A Fracas in a Freight Car: A Big NFL Win

NFL: New England Patriots Rookie MinicampIt seems a little too big to call it a tempest in a teapot. That’s because it involves the NFL which for many is bigger than life. The NFL, like horse manure in the days prior to the automobile, seems ubiquitous at this time of year. So I give the tempest a little more room to play out while keeping the alliteration. But it all amounts to the same thing which is much ado about nothing.

I know I posted a couple a days ago about the sad need of the Patriots to cheat. But as some pointed out to me that maybe I was too quick to a conclusion because the investigation was ongoing and perhaps I was making too much out of the cheating. As time passed I saw the wisdom in their suggestions and accept this for what it is, a grand publicity ploy.

I did write based on media reports that the defensive back Jackson who intercepted the ball immediately noticed it was under inflated and turned it over to the equipment manager to check out. That proved wrong. Jackson denied noticing that was the case.

A reporter at the Boston Globe inflated one ball to 12.5 pounds and another to 10.5; he tested it on others and some in the sports department noticed the difference immediately, others didn’t. That would account for others who handled the ball during the game not to pick up on the difference since it isn’t dramatic.

We can eliminate the weather, game conditions, and other factors as affecting the ball pressure since the other team’s balls used during the same period when tested showed no loss of pressure. What we have then is a situation where the Patriots used a football that did not meet the league rules. Whether deliberate or not this amounts to cheating.

Yet as someone noted it didn’t make a difference. No one has said it affected the outcome of this game. No one knows whether it affected the outcome of other games although the Patriots seemed to be the better team by a large margin in most of them so it probably didn’t make a difference.

Now we know everyone involved is suggesting that they knew nothing about the balls not being up to NFL rules. Belichick says, and I believe him, what happens to the ball is of no concern to him. He has other things more important to worry about. Brady said he picked 24 balls before the game and they were given to the officials. He opined: “I didn’t alter the balls in any way … To me, those balls are perfect.” He said he didn’t notice any difference between the balls in the first half (underinflated) and those in the second half (properly inflated. Ironically, the Patriots did better with the properly inflated ball than the other one.

So what is one to make of all this. I suggest the following:

First, the NFL has too many rules. It is important to have some relating to player safety and what constitutes a penalty, but the rule on the weight of the ball is has no bearing on the integrity of the game. If a team wants to play with a 10.5 pound ball so what. It doesn’t give them an advantage over the other team since they would have the same option. A team should be able to inflate the ball to whatever level it figures is best.

Second, the people who pump up the balls for the Patriots by interacting with Brady know he likes the ball to be inflated at the lowest legal level. Over time they have found he likes it softer than harder so they keep it at 12.5 or perhaps a shade under which could bring it to 10.5. The feeling of the ball to Brady on the field in the tumult of the game is as he said “perfect.” He’s comfortable at 12.5 or 10.5 or in between that. When it gets higher then he’s not comfortable.

Third, the officials also do the same thing as Brady does when he picks out the balls. They don’t test each one with a pressure gauge. (Perhaps if they test one with a gauge that would account for the one being correctly filled. That would be the one the ball boy gave the official to check.) They feel them and if they are within a range they are acceptable to them. This is shown by their not noticing anything wrong with them during the first half of the game when they handled that ball on the field.

I’d suggest the Patriot ball handlers know Brady’s preference for a softer ball and comply with that. It neither helps or hurts Brady if the ball is at or a bit lower than the correct weight. The correct weight rule is stupid because it adds nothing to the game. Both Belichick and Brady have more important things to do than to worry about the weight of the ball.

Two additional facts to consider: the Commissioner and Patriot’s owner are close buddies so they will get together to work out something that will not hurt the Patriots but will look like they believe the rule should not have been broken; the brouhaha over this is good pre-Super Bowl publicity that will cause millions more to the television screens for now there is something else to watch for and discuss.

Considering the latter two points, the whole matter is a pretty slick way to increase audience which results in increased money for the NFL. Perhaps that’s why they have rules that make no sense because they can increase the publicity of their product when phoney disputes like this arise. I suppose if we keep it in perspective it is all harmless but does provide a little fodder for the gossip mills.

There’s an old saying: “no harm, no foul.” Keep it in mind. And the other old saying: “there’s a sucker born everyday.” Put them together and you have the nonsense of “deflategate.”

16 thoughts on “A Fracas in a Freight Car: A Big NFL Win

  1. Thank you Matt for reconsidering your position. I just take issue with this statement, “What we have then is a situation where the Patriots used a football that did not meet the league rules. Whether deliberate or not this amounts to cheating.” I would argue it would have to be intentional for this to be true, but nonetheless, I agree with your larger points.

    There is also something to be said about the fact that the NFL planned on checking the balls at half-time prior to the game even starting. The Colts raised the issue after their Week 11 trouncing by the Patriots. Why not confer with the Patriots staff pre-game and let them know the air pressure would be particularly scrutinized by the league due to the suspicions raised by the Colts during Week 11? If the integrity of the game is so important, why allow an entire half to go by with potentially altered footballs? (It should be noted that Jackson said for at least possession in the first half, the Pats used a Colts football). In my opinion, this is another example of the Goodell administration’s bungling of an investigation and disciplinary situation. He has proven to be incompetent over and over.

    I highly doubt Brady and Belichick would put their entire reputations on the line for something as silly as the amount of air in a football, which by all measures the difference is largely undetectable. (Keep in mind the people at the Globe offices who were able to tell the difference were actually looking and concentrating on the feel of the ball, rather than just casually handling it like Brady and the refs).

