Deflategate is a migraine for the National Football League and an embarrassment for the New England Patriots, but for the nation’s sports media, it’s a gift. A Big,Beautiful, Wrapped Present. Think Christmas morning, and the largest box under the tree is labeled: To Reporters, From The Patriots.
That’s Deflategate, the ball controversy swirling about the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots. Did the Patriots deflate game balls last Sunday, possibly making it easier for quarterback Tom Brady to throw and tight end Rob Gronkowski to catch in the rain? If they didn’t, who did?
For beat writers, columnists, radio reporters, television commentators and studio hosts, it doesn’t get any better than this. They have two weeks between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl to fill newspaper space and air time. Two weeks to rehash Tom Brady’s career, Gronk’s nightlife, Pete Carroll’s pumped and jacked approach to life and Bill Belichick’s stoicism.
Lifestyle writers have two weeks to speculate on Super Bowl commercials. Business reporters have two weeks to dissect the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad. Entertainment reporters have two weeks to hype the halftime show. And food writers have two weeks to describe over-the-top fare for Super Bowl parties.
Two weeks of mindless, often boring Countdown to Kickoff profiles, factoids and stats.
But not this year. Now we have two weeks to discuss inflation and deflation, economics degree not required; what the Patriots did or didn’t do; what they knew or didn’t know, and what the NFL will do or won’t do. We can ponder how 11 of the 12 footballs supplied by the Patriots for their use in the AFC Championship game last Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts became underinflated after they were approved by a game official. We have already learned more about pregame ball procedure, pounds per square inch, quarterback preferences, wet balls and slick balls than we ever wanted, or needed, to know.
And Thursday morning we learned what Belichick knew. Not much. He told a throng of media types at Gillette Stadium that he was “shocked” to learn of the controversy, he had no knowledge until Monday morning, and he has no explanation for what happened. He said he has learned more about air pressure in footballs in the last three days that he had in his coaching career. He has never talked to players or team personnel about the pressure in footballs. In practice, he said, he devises ways to make the balls difficult to handle, pass and catch. Wet, slick, sticky, slippery, he wants them worse than they will ever experience in a game. And if the players complain, he’ll make them even more challenging to handle, he said.
Belichick mentioned that the Patriots are cooperating fully with the NFL investigation, and when he was finished with his comments, remarkably candid for him, he said he would say no more on the subject.
I can’t believe the Patriots organization is so stupid as to tamper with footballs to gain a slight advantage, not after the team and Belichick were fined in 2007 for Spygate, the taping hand signals of opposing teams. Could a zealous underling have taken it upon himself to let a little air out of 11 balls? Sure, but even that’s a leap. I do find it difficult to accept that Belichick, supreme commander of all things Patriots football, was completely unaware of pregame ball procedures.
This much is certain. After being skewered for his handling of the Ray Rice domestic abuse case, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will go to great lengths to find out what happened last Sunday. If he determines that the Patriots violated the rules, he will hit them harder than any Seattle Seahawk will in the Feb. 1 Super Bowl. And that will be another big gift for the nation’s sports media.