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I must admit I jumped the gun last week regarding the NFL's investigation of the New England Patriots' possession of underinflated footballs. My doing so was Tom Brady's fault but still . . .
Brady answered one question in particular in classic "I need to say this in such a way as to avoid a perjury charge if someone flips on me" fashion during his press conference regarding the matter.
The quarterback was asked "Is Tom Brady a cheater?" and answered "I don't think so."
The answer, of course, should have been "No!" or even better "Absolutely not!" The quarterback might have been distracted a bit by the strange use of the third person (perhaps the questioner was a little nervous and thought the query would be less offensive if he said it that way rather than "Are you a cheater?").
Either way, Brady's unwillingness to make a strong statement struck me as damning.
But the more I think about it, and after coach Bill Belichick held a second news conference about the matter on Saturday, the more I think this is going to end up being much ado about very little.
And while plenty of people will then say the NFL is covering things up to protect the Patriots (heck, Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman already said it), that is counter-intuitive.
If the NFL's response was going to go one way or the other based on political considerations, the response would be to throw the book at the Patriots. After all, Commissioner Roger Goodell has taken all sorts of heat for his league's pathetic investigation of Ray Rice's assault on his then-fiancee and the resulting minimal sanction. That sanction was increased only after the league was embarrassed by the release of the elevator video showing Rice knocking the woman unconscious and then dragging her only partway out of the elevator before dropping her like a sack of potatoes.
This time the last thing the commissioner would want would be to be seen as under-punishing a transgression again.
To be sure, some of Belichick's statements were obtuse to say the least, but the overall message was that the team had investigated the matter and found that a number of factors could have impacted how much air was in the footballs. He pointed out that a change in temperature (from when the balls are inflated in a warm room to when they are then taken outside into the elements) was a likely culprit for at least a portion of the deflation. And that is common sense.
He also pointed out that teams have wide latitude to work over balls to take the shine off, i.e., to make them less slippery and easier to grip. A football could also drop below the minimum standard of 12.5 pounds per square inch of pressure during that process.
Others will point to the fact that none of the Colts' balls were found to be underinflated. An attorney might say: "Objection your honor! That is immaterial!" This investigation only has to do with the actions of the Patriots. And besides, perhaps the Colts' footballs were inflated to 13.5 before the game and then they lost air pressure as well, just not enough to drop below 12.5.
The bottom line is, unless a Patriot equipment manager drops a dime - and does anyone really see that happening? - the NFL almost certainly will not be able to prove that the Patriots took additional actions to take air out of the balls other than taking them outside and then beating on them to make them less slick.
And so I predict the great under-deflation controversy (more than 40 years on from Watergate, no more referring to scandals as something-something "gate" for me) will eventually peter out into nothing. Patriots fans will claim vindication. The haters will yell "cover-up!" The appropriate response will be a shrug.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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Posted on Feb 20, 2018