INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s the thing about DeflateGate, this silly idea that the New England Patriots used under-inflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts:
It’s not silly.
It’s the Patriots.
If nothing else comes of this – and the prediction here: nothing else comes of this – we’ll always have that. Lots of people will forever believe the Patriots cheated the Colts on Sunday. Why? Because it’s the Patriots. And they’ve cheated before. This is the NFL franchise that was busted for spying on opposing teams. It is run by the same man, Bill Belichick. Either you are, or you are not, willing to cheat.
And Belichick is. The NFL found him guilty of – even responsible for – the Spygate scandal during the 2007 season. With very few exceptions, people can be divided into various either/or categories: Employed or unemployed. Smoker or nonsmoker.
Cheater or not a cheater.
Belichick’s a cheat.
Indiana knows about this. The Hoosiers hired Kelvin Sampson in 2007, shortly after he had been busted for NCAA recruiting violations involving impermissible phone calls at Oklahoma. The idea in Bloomington, surely, was this: No way he’d do it again.
Cheaters cheat. It’s what they do.
Now then, is that a definitive statement that Bill Belichick or the Patriots cheated the Colts on Sunday? Nope. It is not. But it’s a definitive statement that his past history of cheating makes this allegation – which is ludicrous and absurd and really, really, hard to believe – not so ludicrous. Not so absurd.
Not at all hard to believe.
This sort of thing has happened before. Deflating a football is a thing, thanks to Lane Kiffin’s 2012 USC Trojans, who were fined and reprimanded by the Pac-12 for deflating footballs against Oregon. Kiffin denied it. A team equipment manager was fired. Was the equipment manager acting on his own? Well sure, that’s possible.
Just like it’s possible the Patriots are utterly and completely innocent of the allegation against them now, that they deflated one or more footballs on the sideline after NFL officials had examined them before kickoff.
Several points to be made there:
First, any idea how easy it is to deflate a football? It requires one little needle. That’s it. Hold the ball, jab the needle, listen for the hiss. Take the needle out. Not saying – at all – the Patriots cheated. But if they did? Don’t expect video evidence. Video of what? Of a guy holding the ball, covering it to keep it dry from the rain? No video.
Second, any idea how awkward it feels to write this story from here, in Indianapolis, as if deflated balls might be the reason this city’s team lost on Sunday? The footballs aren’t the reason. That game wasn’t about the Deflatriots. It was about the Patriots. They’re better than the Colts, so much better than lots of us – the line starts right here– had given them credit for. The Patriots were tougher, more skilled, more poised and more innovative. In hindsight the Colts had no chance.
What if the NFL finds that the Patriots were in fact using a football that was deflated below regulation levels? Maybe the NFL won’t be able to determine when or how it happened.
I’ll tell you what should happen: The Patriots should be removed from the Super Bowl. Which means the Colts should be going to Glendale. Will this happen? Of course not, which is why I’m mentioning it way down the story – it has to be said somewhere – but not starting this column with that idea. Because it’s a preposterous idea, not worthy of the headline. The NFL would never, ever remove the Patriots from the Super Bowl, even if it does find they were using illegal footballs.
Forfeiture of the AFC Championship Game should be the penalty, however, and not because “the Colts would have won otherwise.” No, they would not. The Colts could have pulled the ol’ switcheroo on the Patriots, using deflated balls while the Patriots were using the hard and slick ones, and the Patriots still would have won. How big? Something close to 45-7.
This isn’t about the Patriots’ alleged advantage. This is about their alleged intentions.
A fine? Is that the main punishment any team guilty of deflating the football should get in this circumstance? Man, fine this.
Not a fine, not a docking of draft picks, not even a lifetime suspension of Belichick, though I would support all three, if the Patriots are found guilty of cheating. Sorry — left out a word. If the Patriots are found guilty of cheating … again.
Meantime, allow the system to run its course. The Patriots are innocent until proven guilty. They deserve that.
Even if lots of us have made up our minds already.
Because the Patriots deserve that, too.
Find Star columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at www.facebook.com/gregg.doyel