Brady and Belichick: The Actress and Richard Nixon
According to Sports Illustrated, no one (with the exception of some Pat fans) believes Tom Brady’s denial of Deflategate:
Before games, like most quarterbacks, [Brady] makes sure the footballs meet his precise specifications. He likes them to have 12.5 pounds of pressure per square inch. Presumably, he also likes them worked in so they are not too shiny, too slippery, too waxy, or covered in maple syrup. Then—he made this point multiple times Thursday—he doesn’t want anybody touching them. They’re perfect the way they are.
And yet, during the first half of the Patriots’ AFC Championship win over the Colts, Brady was playing with balls that were well under his preferred 12.5 pounds of PSI. At least 11 of the 12 were under-inflated.
But guess what? He didn’t notice. He had nothing to do with it. He has no idea how it happened. Maybe a manager did it on his own, maybe there was a porcupine in the ball bag. But Brady—Tom Brady, the same extremely competitive, detail-oriented man who helped lobby the league to allow quarterbacks to supply their own footballs—didn’t notice they were under-inflated.
Saturday Night Live joined the fun on Saturday, one week before Super Bowl Eve, with an astute take, revealing that football fans are everywhere and they’re not as stupid as one might think. The SNL skit, which opened the show, deftly presented the four key characters of the unfolding drama:
1. The coach, Bill Belichick, fined the maximum penalty of $500,000 by the NFL in 2007 for stealing opponent’s play signals from 2002 through 2007: grumpy, with nothing to say.
2. The player, Tom Brady, infamous for a game-ending playoff fumble reversed by an inscrutable on-field referee ruling, known as the Tuck Rule: joyously stupid, with nothing to say.
3. The equipment manager: an affable nobody, suddenly important and on the defensive. Since the NFL is a private organization, they cannot force their employees to testify—the Pats are tight-lipped because it’s their right. The U.S. Congress was looking into 2007’s Spygate; the NFL has no incentive to call attention to cheating in games: if one ref, or one coach, or one player violates NFL rules to alter the outcome of a game and no one knows, that’s good for the NFL—if fans, however, learn of violations, that’s bad for the NFL. Players are protected by a powerful Player Union. Not so, equipment managers.
4. The reporters: Not buying Brady and Belichick’s denials. They just want to know who deflated the footballs the Pats were using in the rainy conditions to give their quarterback a clear advantage, in violation of the game’s rules.
Richard Sherman, the Seahawks talkative defensive back, had to remind everyone yesterday that there are two other players in the drama:
5. The owner: Bob Kraft, probably the most influential owner in the NFL, whose aim is to make his Pats look as clean as possible.
6. The NFL commissioner: Roger Goodell, whose aim is to make the NFL look as clean as possible.
As Sherman pointed out: Kraft and Goodell are pals.
Belichick’s press conference on Thursday was the grumpy man’s attempt to “scientifically” deflect and distract from the fact that the balls used by the Patriots in the AFC championship game were under-inflated, a clear violation of NFL rules, as measured at half-time, while the balls used by the Colts, also measured, were not.
But the overall truth is this: the NFL will always err on the side of “There was no cheating.” Even if cheating happens all the time.
That Belichick (whose dad scouted other teams for Navy) was caught and penalized for cheating in 2007 is an extraordinary fact in itself. That he was still allowed to coach is perhaps even more revealing.
Obviously it’s very important for Belichick that he not be seen as personally guilty in this latest cheating scandal—which is why Belichick (days prior to his hastily called press conference) threw Brady under the bus last week. He knows about the balls. Ask him.
The eternally stone-faced Belichick slipping up to protect himself by shining a light on his star quarterback was an epic mistake—not even close to a calculated move by a criminal genius. Brady, in private, must have been fuming.
Belichick’s press conference gambit: “texture” matters more than “pressure” was his attempt to save his quarterback’s ass.
But this only puts Brady’s balls in more hot water, because Belichick’s denial of any involvement in Deflategate is based on the fact that he, as head coach, had nothing to do with handling the footballs—that’s Brady’s realm of expertise. So how did Belichick suddenly, out of the blue, become an authority on “texture” versus “pressure?” Not knowing or caring about that shit was the basis of Belichick’s “innocence.” Now, in front of the world, he’s a lecturing, indignant expert on the subject.
This is the spin Pats defenders have settled on.
This morning,the Boston Globe featured a headline story with local science professors who agree with Belichick’s “scientific” defense.
The “science” is: 50 degree weather deflates Pats’ balls—but not Colts’ balls.
And Boston’s major newspaper is going with this “science.”
Pats fans don’t get it (as Pats fans, they don’t want to get it) when they insist the Pats beat the Colts by 5 touchdowns.
The final score of the game, as the press has been saying, is irrelevant.
Breaking a rule is breaking a rule. Fair play is not sort of important—it’s the most important thing. A “level playing field” is the first premise of sport. Even war has rules, even though we don’t need “rules” to define “war.” A game, however, by definition, consists of “rules” and these “rules” must be the same for each side, or it’s not a game, or a sport, at all. What it probably is, then, is entertainment (like WWE wrestling) or a gambling operation.
The NFL, as a private company, may very well be a gambling or entertainment industry—it would be in their monetary interest, to be so, and legally, there is more than enough gray area—combined with the monetary incentive—for the NFL to easily be so, in fact.
Hey, the first NFL teams were funded by gambling winnings. (A little history for you)
It has been written that the NFL rewards franchises who re-locate; Super Bowls have been won—within a season or two!—by teams who moved (the 1999 Rams from LA to St. Louis, the 2000 Ravens from Cleveland to Baltimore, the 1983 Raiders from Oakland to LA).
