Are we finally done? Can we now let the sobriety of time decide what really was important in the matter of New England’s slightly mushy footballs—a truly modern social-media epic?
Here should be the final epitaph: Nobody looked good in the end.
Not Tom Brady, who went into this reminding the world of Joe Montana and left it a dead ringer for Pinocchio.
Not the New England Patriots, whose team picture is in the dictionary next to the word “arrogance,” and this time paid for it.
Not Roger Goodell, who overreacted, and seems to be governing by wind vane.
Not the Indianapolis Colts, who, after all the ado, still were run off the field 45-7 back in January.
Not the media coverage, which quickly shifted into hyperventilation. This all passed being a little silly weeks ago.
So, is our long national nightmare over? Now that Brady— the NFL’s Mr. Big—has been found guilty of first-degree squishy ball, is the republic a safer place again for life, liberty and the pursuit of fantasy teams? Has he finally cracked, and also confessed to being ... The Lindbergh kidnapper? … The second gunman on the grassy knoll? … Jack the Ripper?
That way, at least all the fuss would have been worth it. Here should be 10 common-sense takeaways from the commotion:
No. 1. As a reminder, this was not about point shaving or growth-hormone injections. This was about not enough air in a football. In a landscape plagued by deadly serious issues—from concussions to pulling your battered girlfriend out of an elevator by her hair (the original sentence for that, lest we forget, was milder than Brady’s)— PSI would seem pretty far down the food chain. And still, the story devoured Page 1, next to deadly earthquakes and ISIS updates.
All we are saying is, give perspective a chance.
No. 2. The report on the investigation into the New England footballs went 243 pages. The 2014 NFL report on player health and safety was 40 pages. Ponder that for a moment.
No. 3. Since when do these words bring moral certainty and swift punishment: “More probable than not?”
No. 4. What’s the difference between this and a pitcher scuffing up the baseball or loading it up with a dollop of Vaseline? Not much. But we used to chuckle at Gaylord Perry, even when he was nabbed. Yeah, it was illegal, but nothing to go bananas about. Punish him, and continue the game. Perry was voted into the Hall of Fame, and nobody minded. Now, Brady’s four Super Bowl titles are supposedly tainted. Is he supposed to give back the rings?
No. 5. Next time, Brady should just stand in front of the microphone, and say, “Aw shucks, I really like my footballs soft, like a lot of other quarterbacks do, and maybe we went a little too far.” Then pull out a pen and write a check. Maybe openness is not the Patriots Way. The Patriots Way better change.
No. 6. Talk all you want about integrity of the game being the paramount issue here, but does anyone seriously believe the integrity of the game would be endangered if flat footballs were found in the company of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Besides, if the inflation of a football is so vital, why doesn’t the NFL just supply all of them for the officials, and take the teams out of it? Can’t the league afford the balls? Make no mistake, this wasn’t about the rules. This was about the Patriots. Perfectly understandable. But wrong.
No. 7. The term Deflategate should now and forever be retired. Just like the names of really bad hurricanes.
No. 8. The Colts should never say a word about this. Not. One. Single. Word.
No. 9. Whatever charity gets the NFL fines must really appreciate the Patriots, who keep getting nailed for being naughty. A million bucks here, $750,000 there—pretty soon that starts adding up to real money. By the way, the new standard on whether an NFL fine is heavy is whether it is more or less than Chris Christie’s tab for hot dogs and nachos at Giants and Jets games.
No. 10. The NFL is utterly amazing in its ability to own the public conversation in the off season. First it’s the draft combine, and excitement over guys running around cones. Then the release of the schedule, so you can plan your Octobers in April. Then, the 46 mock drafts. Then, the real one. Then, all the draft grading reports.
Now, Brady to the gulag. And being the leader of a marketing machine, Goodell’s line of thinking on Brady’s punishment probably went something like this:
“Let’s see, how many games do we whack him? Well, here’s next season’s schedule. Hmmmm, it says the Patriots play the Colts their fifth game. (Buzzes for his assistant.) Hey, can someone bring me in a news release form? In the cause of truth, justice and the American way, I have decided to suspend Tom Brady four games.”•
Lopresti is a lifelong resident of Richmond and a graduate of Ball State University. He was a columnist for USA Today and Gannett newspapers for 31 years; he covered 34 Final Fours, 30 Super Bowls, 32 World Series and 16 Olympics. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.