This is the only thing worse than having to wait two weeks for the Super Bowl…
Having to suffer through two weeks listening to people’s opinions on the Patriots’ balls.
By now, we’ve learned that somehow, eleven out of the twelve footballs used for the Patriots’ possessions during their 45-7 walkover of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game was two pounds per square inch (PSI) lighter than what the NFL mandates. The Colts footballs met league standards. During Wednesday’s press conferences, Patriots’ Head Coach Bill Belichick, and quarterback Tom Brady denied any knowledge of the situation.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter has gone on record saying that the NFL is struggling to actually prove that the Patriots tampered with the footballs, which would violate Rule 2.1 of the rule book. If found guilty, the Patriots would be subject to punishment from Commissioner Roger Goodell under Rule 17.2, which protects teams from “Extraordinarily Unfair Acts.” Punishment would range from the loss of a draft pick, suspensions, or the “reversal of a game result or rescheduling of a game.”
It doesn’t help New England’s cause that Belichick was caught videotaping signals used by the New York Jets in September 2007, for which the team forfeited a draft pick, was fined $250,000. The head coach himself was fined $500,000. There is also a widely-accepted report that the Patriots illegally video taped a St. Louis Rams walk-through the day before the Patriots won their first of three Super Bowls during Belichick’s tenure, back in 2002. It’s well understood – the Patriots will never receive the benefit of the doubt.
But should they receive the blame? Since Monday morning, seemingly the last time there was this much interest in the football itself was when it evolved from its Rugby ball predecessor, over a century ago. Brad Johnson, who quarterbacked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their only Super Bowl victory, has said that he paid “some guys” to rub up the game balls prior to Super Bowl XXXVII so that he and Oakland Raiders’ QB Rich Gannon could better grip them. Green Bay’s quarterback, Aaron Rodgers has said he likes to use over-inflated footballs, and gets upset when the refs deflate them back to regulation size.
It’s not the first time there’s been mixed reaction to the Patriots breaking or bending the rules. In the 2004 AFC Championship game, also against the Colts, Indianapolis claimed that the Patriots were continuously illegally jamming the Colts’ receivers off of the line of scrimmage, and never getting called for their infractions. The result? According to former NFL V.P. of officiating Mike Pereira, “an increase of illegal contact fouls from 79 to 191.”
Everyone hates when the Patriots win, and 2015 isn’t the first time its happened.
But the NFL has been slowly taking the defense out of games. Most of the examples relate to the players’ safety. No one wants to see a cheap shot, dirty hit, or severe injury. “Late hits” have been coming earlier than in years past, and hits protecting “defenseless receivers” give the offense an extra fifteen yards for each infraction. Then, there are bad rules to protect the offense. The illegal contact enforcement was one.
And then there’s the rule which lies at the heart of Deflate-gate.
Prior to 2006, the home team would provide the footballs used by both teams for every game. “It used to be kind of a crapshoot to see what kind of ball you got,” said former NFL quarterback, Joey Harrington.
Former Miami Dolphins’ kicker, Olindo Mare, saw right through the NFL. “I think it’s unfair that the quarterbacks get to bring their own balls.”
Who were the vocal leaders in getting this rule passed? None other than Brady and Peyton Manning.
“It’s understandable that [the NFL] want[s] to promote offense,” Mare said.
There is one game ball for basketball. The umpire routinely ensures that all baseballs are proper before they enter into the field of play. But in football, the fate of the instruments are left to chance, under the assumption that no one would ever try to alter the equipment. Is it any wonder that this is would eventually be an issue?
You can blame the Patriots for cheating if you want to, because what they allegedly did is, technically, against the rules. But don’t blame them for taking advantage of a rule that allows them to. Don’t blame them for finding a hole in a terribly flawed system. Like loop-holes in taxes, you need to blame the problem and close the loopholes instead of blame the people who find them. To punish them for this, without concrete proof, would be a colossal mistake.
The NFL, treating points per game and offensive yardage as pieces of gold, caused their own problem by coddling the quarterbacks and allowing teams to use their own game balls. Instead of allowing the game ball to be a neutral piece of leather, they are hand-crafted to the needs of its user. It shouldn’t be like this. If the NFL has any shred of common sense, this will be fixed during the off-season.
But find me a recent example of the NFL having any common sense.