Via RCP, I missed this after yesterday’s presser but it’s worth watching now. Deflategate reminds me of the sockpuppet scandals that bubble up on blogs now and then: Some writer will be caught defending himself in the comments somewhere under an alias and the exposure becomes a sensation, not because it’s a terrible sin but because of the sheer remarkable pettiness of it. Same with the Pats using slightly underinflated balls. They had a home game against an inferior team whom they had already beaten badly, but evidently they couldn’t resist that extra little advantage. It wasn’t a gamechanger but you’ll never look at Brady and Belichick the same way afterward.
Anyway, the clip. Mark Brunell, a former QB himself, is especially damning in explaining how he’d always personally check and re-check the feel of the footballs before each game to make sure that they were to his liking — within the PSI parameters set by the league, of course. The odds that Brady would skip that preparation before the AFC title game are basically zero. In the end, they come back to the same point I made yesterday. To get Brady (and Belichick) off the hook, you need to believe either that the balls deflated accidentally, due to temperature effects, say, or that some random New England staffer decided on his own initiative to mess with the balls without telling the Pats’ star player. The second scenario is unimaginable. The first seems unlikely — it’s true that footballs experience some deflation as the temperature drops, but in that case, the Colts’ footballs should have deflated too. And the temperature in Foxboro was balmier than usual for a January game, in the low 50s at kickoff dipping into the high 40s in the second half. Makes me wonder if the team, craftily seeking a dubious advantage that they could play dumb about later, doesn’t deliberately have the footballs inflated in a very hot room before each game knowing that the temperature on the field will naturally soften them up for Brady. That way, if they’re ever caught cheating, they can claim it was an accident. We’re football players, damn it, not physicists.
So Brady surely knew, which means we’ve now reached the “What will the NFL do?” stage of this. Do they try to make it go away by claiming there’s no hard evidence that anyone on the team deliberately tampered with the balls? With the league’s own alums on TV scoffing at Brady’s denials, Goodell would be even more of a laughingstock than he is now if he did that. So, for starters, he’ll fine the Pats and maybe take away a draft pick or two. Anything beyond that? He’s not going to fart away the biggest audience in American media by disqualifying them from the Super Bowl, needless to say. The only suspense is in what happens to Belichick and Brady. There’s no way he suspends the latter and ruins the big “Brady versus the Seahawks’ secondary” match-up that everyone’s looking forward to, right? Who, outside of New England and Seattle, would want to watch Richard Sherman against the Pats’ second-stringer? So, realistically, Goodell’s options are to suspend Belichick next week or to leave them both alone for the big game and suspend them for the first, say, two games of the 2015 season. Which will it be?