    It has also come out that the footballs remained in the referees locker room until about 10 minutes before game time and where then distributed to the ball boys. If so, any tampering would likely be on film somewhere with the thousands of cameras/iphones in the stadium. I have yet to hear a report of a picture of Brady or Belichick with an air pressure gauge and a football in their hands existing.

    All of the sportswriters and journalists clamoring for TB and BB to be fired, suspended, banned, drawn and quartered, etc., really look ridiculous at this point. Unless the NFL comes out with a damning report with witness statements and hard evidence, it looks like they should be eating crow soon enough.

    1. Dave:

      Your point on the NFL not doing what I would suggest is its due diligence to notify the Patriots of its concern over the ball pressure is an excellent one. Why let a team fall into a trap in the second most important game of the season. I agree with you that too much is at stake for either Bill or Tom to lie so I accept their explanations. That seems to leave a ball boy letting the air out on his own. A very unlikely situation I would think. But how do you get around the ball being checked by the refs (if true) and only having a ten minute window into which to effectuate a change. Plus, if the ball is going down from 12.5 to 10.5 doesn’t the person doing it have to have a pressure gauge with him or her which would be obvious as you pointed out. I anxiously await the final verdict.

  2. Were BB and/or TB run out of town in disgrace there would be the biggest bidding war in NFL history as every team that referred to Belacheat begged him to come coach their squad.

    I would put my money on Dallas, where they understand having a morally pure staff can still get you knocked out in the first round. And the Broncos would drop physically limited Peyton in a heartbeat to hire Tommy boy.

    “Just win, baby”. – Al Davis

    1. Jeff:

      True. But do you think the ball boy will get snapped up by any other teams if he/she is considered the fall man or lady.

  3. The plot thickens. The NFL, perhaps stung by Tom Brady’s statement that no one from the league had spoken to him, has ended its silence by issuing a statement saying that the NFL has already conducted about 40 interviews, and has retained an outside attorney, Ted Wells, to help lead the probe. The league has also hired “an investigatory firm with sophisticated forensic expertise to assist in reviewing electronic and video information.”

    Whatever.

    Some thoughts on the “molehill” argument: NFL teams are under intense scrutiny from the media, their fans and, especially, each other. If you are looking to get an unfair advantage, even a small one, you are going to have to do it on the sly. It’s got to be something that won’t attract attention. So Belichick can’t arm his offensive linemen with nun-chuks to beat back defenders. He’d be “caught.” But underinflate the footballs to give Brady a better grip? Hmmm. That just might work ….

      1. This has been a public relations disaster for the NFL and the Pats. I think they moved up the time of Brady’s press conference in an effort to calm the waters as quickly as possible. But Belichick pointed the finger at Brady and Tom, while pleading innocent, said no one from the league had spoken to him about this. That kicked off another 24 hours on the news cycle. (I see Robert Kraft issued a separate, dreadfully pompous statement. On we go!)

        1. Dan:

          Did you ever think this could be part of a game plan? Scandals attract attention. This is a lot to do about nothing but has gained so much publicity it has been made into something that it isn’t, I’m now looking to see how they make it disappear after the Super Bowl. I’d be very surprised if anything happened before then.

          1. Hi Matt,

            No. I’ve never considered deflategate to be part of a game plan. That would suggest a three-party conspiracy involving the Pats, the Colts and the league. Very unlikely. Also, what kind of game plan tarnishes the reputation of Belichick, Brady, the Pats and the NFL?

      2. Dave:

        The plot thickens. Are we to believe a ball boy went out of his or her way in the ten minutes the balls were available to take out a pressure gauge and reduce the pressure by two pounds in the footballs with out instructions. One thing that seems to make sense now is to continue the investigation until after the Super Bowl. No finding between now and then of culpability should be allowed to interfere with it. But it will certainly increase the size of the viewing audience which is one good outcome for the NFL; then if it can be made to disappear after the game through some non finding it will be a win win.

  4. It certainly is baffling. I think it’s possible that the referee who said he checked the balls before the game actually mailed it in by tossing the balls a glance and moving on. Later, with his job presumably on the line, the same referee insists that he carefully checked the pressure of each and every ball before the game. Every theory has some unlikely element or elements, no? My theory is that the someone on the Pats staff deflated the balls with Brady’s knowledge and approval. The ref then made a cursory check, and the balls went into play.

    1. Dan:

      As I said unless it can be clearly established by other than the referees word that he checked each ball with a pressure gauge the matter should always remain inconclusive. I lean toward your suggestion that the balls weren’t checked and the guy who fills the balls knowing Brady’s preference keeps them a little softer than they should be. But this should all be known by now so the delay in coming out with an answer hurts everyone except the pocket book of the NFL. When the Patriots win the Super Bowl most of the nation will feel they won it unfairly so best to address this sooner than later. It really is a simple investigation and the NFL hiring lawyers (which always means delay) and expert technical companies makes a mockery of the matter.

      1. Matt:
        Maybe things will turn out for the best. During his press conference, I heard Belichick mumble out what I took to be his “happy ending” defense. Each of the Pats’ balls were pressurized to the minimum 12.5 psi NFL standard. Some time after that, Unknown Forces took over (Temperature? Atmospheric conditions? Satan??). This would take everybody, including the ref, off the hook.

          1. Matt: That’s right. She visits often. If I recall correctly , the New York tabs have reported Belichick set her up in Brooklyn brownstone. Or was that another woman?

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