Look, the New England Patriots could have defeated Indianapolis in the AFC title game if they’d played it with a beach ball.
It makes the notion of the Pats intentionally deflating the balls to gain an advantage seem like an absurd diversion as they head toward Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson laughed when asked about it, saying he’d “throw anything as long as it has laces.”
If proven, this would be such a ridiculous example of hypercompetitiveness gone amok that everybody involved should lose their jobs and be suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
Even if it’s coach Bill Belichick.
No, particularly if it’s coach Bill Belichick, who already drew a $500,000 fine and cost his franchise a first-round draft pick for his involvement in the 2007 “Spygate” that found New England guilty of the inappropriate filming of opponents.
If there’s any truth to this, the punishment must be massive. I doubt there’s any way to solve this mystery before the Super Bowl. And there’s no mechanism to force the Patriots to forfeit the Super Bowl, or elevate the Colts into the game as first runner-up.
But the revocation of draft picks, suspensions and record-setting fines would be warranted.
So, we should ask: Could it be coincidental that the 12 game balls supplied by the Patriots were properly inflated before the game, but 11 registered significantly underinflated when retested at halftime?
The investigation continued through Wednesday, with no news beyond the reporting that the discrepancies were confirmed.
Belichick is noted as a stickler for details, and for his tight control of the franchise. Is it possible that someone would dare deflate the balls without getting Belichick’s OK?
Even if it was a random or the act of a rogue, the NFL should steal a page from the NCAA and deem the Patriots and Belichick guilty of a glaring “lack of institutional control.”
Again, Belichick should have to pay. The Saints’ Sean Payton was suspended a year for the actions of his defensive coordinator in the “BountyGate” scandal. (Must every one of these carry the “gate” suffix?)
Players in the Seahawks locker room had never heard of such a tactic. But it made sense to them.
“It might feel better as a quarterback,” Tarvaris Jackson said of passing an underinflated ball. “I’ve thrown with some balls that weren’t all the way pumped up and it does feel better.”
Receiver and punt returner Bryan Walters said he’d never heard of anybody tampering with the inflation of the footballs. “But it makes some sense to me,” he said. “I think maybe there’d be a little more give to the ball, so you could squeeze it a little better. And when it’s (overinflated) it might tend to bounce off your hands more.”
Cornerback Richard Sherman also had never heard of such a thing, and doubts there’s anything to it.
“I’m not sure anything will come of it. I mean, it didn’t have much effect on that game, if any,” Sherman said. “If it’s against the rules, it’s against the rules. But it’s not going to have any affect on (the Super Bowl); nobody’s going to get suspended, nothing’s going to happen. They’re going to play this game.”
The Seahawks have had players suspended and fined for positive tests for PEDs over previous seasons, so it’s possible they don’t want to offhandedly cast too many stones.
The Colts, who have lost to New England six consecutive times, reportedly complained to officials about the balls, leading to the testing and the controversy.
“I just catch footballs how they come to me,” Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse said. “It could be a tennis ball and I’d try to catch it.”
But Kearse then awakened to the strange nature of these questions.
“It’s just so funny, we’re talking about footballs — not the game, but the balls,” he said.
Yes, it seems ridiculous. Unless it’s true. And then it’s a sad display, and another shot to the reputation of the NFL in a year of so many others.