How could this happen? How can the NFL allow a team to win? Every football fan knows how. An NFL referee can make “penalty” calls, or not make “penalty” calls, or reverse “penalty” calls at his discretion, with no possibility of these calls being overturned. They are final, and one call, or even one non-call, can easily determine the outcome of a game, even make the outcome of a game lop-sided. It’s just the way football works. Or how any sport works. Think of a World Series contest. One team is down 2-0 and if they win, it’s 2-1, but one bad hop grounder and they lose and suddenly they are down 3-0 and it looks like they are being slaughtered—but not really. So the score of the Colts-Pats game is completely irrelevant and not the point at all.
Football is a contact sport—in the most extreme sense, and every single contact is a potential penalty. Unlike chess, in which the two players control their separate destinies by moving one chess piece at a time towards a clearly determined checkmate, any play on a football field is open to the subjective judgment of a referee, no matter how perfectly a ball is thrown or how skillfully and remarkably a defensive play is executed. In football, a pawn—on the other side of the board, which has nothing to do with the knight’s move to check the king—can be “flagged” for some tenuous “illegal contact,” canceling out the knight’s move forever. A long gain for a score or a first down—the sort of play which is so important it holds the key to victory—becomes loss of down and loss of yardage—due to a purely subjective and irreversible decision made on the basis of a lightning-fast and ambiguous “touch” between two players, deemed a “penalty” that “officially” changes the game result.
Any pro quarterback will play like the greatest quarterback to ever play the game if they have an extra second to throw the ball; a defensive player, if allowed, or not allowed, to use his hands in a certain way, will either be ineffective, or the greatest defensive player ever, and this is determined by how the referee in any given contest chooses to interpret rules which, by their very nature, are entirely ambiguous. No expert can tell whether a large “grey area” of contact between an offensive and a defensive player on any given play, in the middle of the action, or far away on the other side of the field, constitutes, in retrospect, a “penalty” by either the offensive player, or the defensive player, and yet such determinations “set the tone” for “proper” play during the entire contest, and specific calls bring tremendous momentum-building and material advantage to whichever team happens to be favored.
Was that a great “block,” or was that an “offensive holding penalty?” It doesn’t matter how many witnesses there are. No one really knows.
Referees can fix games in broad daylight, in front of millions, without anyone “knowing.” Simply because the ambiguity of the rules bars knowing itself.
The referee’s non-call of “holding” results in the quarterback having precious extra time to pass the ball with an inevitable completion, or, if the referee does call “holding,” a cancellation of that completion with an additional loss of yardage. Poor versus great quarterback performances are almost entirely determined by quarterback “protection”—this every football expert does know.
“Pawns” on the other side of the board who “fight” long after a play is over, can also arbitrarily result in a 15 yard penalty against one team—winning scores in football are often determined by swings of 10 or 20 yards one way or the other, and so irreversible referee penalty calls of the most trivial and subjective nature (having absolutely nothing to do with the game played on the field) can determine game outcomes.
Sports has famously been overrun in the last 30 years by number-crunching geeks who analyze every statistical aspect imaginable to quantify the game and seek advantage. But NFL referee decisions remain the ghost in the machine: this crucial part of the game is invisible and unrecorded; sure, they total “penalty yards,” but what escapes detection is the game-changing fact of when a penalty is called, and also the yardage earned which penalties erase, and also the intimidation factor: if a referee punishes a defensive back with an unwarranted “pass interference” call, this has a ripple effect on the entire defense and the entire game.
The Pats no doubt gained tremendous advantage by stealing plays, but the Pats could easily look like the greatest team on earth simply by how selected referees of the NFL manipulate the “chess pieces.” The Pats had their miraculous 18-0 “perfect season” run in the wake of the embarrassing Spygate accusations, accusations which called into question the legitimacy of not only the Patriots, but the NFL itself. Once caught, the only possible way for the NFL to escape the embarrassment of previous Super Bowl wins (three of them!) awarded to cheaters was to make it look like the Pats were such an awesome team they did not need to cheat. Only after the U.S. Congress threatened to look into Spygate more deeply—just prior to the Super Bowl that season—did the Pats all at once look like a perfectly ordinary team, losing to a wild card 10-6 Giants team in the 2007 Super Bowl, despite the Pats being heavy favorites.
In the contest prior to their blow-out victory over the Colts last week, the Pats were lucky to escape with a win over the Ravens, and the Pats did so with referee help–and an interception thrown by the Ravens quarterback at the end of the game—a lob into the arms of the Pats’ safety which looked suspiciously intentional; perhaps it was thought best by the currently scandal-hit League not to let the Ray Rice-scandalized Ravens in the Super Bowl this year.
In the second half of that close game, the Ravens were penalized 15 yards when the Ravens’ coach ventured onto the field before a play to get the officials’ attention. The Pats were using a formation in which legitimate receivers were not designated—the rules say defenses must be given time before the ball is snapped to ascertain which offensive players on any give play are eligible to catch a pass, but the Pats were running players on the field and then snapping the ball right away. The Pats were stretching the rules with trickery—and the refs penalized the Ravens.
The Pats were supposed to have a great defense this season and were heavy favorites over a Ravens team depleted by injuries in the secondary; the Ravens—named after the Poe poem—snuck into the playoffs as a wild card team. Yet the Ravens moved the ball at will, and their quarterback threw four touchdowns against what was thought to be one of the best Pat defenses of all time—five touchdowns if you count the fact that on throwing the ball on fourth down to the Pats’ goal line, the receiver who made the great catch spun the ball on the ground after the play—and was flagged for a fifteen yard “taunting” penalty. “Taunting” penalties produced more yardage for the Pats than their running game.
We hear that in celebrating a pass reception, for a ball to spin nicely on the ground, it should be properly inflated.