin the lives of millions?
But today, as one in five American children are on food stamps, those big wigs are not in prison. They’re in Davos.
I look at Belichick like that. Maybe he gets a slap on the wrist from the NFL for some horseplay with the footballs. But he’s already fabulously wealthy, and if he gets another Super Bowl title, who really cares if he had to creatively interpret some rules along the way?
Davos, baby, Davos.
And I believe the Patriots get that Super Bowl title. The Seahawks that thrashed the Packers 36-16 on the opening night of the season were not the same Seahawks that advanced to the Super Bowl only because the Packers re-enacted the scene from Pulp Fiction where the scared gunman runs into the room, misses Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta at close range, then is shot by the iconic duo.
(I’d say Marshawn Lynch should be nominated by the Academy for his portrayal of Jackson, but I heard black actors don’t get nominations this year. I’ll leave it to the Seattle locker room to decide whether Wilson gets nominated for his Travolta.)
Yes, I know the Hawks rediscovered their mojo on the current eight-game winning streak, but seven of those victories were against teams that were 10th or lower in the ESPN Week 18 power rankings.
A lack of explosiveness amongst Seahawks receivers means the Patriots will be able to focus on containing Wilson and Lynch, a tough task that will be made easier still by Seattle’s mediocre offensive line.
On offense, Rob Gronkowski and Brady will continue to state their case as two of the best at their positions in the history of the game. Seahawks fans will try and take solace in what the fierce pass rush did to Peyton Manning in last year’s Super Bowl, but that pass rush has been sporadic this season. Seattle sacked a gimpy Aaron Rodgers just once in the NFC Championship.
The Patriots will use bunch formations and route combinations to move the chains and force the Seahawks to tackle. That would be fine if the two best defensive players on the team, safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman, weren’t battling shoulder and arm injuries.
Expect the Hawks to put up a fight late. That defense doesn’t quit and the Pats can’t chase Wilson around forever. Expect the Pats to be ready after watching the NFC Championship and falling prey to a Seahawks’ comeback in a 24-23 loss in October 2012. …
Patriots 30, Seahawks 17
Aah, but wait. My fellow Americans (and Jon Ryan, Luke Willson and Sebastian Vollmer), I am here to tell you today that I believe in America.
I believe in the country that threw off the shackles and oppression of the British crown, believe in the land that helped turn back the pure evil threatening the globe in World Wars I and II, and believe in the nation that evolved from once having slaves in the White House to now having a black man serving as its president.
Yes, Americans, we can change, and that’s why I believe we can turn back the corporate — the Belichick — mentality that has placed money and success over morals.
Belichick could win a Super Bowl without cheating, we all know he could. He’s be an ever better coach if he knew he had to always follow the rules. And those top-level Ivy League graduates? They could focus on making unbelievable leaps in medicine, energy and technology instead of writing complicated algorithms that make it impossible for the government to monitor banks.
The NFL has quite the opportunity before it. Past performance tells me they won’t seize it, but instead I listen to the same hope, the same faith, that has carried America forth through all her darkest hours. Belichick, Brady and owner Robert Kraft may be Patriots, but they are certainly not patriots.
And so I amend my Super Bowl prediction to something the 2004-05 USC Trojans, coached by Pete Carroll, will find all too familiar. …
Patriots 30, Seahawks 17*
*Title later vacated when Patriots are found to have deflated footballs for the AFC Championship.
Jeff Helminiak is the Clarion sports editor and the “certain Clarion staffer” referred to by Nolan Rose. Contact Helminiak at email@example.com.