Last Monday, when I woke up and was going through my morning routine, I saw a tweet about the New England Patriots possibly using deflated footballs during the game against the Indianapolis Colts the prior day.
My heart sank. I knew immediately that there would be a completely unnecessary overreaction to this. I knew that this would overshadow what will be a fantastic Super Bowl by two #1 teams. I was right. When was the last time the top coach and QB in the league wasn’t asked a single question about the big game at their press conferences?
I completely understand any football fan getting upset about this controversy. The Patriots have been on a ~14 year tear through the league, never having a losing season and only missing the playoffs twice in that time. Winning three Super Bowls, barely losing two others in the last minutes of the game, and now returning for the sixth time a week from tomorrow. It is completely defies explanation. How can the Patriots win so much, and often by a lot? They must have had help? They must be cheating!
Sitting on the other side of this when the Cowboys ruled football in the early/mid 1990s, the Yankees in the late 1990s/early 2000s…I wanted nothing more for those teams to fail, seizing on every controversy, using every argument I could make. And they eventually did, even the Yankees, sometimes in spectacular fashion (2004 ALCS Games 4-7), other times fading away (Cowboys core aging away without comparable replacements).
But an objective fan must look here. Deflating a football by 1-2 PSI is something that football players can’t even agree among themselves whether it matters or if they can even tell the difference. There are players openly admitting to doing similar things to footballs, even in the Super Bowl. While an under inflated football may be easier to catch, it is likely to be under thrown. Seems like a real mixed bag. This is far, far different than video taping other team’s walkthroughs, which admiringly was a stupid risk to take and could cause a real unfair advantage. This is fraying the edges of what is/isn’t fair. It’s a grey area.
Sports are supposed to have grey areas. Look at all of the unwritten rules in baseball, hockey, and basketball. The place for this to be solved is on the football field and with the league making clarifications to its rule book. For instance, returning footballs to both teams at game time seems like an invitation to try something…they should be under control of the league during the game and tested frequently.
I hope the league concludes this investigation quickly and allows the most important people, the fans, to enjoy the lead up to the Super Bowl. Because it will be a fantastic game, perhaps one for the ages.
But knowing the NFL, with signs that the investigation is already being bungled give it took 5 days for a statement to be released, I’m not holding out hope. It is time for Patriots fans to rally around each other and our team.