Deflategate: Patriots’ malarkey pales in comparison to NFL’s failures
The New England Patriots punched a ticket to their sixth Super Bowl behind coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday, setting up a Feb. 1 showdown against the defending-champion Seattle Seahawks. Brady, Belichick and company dominated the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 to come within one win of earning their fourth ring since 2004.
It was a decisive performance that showed an aging dynasty refusing to cede its seat atop the AFC to Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, a 25-year-old rising superstar. And it came with a delicious side dish that kicks off two weeks of relentless Super Bowl hype and perfectly fits the Patriots of the past several years: Controversy, this time in the form of allegations that New England purposefully deflated game balls below league regulation to gain an advantage in Sunday’s inclement weather.
The Patriots, as detractors like to point out, haven’t won a Super Bowl since their infamous “Spygate” scandal of 2007, when Belichick was fined $500,000, the Patriots were fined $250,000 and the team was stripped of a first-round draft pick for illegally videotaping an opponent’s sideline signals.
Since Spygate, they’ve lost two Super Bowls, in 2008 and 2012, while compiling a typically sterling regular season record. Now here they are on the cusp of breaking that losing streak and capturing a fourth title — and here we are with “Deflategate.”
Because NFL teams use their own supplies of balls for games, deflating those balls for improved grip in harsh conditions would provide an unfair advantage. Not a 45-7 advantage, but an advantage nonetheless; meanwhile, any official findings of malfeasance would likely only draw draft-picks or other relatively minor penalties.
The Patriots, of course, say they’ll comply with any NFL investigation, but it’s not even the first time the good ship Belichick has been accused of malarkey this post-season. After his team’s divisional round loss to New England on Jan. 10, Ravens coach John Harbaugh accused the Patriots of using “an illegal type of a thing” in a deceptive offensive formation. Experts ultimately judged the play legal, but so peeved was Harbaugh during the game that he drew a penalty for walking onto the field while protesting to officials.
Worth remembering: This New England dynasty even got its start under dubious circumstances. The team won its first Super Bowl under Brady and Belichick in 2002 after an AFC Championship Game victory over the Oakland Raiders that was defined by a game-changing play that still ranks among the most notorious and controversial in NFL history.
In that game, Brady, then an unknown, sixth-round draft pick in his first season as a starter, appeared to fumble with the Patriots trailing late. But the Patriots kept the ball thanks to a “tuck rule” the NFL has since changed, and Brady led an overtime victory.
Brady, of course, has come a long way since. Now he’s a global superstar, universally recognized as an all-time great, featured in ads and married to a Brazilian supermodel. He’s the quintessential All-American Quarterback, playing for a team called the Patriots, no less. And Belichick — he of the hooded sweatshirts, intricate game-plans, surly press conferences and comparisons to Emperor Palpatine — is the quinessential Football Lifer.
Brady and Belichick’s outsized personas are as much a part of the Patriots’ mystique this millennium as anything else — save, perhaps, for the air of smoke and mirrors surrounding some of the team’s success. That’s why — founded or not — Deflategate allegations are a fitting kickoff for Brady, Belichick and company’s quest for a fourth Super Bowl ring.
For some, that might cheapen the team’s legacy. But after a season that saw scandal in the truest sense over the past few months, while the NFL besmirched itself so thoroughly, it’s hard to summon any true outrage over some (possibly) deflated balls.