Why should Bucs fans or general sports fans from the ‘Burg and the Bay care about Tom Brady and underinflated footballs? It’s not like any of this will affect their everyday lives.
Why do readers of this publication, whether or not they are sports fans, pay attention to a national story like this? Because it goes beyond sports.
It’s the intrigue; it’s knowing what you don’t know and looking to fill that void. Everyone following the story has an opinion.
The story garners broad attention because it is about a highly successful professional football operation in the NFL. It is also about one of the most gifted, clutch, championship-winning quarterbacks playing the game.
Deflategate is probably the 212th “gate” since the original Watergate scandal happened 43 years ago. This one contains the fundamental issue of why events reach “gate” status: the cover-up is much worse than the crime.
It involves the New England Patriots, a team many love to hate. Their long-term success is one thing, but their do-what-it-takes philosophy sometimes crosses the line.
The perception exists, fairly or unfairly, that The Brady Bunch is treated with kid gloves by the NFL. Pointing to the 2007 scandal known as Spygate, Patriot haters were not satisfied with the $500,000 fine to Coach Bill Belichick and the loss of a first-round draft choice.
The Patriots, from top to bottom, exude an air of confidence that can cross into arrogance. Deflategate, or Ballghazi as some call it, added ammunition to the open-ended indictment.
When the scandal broke the day after the AFC Championship Game in January, the sports world buzzed. When Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft asked for an apology from the league and the media before the Super Bowl, the howling echoed from Tempe to Tampa.
As the facts emerged, Brady was essentially found “guilty” through strong circumstantial evidence. When Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension was denied, the NFL decided to let us all know Brady had his cell phone, containing thousands of text messages, destroyed.
As they say in the sports world, that was a game changer. Even those who detest the Patriots wanted to give Brady some benefit of the doubt. With this bombshell, they hung up on him.
It became impossible to overlook one glaring inconsistency. If Brady was innocent, as he and Kraft loudly proclaim, the phone records could have proven it.
Kraft, a good man despite being in total denial, was outraged and didn’t mince words. He expressed his profound disappointment in Commissioner Roger Goodell and the National Football League.
“I was wrong to put my faith in the league,” said Kraft. “It is completely incomprehensible to me that the league continues to take steps to disparage one of its all-time great players and a man for whom I have the utmost respect. I have come to the conclusion that was never about what was doing fair and just.”
Let’s make it comprehensible. For however minor the offense turned out to be, footballs were deflated because the quarterback had mentioned he liked them that way if he had a choice.
In fact, the Patriots held a small first half lead in the AFC Championship Game playing with illegal footballs. In the second half, New England blew out the Indianapolis Colts after they blew up the game balls.
An impartial investigation revealed Brady was at least partially at fault for this nonsensical fiasco. His lack of cooperation (as well as the Patriots’ organization) and destruction of evidence is one thing, but Brady’s refusal to accept any blame meant he had done nothing to earn a reduction of his penalty.
If Goodell were up for re-election today, we could probably place Kraft in the “no” category. Outside of New England, and in some quarters within, neither Kraft nor Brady elicit much sympathy.
“The Patriots and Brady have done off the field what they so rarely do on it – contributed to their own demise with a series of miscues and poor decisions,” wrote Boston Globe columnist Christopher L. Gasper.
What can Tampa Bay fans and the Bucs learn from all of this? By looking at the Patriots, we see an organization consumed by the culture of winning.
That is not necessarily a bad thing in professional sports. The problems come when the culture sometimes leads to a blurring or erasing of the line separating right from wrong.
The Green Bay Packers also possess a culture of winning that treats the rule book as something more than a series of suggestions. Seeing the Packers twice a year in his former job with the Bears, Lovie Smith can relate to, and develop such a culture in Tampa Bay in conjunction with ownership.
Throw the Patriots’ model into Boston Harbor.