It has been truly astonishing to witness the consistency of The New England Patriots’ domination. I am inspired by their greatness and feel fortunate to have experienced their ascent from nothing to everything in my lifetime. Of course, I am aware that they will return to nothingness again, likely after Belichick and Brady move on (and not, as it briefly appeared, after the Kansas City game of this season), but in the meantime I will enjoy every meaningful game of this run.
Unfortunately, nobody wants to talk about how great the Patriots are now, about how they are about to play one of the most important games in any dynastic conversation and about how they have raised the standard of superiority in any sport.
All anybody wants to talk about is #deflategate. Five days after their crushing 45-7 destruction of the Indianapolis Colts, I have barely heard a word of analysis from that game and hardly a mention of their upcoming contest with the defending champions in the Super Bowl. The only discussion happening right now is about pounds per square inch, and how the acceptable range (which I never knew but will now never forget is 12.5-13.5 psi) was violated in footballs being used by the Patriots’ offense.
Instead of talking about championships, we are talking about cheating. Instead of marveling at the perennial success of this franchise, we are questioning its honor and integrity. Belichick, a tactical mastermind always pushing the envelope of the game, and Brady, the consummate professional on his way to establishing the greatest Quarterback career in history, are instantly villains in the very game they defined.
So, what happened to alter perception? While my first reaction to this story was admittedly grief and despair, I have made peace with it and even give them credit for creative rule interpretation. With the same amount of journalistic standards I have seen in this coverage and lacking any proof, I present my definitive description for this farce:
Using simple physics that any equipment manager whose main duties involve pumping up the ball for Tom, who openly states his preference for softer footballs, could probably figure out, they are filled with warm, indoor air just before inspection and pass, but as time goes on and the temperature drops, the pressure drops as well (PV = nRT), resulting in a softer ball that Brady underthrows into the hands of D’Qwell Jackson who returns it to The Colts’ sideline as a souvenir, which then is measured by their equipment manager (who may have been tipped off by the Patriots’ previous opponent, The Ravens, who noticed soft balls because they played in even colder temperatures and also intercepted a pass, grumbled about the “kicking” balls’ inflation, and were embarrassed by revolutionary yet fully legal offensive formations for which they were completely unprepared and failed to properly defend) and it is discovered that the balls have below standard psi when tested five hours after they originally passed, so the team getting whooped whips up a media frenzy to attack the greatest, the one they couldn’t beat on the field, as the worst, the one who would defile the integrity of the holy game…
Questions and Answers that I don’t really know:
Q: Have any other game balls used in the history of this sport been outside the allowable 1 psi range?
A: Yes. Obviously.
Q: Has anyone in the history of this sport been penalized even a yard for this infraction?
A: No. If it has ever been detected, it was probably remedied immediately without public knowledge.
Q: Do Belichick and Brady know exactly what is being done to their game balls?
A: Yes. They are the best in their field because they are perfectionists and highly particular about their tools and techniques.
Q: Do they believe they are following the rules set by the league regarding pre-game testing?
A: Yes. As there has never been a previous example of anyone being punished for low psi before, during or after a game, they probably couldn’t even conceive of the ball-capture, test and ignition of media-wildfire scenario. They have suddenly magnified a gray area of the rules that nobody even considered: the effect of atmospheric conditions on game balls.
Q: Do they need to do this to be the most successful sports franchise on the planet?
A: Of course not, and yet it demonstrates exactly why they are so great: They always think outside the box and in between the rules, on offense and defense, in formations and personnel, with scouting and scheming, and to the appropriation of the ideal gas law with respect to a hand gripping a football. This franchise inspires me not because they win more than anyone else, but because they are focused and driven and disciplined and crafty and constantly defying conventional wisdom while revolutionizing the sport. The league is constantly behind the Patriots, rewriting the rules to define their ambiguous loopholes. Does the rulebook state that balls must be inflated at the same temperature the game will be played at? No. Does it state that balls’ pressure must be accurately measured every time they are put in play? No. Should it? No. Are the refs are responsible for ensuring that balls are legal and aren’t they implicitly declaring they are every time they place it on the line of scrimmage? It sure seems like it: if they can’t tell that something is amiss with the central piece of equipment that millions of people are focused on, then isn’t it, for all practical purposes, acceptable? If my theory is correct, did The Patriots tamper with the football? Maybe, depending on how hot their inflation environment was, in a way that possibly seems against the spirit of the rules but not necessarily against the actual rules. Would it be different if the equipment manager were deflating balls with a needle on the sideline after they had been measured and approved by officials? Yes. Is it ethically wrong for them to take advantage of basic atmospheric science to create a ball that softens as temperature drops? Maybe, but in a way that can’t really be corrected without explicit rules on inflating temperature and measurements on every play.
Bill said he has never given a thought to a ball’s legality after it is approved by the refs pregame. Tom says he doesn’t believe he is a cheater. Maybe it is cognitive dissonance and maybe it is the mark of artistic genius, refusing to accept vague boundaries as limits in rules that are revised every year. Either way, they are probably lying when they say they don’t know what happened to the balls, and that is maybe the most painful part of this debacle because there is nothing I despise more than lying, but they are talking to the media, which they have demonstrated, through controlled and tempered responses to all press conferences and a thorough mocking of the weekly injury reports, is just an extension of the game itself, and are playing a sport in which “deception” is key to success and are acting on higher principles of circling the wagons around a team and leaving no man, not even a lowly equipment manager, behind for the media vultures. Those are the guys I want on my team.
And maybe there were no shenanigans whatsoever and this is common in all cold weather games but nobody has ever considered it an issue before the Patriots were “caught”…
After five days of confusion and disappointment worrying about their tarnished reputation, I have accepted it and earned an even deeper appreciation for the greatest dynasty in sports. I am proud to be a Patriots fan and look forward to them winning another Super Bowl and rewriting the record and rule books for years to come.