You have to cheat in the right way.
That’s the take-away I’ve picked up from the NFL’s recent dealings with “Deflate-gate.” (Side note: Someone noted on my Facebook feed that they wish Nixon’s people had busted into a Double Tree Inn, as “Deflate-Tree” would have a much nicer ring to it. Me? I’d have liked it to be a Howard Johnson’s so we could call things “Deflate-Ho” or such.)
The Patriots are no stranger to taking things to the edge. The “Spy-gate” scandal had finally petered out a year or two ago. In that one Coach Bill Belichick was found guilty of illegally taping the opponents’ signals from the sidelines. Of course, just like now, he was “shocked” back then that this had happened, even after the league concluded he not only knew all about it, but probably ordered it.
In this case, the Patriots are accused of taking some of the air out of the footballs the used on offense to make it easier to catch them in the tsunami they played in during the AFC Championship game. According to ESPN, 11 of the 12 balls the Patriots used were below league standards for inflation. In addition, the balls had been checked by the ref prior to the game and they all met standards. In other words, somewhere between the ref and the field something happened on the Patriots’ sidelines to make the balls lose some air.
The penalty? Probably a fine if the NFL can prove someone did this deliberately. Maybe a little public outrage here and there. The Patriots are still going to the Super Bowl, which every team says is their goal every year, so what do they really lose by bending the rules?
The Colts, for their part, are remaining classy about the beat down they received. Tight end Dwayne Allen said the Patriots could have been playing with a bar of soap and still kicked Indy’s ass. It’s the right thing to say, but that doesn’t mean this situation is right.
Patriot defenders fall into two categories: a) The “Fuck you, we’re gonna pahty at the bah because we’re in the Super Bowl” people and b) The “It didn’t matter if this happened because of the 234,252,112 reasons we would have won anyway” folks.
The first group won’t give a shit no matter what happened because all they want is their team to win. For all the bellyaching New Englanders did about being the red-headed stepchild of sports on the East Coast because the Red Sox hadn’t won the World Series since 1918 and because Len Bias died and Larry Bird got hurt and whatever else, they’ve nicely assumed their more recent role as sports’ nouveau riche asshole relative. We’ll let them drink their Sam Adams and piss and moan about how put upon they are.
The second group tries to rationalize the cheating by saying it doesn’t matter.
The old Oakland Raiders were always accused of cheating as well. They would turn forearm pads into plaster casts. They would soak the field to make it hard to run on. There was even a rumor they filled the balls with helium for punter Ray Guy. Eventually, the league caught on and started checking and fining and stopping this shit. Still, they would claim, it didn’t matter because they were fine without that stuff.
OK, if it didn’t matter, why do it? As a Cleveland Indians fan, I had the same reaction when former slugger Albert Belle got caught with a corked bat. As scribe Terry Pluto once noted, “This guy could hit homers with a match stick” and yet he still decided he needed cork? Anyone seen Barry Bonds lately? The guy was a 40/40 guy without the juice and yet decided he needed to add 20 pounds of lean muscle to his helmet size in order to really do the job.
Belle was fined and suspended.
Bonds was essentially made a pariah.
Both made a shit ton of money and could claim, “Yeah, but look at my record, bitch.”
Neither will make the hall of fame, although they should have.
For Belichick, the answer will always be, “Gotta win.” He’ll take every edge he can, pick up any angle he can and do whatever is in the area of advantageous rule-breaking if he can get away with it. Even if he can’t, the man is a master at risk assessment. He’ll look at this and say, “I’d rather be playing in the big game with a fine looming than sitting at home knowing there was an angle I didn’t play.”
Roger Goodell has taken a beating this year (pun intended), due to his handling of the Ray Rice incident and the Adrian Peterson incident. He’s at the point now where, whatever he does, it’ll look to one side of the fan base (pro-Pats or anti-Pats) that he made the wrong call.
If you’re going to get called out for screwing this one up no matter which way you go, Rog, I’d recommend the nuclear option:
Pull the Pats from the Super Bowl and send Indy.
Or, install a yearlong ban for Belichick, unpaid.
Or give the Pats a two-year ban from post-season play.
Or do it all.
If you really think cheating cheapens the game (or at least pisses off enough of the gamblers who were banking on a tighter spread), come out in a way that makes Adam Silver look like a pussy for the way he handed Donald Sterling’s thoughts on race. Hurt these guys so bad that even Joe Pesci is doing the “Holy Shit! How brutal was that?” thing.
Or live with the fact that people will continue to find an angle that the rules don’t allow.