Listening to Bill Belichick this morning, addressing the scandal arising from the use of deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game this past weekend versus the Indianapolis Colts, one gets the sense that this allegation has him all choked up. He seems quite emotional about it, almost on the verge of tears. Far from a mea culpa, Belichick is claiming a Sergeant Schultz-like “I know nothing“. He sounds somewhat like Captain Renault, the police chief from Casablanca, in feigned disbelief: “I am shocked, shocked! … to find that gambling is going on in here!” (Following which a croupier hands Renault a pile of money, saying: “Your winnings, sir.” Renault responds: “Oh. Thank you very much.”)
For full disclosure, I am not a fan of the New England Patriots. I appreciate the excellence they have exhibited over the past decade, but I do not root for them to win. Being a Philadelphia native, I am a fan of the Eagles; and having lived in Pittsburgh for several years, I became a fan of the Steelers – which makes it almost inappropriate to ever want to see the Patriots win any game. But even though I am not a fan of the Patriots, I am inclined to think of this Deflate-gate much ado about nothing. Nevertheless, there does seem to be a pattern with the Patriots attempting end runs around the secondary rules of the game. And Belichick’s emotional denial aside, it is difficult for me to accept that he has no idea about what is going on. He’s too good for this to be the case.
Earlier this week ESPN commentator, and former NFL QB, Trent Dilfer suggested that a deflated ball is more difficult to throw. I have to differ with Dilfer to some degree. Having played QB, in high school and in college, I will say Dilfer is correct that a truly deflated ball is more difficult to throw. However, a slightly deflated ball is easier to grip, and no less difficult to throw – especially for the shorter routes. And a slightly deflated ball is much easier to catch.
Deflation to this level is probably not noticeable to most. Perhaps only QB’s, Kickers & Punters, Receivers, and maybe Centers, would notice. It does not feel like a deflated ball. But it is like the difference between the harder grip on a well-aired basketball and the slightly sqeezeable grip on a fresh tennis ball. And on a cold, wet, day, this can be an advantage.
If this is the case, and there is an advantage gained, why would I say this is much ado about nothing? Because it is simply a trick of the trade. It is the kind of thing that almost every QB or Kicker does, or wants to do, to gain some small advantage. It is akin to the baseball pitcher scuffing the ball a little to gain a little more movement and control. At worst it is like the baseball pitcher throwing a spitball – against the rules, but hardly a capital offense.
Against the rules it is, however. And because there seems to be a pattern with the Patriots, under Belichick’s watch, I am not unsympathetic to calls for some kind of repercussion.
I find the NFL imposed $25,000 fine upon the Patriots to be a joke. If the choice is between paying $25K and going to the Super Bowl, $25K is chump change as compared to the amount of money to be made as a Super Bowl participant – and especially if you end up the Super Bowl champs. Ask any NFL owner, executive, or coach, if they could pay $25K to enhance their chances of reaching the Super Bowl, I’d doubt there would be any who would not cough up the cash. The only thing that would keep some from doing so under this kind of circumstance is an integrity that would preclude them from ever willfully violating the rules.
On the other hand, the suggestion that the Patriots should be disqualified from playing in the Super Bowl is absurd. As much as I would have preferred to see any other team get to the Super Bowl over the Patriots, not only is this suggestion absurd because it just won’t happen, but it should not happen. It is overkill.
Still, because of the pattern by Belichick’s Patriots, some sort of discipline seems warranted – both for the Patriots, and to send a message to the other teams; as well as for the benefit of kids still developing in sportsmanship ethics.
As I suggested earlier, this offense might be seen as akin to the baseball pitcher throwing a spitball. What happens when a pitcher is caught red handed in this illegal maneuver? He is immediately ejected from the game. What would be interesting, and I think might be appropriate, would be to suspend Belichick – or Tom Brady – from the Super Bowl. Unless Brady is found to have been the culprit behind the deflation, and Belichick is shown to truly have known nothing, I would not see suspending Brady from the game. But because of the variety of previous offenses, and because as coach all these kinds of things fall under his domain, suspending Belichick would be severe, but reasonable. I would not suspend him from preparations. But suspend him from the actual game – no sidelines, no phone or computer communication during the game. This would be a seeming just punishment, and a strong statement by the NFL.
It won’t happen. But that’s OK. It’s just a thought. And somewhere deep inside it may be more driven by my desire to see the Patriots lose than it is a longing for genuine justice.