Then, I started to follow the news coverage of what was quickly labeled "Deflategate" by people too young to remember Watergate, from which the suffix "gate" was determined to mean "scandal." These people have no idea of the pattern of long-term, illegal activity in which the Nixon administration engaged, but that's a topic for another day.
Through watching and reading multiple sources, I learned that in cold, wet conditions, a football with reduced air pressure is easier to grip and throw (which I already had understood) and that the only people who are really affected by this are quarterbacks. I also learned that any perceived issue related to underinflated footballs had been cleared up by halftime of that game. Armed with this information, I have reviewed the box score, which shows that:
- In the first half, the Patriots offense struggled somewhat, putting up 17 points (helped by a Colts fumble), with Brady only throwing one touchdown pass (for 1 yard).
- In the second half, Brady was on fire, and the team scored 28 points.
Last Saturday, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick held a press conference in which he explained that the team had run some tests and determined the following:
- The balls were rubbed for some time (yes, I know how that sounds) to scuff them up and provide a better grip. This could also increase the psi (pounds per square inch) slightly. The temperature in the locker room is generally between 72 and 75 degrees.
- They were then measured to be at 12.5 psi. The NFL allows them to be anywhere between 12.5 and 13.5 psi at game time.
- The balls were given to the officials, who were supposed to validate the psi (at room temperature) before turning them over to the team's Equipment Manager. (NOTE: The NFL Rulebook states, "The Referee shall be the sole judge as to whether all balls offered for play comply with these specifications. A pump is to be furnished by the home club, and the balls shall remain under the supervision of the Referee until they are delivered to the ball attendant just prior to the start of the game.")
- They were then brought outside, where the temperature at game time was 51 degrees and the barometric pressure was very low due to a storm. It should be noted that the game started in the evening, so the temperature continued to drop throughout the game.
Now, you might ask, "Why didn't the conditions affect the Colts' footballs in the same way?" I don't know the answer to that--the NFL has not released any information about that. But it may be that the Colts began by inflating their balls to 13.5 psi (which some quarterbacks prefer) or that they don't rub their balls so vigorously, or maybe they prepare their balls in cooler conditions. We won't know the answer to that until the NFL issues its findings (or we may never know the answer). What we do know is that this morning, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino confirmed that the NFL officials did not log the exact PSI of each football, so you might say that the officials dropped the ball (so to speak), and it's unlikely that we'll ever know their exact psi at game time.
Without any real proof, it appears that all of the accusations are being made regarding the Patriots because, as most people say, they cheated before. So, let me take a minute to review their previous controversy, usually referred to as "Spygate." I did my own research and asked several casual NFL observers to explain what happened during Spygate. Most people whom I asked said that Spygate involved the Patriots illegally videotaping some activity of their opponents. Some, with slightly more knowledge, said the Patriots illegally recorded the opposing teams' coaches sending in signals to the players. They are wrong. According to NFL rules, it's not illegal to record the opposing team's coaches during the game, and almost every team does it. After all, in this age of smartphone cameras and mega-storage cards, how could they legitimately prevent that?
Here's what happened in 2007 that resulted in the Patriots' fines and loss of a draft pick. The NFL rules say that you can't record another team's coaches from a camera located along the sidelines. Earlier that year, the NFL had sent out an email restating this rule. Belichick ignored that email and kept his camera on the sideline. Yes, it was breaking a rule, but it was done in plain view of everyone in the stadium.
The seriousness of this offense is akin to driving through a red light just after it has changed from yellow. If you're caught, you will pay a fine, but most people have done it (I confess), and some do it regularly. Is one such infraction enough to be permanently labeled a criminal? I think not. Yet, people continue to mention Spygate when referring to Deflategate as a pattern of the Patriots cheating, although there is so far no evidence to support this latest accusation.
Even past quarterbacks like Troy Aikman and Joe Montana (Tom Brady's boyhood idol), have accused the Patriots, specifically Brady, of cheating. Montana said, "There's only one guy that does it. Nobody else cares what the ball feels like." It's clear why Joe hasn't been asked to serve on any Washington think tanks. Let's assume for a moment that the balls were intentionally deflated. Who besides Brady might care about that?
I guess Joe didn't consider that it is estimated that more money is gambled on football games (college and professional) than all other sports combined. Of course, there's no way to verify this because most gambling is illegal, but the American Gaming Association (yes, there is such a thing) estimated that "Americans were expected to make $3.8 billion worth of illegal bets on the 2015 Super Bowl." Might one of those gamblers have enough motivation to have the footballs altered? Could this gambler be willing to pay a million dollars to a ballboy or an NFL official? Of course, this is all speculation, but it refutes Montana's preposterous innuendo that Brady is the only one who cares, and that he is sitting in a corner somewhere during the game letting air out of footballs. It's more likely that Aikman and Montana (who played long before anyone paid much attention to psi) are sitting around watching their records fall to Tom Brady, so they have chosen to besmirch his reputation. After all, if someone does something better than I do, they must be cheating. Right?
This brings me to the sad point about human nature that people love to hate. We hate anyone who is smarter, better looking, and/or more successful than we are. Let's face it, Brady is better looking and more successful than just about anyone, and the Patriots are smarter than most other teams, as is evidenced by:
- Owner Robert Kraft has hired two coaches since he bought the team--Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick--the coaches of the two, Super Bowl teams.
- The Patriots lost the AFC Championship to Denver in 2014, primarily because of a weak secondary, so they obtained two of the NFL's top cornerbacks--Revis and Browner.
- When they started the season by trading away offensive lineman Logan Mankins, they were roundly criticized, yet Brady was sacked only 21 times this year, compared to 40 last year. In addition, the team is going to the Super Bowl this week and will have a lot of money available next year to obtain or retain players.
- They are the most successful team in the NFL over the last 15 years.
In the end, if it is proven that the Patriots organization somehow willfully manipulated the psi of its footballs, I will be the first one to advocate for stiff penalties and suspensions, but I'm fairly confident that won't happen. However, I'm also confident that as long as they keep winning, the press and most of the American public will continue to hate them. Maybe that's the real scandal; you can call it Hategate.