It’s hard not to be thinking about it this nonstop here in New England, and everyone has an opinion whether they like it or not. Mine has changed several times since the news began to break late Sunday night, if only in small ways. I’ve read, I’ve argued, I’ve gotten angry, I can’t stop thinking about it and this is where I land on it this Friday afternoon.
Broken by one Indianapolis reporter at 1 am, with unreferenced sources, stoked by unsubstantiated facts from Chris Mortenson, this is exactly what it feels like- a mad mob, torch-bearing witch hunt. It’s the Red Scare but without a Joe McCarthy, since IND LB D’Qwell Jackson has now said he didn’t complain to anyone about the ball he intercepted, as previously reported. He simply gave it to a ball guy because he wanted a souvenir who then gave it to someone who they gave it to… and no one yet knows what happened. We do know the Pats played using the Colts’ footballs late in the first half and then in the second and whooped some serious ass. So the accusations of an advantage certainly seem spurious, if the numbers have anything to say. This is one of the characteristics of the witch hunt: empty, angry accusations based on nearly no information. Mind you, this mob is not limited to football fans outside of New England, though its majority population is comprised of folks who’ve suffered defeat at Patriots hands. Some of my own co-Pats fans yesterday were ready to convict Brady on the spot because he wasn’t his normally jovial and collected self as his player integrity was repeatedly called into question.
The other piece about calling something cheating is that you instantly add a connotation of intention, and this is where yesterday’s press conferences led me to my most solid feelings on the matter through the evening and this morning. I believe every word Bill Belichick and Tom Brady said. And not because I’m some die-hard, lifelong Pats fan (which I am), or because I have aspirations of an “In Bill We Trust” tattoo (which I do) but rather because they were telling the truth. Amongst the mob there seems to be at least a moderate level of belief that Bill is telling the truth. It’s conceivable to them, I imagine, that the stoic, not-necessarily-player-friendly head coach of the best team on the planet would indeed make the practice balls all kind of messed up and then respond to player complaints by turning it up a notch, “which then puts an end to the complaining”. Football fans everywhere were surprised by this unusually personal moment from Belichick – they loved it, in fact – and in that they felt a sense of belief, especially given the idea that he has more important shit to do on gameday than worry about the footballs. Most of the mob believed him, I think, as much as they didn’t want to.
With Brady, the mob wants to believe that he intentionally took air out of footballs to go below the league standard to gain an athletic advantage. That is what they want to believe and that is why it’s so hard to think that he wasn’t telling the truth during his press conference. Tom Brady has no idea what a perfectly-inflated 12.5 PSI football feels like, nor does any other QB in the NFL because that’s not how it works. Aaron Rodgers likes his apparently illegally over-inflated but no one gives a shit because the guys at ESPN can’t conceive of the advantage. But the advantage comes from a quarterback having the football the way he likes it. An under-inflated ball might provide better grip but it would also reduce velocity and distance (thank you, Matt Leinart). So while some would like the story to be a conspiratorial indiscretion on the part of someone in the Pats camp (anyone, really), I don’t believe Tom has told any equipment manager at any point (fuck you, Troy Aikman, go back in your hole) to specifically under-inflate anything. I believe that he told us the truth yesterday, that he goes through his practice week and then says, “yup, I like that one” to a handful of footballs, they work through which ones are best and that’s the end of it. Who knows if Brady is any different than any other quarterback in the league? The answer is quite literally “no one” because no one is applying any frame of reference to this situation.
Do the refs actually measure the footballs’ pressure or do they simply check them out and move on, because I have to say it seems no one inside or outside the league has ever heard of this shit before. And no one had any idea what the advantage might be until Mark Brunell was handed two footballs to compare in the ESPN studio and suddenly became the expert on ball pressure when a week ago no one gave two shits about what he had to say or his recent bankruptcy. Does anyone have any idea what his balls felt like or weighed when he played (on whatever the hell series of teams it was)? And while I’m at it, fuck Jerome Bettis, “I’m disappointed in Tom Brady” and his opportunity to apologize bullshit. Tom’s supposed to come out and cop to some shit that he has no idea about because you all formed a three-headed ex-player consortium and barked about it for 24 hours? Fuck that noise.
Everyone wants to think a big transgression has taken place but no one has any frame of reference. The mob wants to think the only way the Patriots could possibly be as dominant as they are is to cheat, with idiots like Skip Bayless linking events together in a ‘if you say it enough times it must be true’ narrative of “history of cheating”. Spygate was one time, and I still maintain that it was pretty much bullshit given that it seemed a widespread practice and the way it was discovered was Mangina being a squealing pig; if you’re gonna do something for someone that might be wrong, you can’t then go tell on them when you’re on another team, that’s called being a rat. But those flexible ethics aside, I will concede that it was against the rules, and the Patriots and Belichick were both punished. That is the one time, eight years ago, and anyone that tries to tie in the offensive formation tactics used against the Ravens or any other trick plays needs have their fan card revoked because that type of brilliant play pushes the game forward. When you call it “line-stepping” or any other kind of inference to near-cheating you only show your ignorance.
Like I said, I’ve had a variety of opinions on the situation through the week, not the least of which is a lessened sense of pride as my hometown Patriots head into a legendary Super Bowl LXIX. And if it comes to light with actual evidence that Tom Brady or a member of the Patriots organization did something against the rules and norms of the league to gain an unusual competitive advantage I will find myself quite disappointed. But absent that, Mark Brunell, Skip Bayless and the rest of the angry mob can fuck off.
#HateOn if you must but I just suggest you #PlayBetterFootball