Culture

'Deflate-Gate': New England Patriots Accused of Letting the Air Out of the Ball

It’s playoff time for the NFL, which means the New England Patriots will be accused of some sort of conspiracy to cheat the other team out of victory.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the accusations get more bizarre every year. The Patriots are such consistent winners, and their mercurial coach, Bill Belichick, such a football genius, that for some, the only explanation for their consistent excellence is that they play fast and loose with the rules.

Except, there is a basis for people’s mistrust of the Patriots. They’ve been caught cheating in the past. The NFL determined that from 2002-2007, the Patriots illegally videotaped their opponents’ hand signals sent in from the sidelines. Belichick was slapped with a $500,000 personal fine, the team lost a first round draft pick, and the team fine was $250,000.

Nowadays, teams relay signals via a headset in the quarterback’s helmet. But in the early part of the 2000s, if you could minutely study your opponents’ signals and match them up with the play that was called, you would have an enormous advantage in your division when you played that opponent a second time.

Belichick has taken Vince Lombardi’s famous adage, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” to a level never before seen in pro football. So in the aftermath of the Patriots’ 45-7 clobbering of Indianapolis on Sunday, the natural reaction of the Colts was to accuse Belichick of pulling a fast one — specifically, deflating the game balls so that they would be easier to grip and throw in the raw, rainy conditions under which the game was played.

It’s possible. Home-team employees have possession of the game balls, although the refs are supposed to make sure that the balls are regulation and ready for play before the game. And if the Patriots tried to pull any hanky-panky with the balls, why was Brady so brilliant and his counterpart on the Colts, Andrew Luck, who used the same balls, so pathetic? Theoretically, the deflated balls should have benefited both teams.

But the NFL is looking into it anyway:

The NFL has confirmed it is looking into charges the New England Patriots cheated Sunday night when they clinched a trip to the Super Bowl Sunday night by using deflated footballs, a charge star quarterback Tom Brady dismissed as “ridiculous.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed the probe Monday, following the AFC championship game, in which the Patriots demolished the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7. The charge was first made Sunday night, when an Indianapolis reporter that the NFL had seized at least one game ball from the AFC championship game to examine whether pigskins were intentionally deflated to make them easier to throw and catch.

Brady, in his Monday morning appearance on the New England radio station WEEI, called the report, “ridiculous.”

“I think I’ve heard it all at this point,” Brady said. “That’s the last of my worries. I don’t even respond to stuff like this.”

The story first broke when Bob Kravitz, of WTHR in Indiana, reported it.

“The NFL is investigating the possibility,” Bob Kravitz, of WTHR, tweeted, adding that, “at one point the officials took a ball out of play and weighed it.”

There are times when the accusations of cheating against the Patriots reach the level of the sublimely ridiculous. In the aftermath of the Patriots’ playoff victory over the Baltimore Colts last week, they were accused of running plays from “deceptive” formations that were so cleverly disguised, they fooled the officials.

Listen to Coach John Harbaugh’s idiotic bellyaching about the “deception” involved in the formations:

Harbaugh said that his defense wasn’t given enough time to figure out who the eligible and ineligible players were after New England’s players reported into the game.

“Because what they were doing was they would announce the eligible player and Tom [Brady] would take it to the line right away and snap the ball before [we] even figured out who was lined up where,” Harbaugh said. “And that was the deception part of it. It was clearly deception.”

While the formation was within the rules, some questioned whether it was within the spirit of the rules and fair competition. Either way, the NFL deemed the play legal.

Perhaps Harbaugh wants to ban the fake handoff. After all, it’s just not fair that the defensive linemen are fooled into thinking someone else has the ball. It’s “deception,” right?

Sheesh.

The Patriots may not be “America’s Team” and probably never will be. Belichick is a notorious grouch with the press and while Tom Brady married a super model and has always conducted himself with class and dignity, the organization has not been without its off-field controversies.

I’m sure it hardly matters to the players. They, and Belichick, only want to be known as “Super Bowl champions.”