Maybe, for once, the New England Patriots should have been candid.
It’s still unclear what transpired Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, but one thing was revealed by multiple reports: At halftime, 11 of the Patriots’ footballs were under-inflated.
Let’s make one thing clear before we move on: Deflated footballs didn’t help the Patriots win. After the balls were discovered, the Patriots finished out the game on a 28-0 run in a 45-7 blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Still, it’s against the rules, and it’s unlikely that weather or pressure from storms caused the deflation. This seems like more of a case of them asking, “This is a big deal? Seriously?” Ultimately, the Patriots reportedly had under-inflated footballs one way or another.
Why do we think this might be commonplace? Let’s start with a Yahoo! Sports interview two years ago with a college equipment manager.
The anonymous manager explains ball deflating like a baseball manager would describe scuffing a baseball or using pine tar to gain a grip: Everyone does it. You just have to get away with it. And yes, this is college, but as many a Patriot has said in the Bill Belichick-era, “football is football.”
“Being around football, it’s just common,” the college manager said. “It’s just the way it works. Everybody does it. You know you’re not supposed to do it, but nobody thinks it’s that big of a deal. I don’t think anybody looks at it as cheating.”
The manager detailed the process, saying a quarterback dictates the feel of the ball and is sometimes present for the post-test deflation. The deflation can occur in the locker room or on the sideline, sneakily using a handheld air pump typically used on helmets.
It seems the Patriots simply failed at not getting caught when Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson ratted them out to his head coach, who then kept pushing the transgression further up the ladder until it got to NFL officials.
There’s further evidence that this might all be an eye-opening experience for many NFL teams. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers readily admitted that he over-inflates balls past the 12.5-to-13.5 PSI range, and the Minnesota Vikings used sideline heaters to warm footballs in November when they were facing the Carolina Panthers in frigid temperatures.
The NFL didn’t punish the Vikings. They simply said, “You can’t do that.” No investigation into Rodgers’ statements has been announced either.
Deflating footballs to gain a grip probably is more advantageous, but altering is altering, and the punishment for altering footballs is a measly $25,000.
If the Patriots knew about the deflated footballs and responded Monday morning after the initial report was submitted with a simple “whoops, won’t happen again,” then, while we still might be talking about this controversy, it probably wouldn’t have been blown ridiculously out of proportion, as it did Tuesday night.
The Patriots are considered to be rule breakers to the rest of the NFL, and head coach Bill Belichick’s refusal to cop to knowing that his team had deflated balls might wind up biting him and causing a long-term distraction when his players need to focus most. Had Belichick initially acknowledged it, then the $25,000 fine likely would have been enforced, and we all would have moved on by Super Bowl Sunday.
Perhaps Belichick still can be saved by some inept officiating, as CSNNE.com’s Tom E. Curran wrote early Wednesday morning. If it turns out the officials improperly checked the balls, then this all will be swept under the NFL’s sprawling rug.
And if he’s not, then that $25,000 fine seems appropriate. We are talking about deflated balls, after all, which sounds like a common football-related transgression.
“At least once a week,” the college manager said when asked how often he sees football deflated. “On game day. Every week.”
And if the NFL’s investigation reveals the Patriots didn’t doctor their footballs, then apparently they’re the only honest team in the sport.
Thumbnail photo via Elise Amendola/Associated Press