I am a New England Patriots fan. I have been a New England Patriots fan for a while, and I came by it honestly. I was born just outside of Boston, lived in Rhode Island for several years as a kid, and then spend 6 years in Connecticut for the Navy...so it's three-times reinforced. I remember cheering for Steve Grogan, Irving Fryar, and Mosi Tatupu. I remember booing for Tony Eason, and thinking that the season was over back when Drew Bledsoe went down, and a young kid named Tom Brady came into the game.
Sunday night, after my New England Patriots took apart the Colts, I was feeling pretty high on life. While I have a few Patriots t-shirts, I don't have an official NFL licensed Patriots jersey, and my wife, who is amazing, told me to go ahead and celebrate the Patriots going to the Super Bowl by spending $100+ on an official Patriots jersey.
The toughest part was picking which players name to get on the back of the jersey. I didn't want the glamor boy quarterback, because that isn't me, and it's tough picking a running back that will actually get reliable playing time in the Patriots system. I quickly narrowed it down to Julian Edelman(WR) and two defensive players: Vince Wilfork, and Rob Ninkovich. As cool as Edelman is, he weighs less than do, so...can't wear a players jersey you are bigger than. With big Vince listed at 326, but probably weighing more, there is zero chance that I will ever weigh more than him...but in the end, I went with Rob Ninkovich. Ninkovich reminds me of the kind players that stocked the roster when we won those three Super Bowls back in the early 2000's....nothing flashy, his numbers on paper don't stick out...but he makes the plays when a play needs to be made.
At least....I thought that was the toughest part, because when I woke up Monday, things had changed. That's when a story had broke that the Patriots were accused of using footballs that were underinflated by the rules of the league. With the story being initially reported by a Indianapolis sportswriter, it felt like a case of sour grapes, and was initially easy to laugh off. Then Tuesday night, the word came out that yup...at half-time, 11 of 12 balls the Patriots were using were up to 2 psi below the required 12.5-13.5 pressure range. This could have made them easier to grip, catch and throw in nasty conditions.
Not much has developed since then. The balls are inspected and approved by NFL officials 2 hours prior to the game, and then ? until they are used to play the game. But...there are questions, in my mind at least, about how in depth this inspection is, because other NFL players talk about personalizing their footballs to a high degree, and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers said that he likes to overinflate the balls, and said that sometimes the officials remove the air, and sometimes they don't.
And that is where I start getting a headache. As anyone who follows football knows, back in 2007, the Patriots were accused of filming other teams practices to steal signals(Spygate) and punished for it. Since then, they have had a reputation as a team who is always looking for an advantage, and due to their success, a lot of people are waiting to laugh at them, take pleasure in their failures, and assume the worst of them.
To those people, it's obvious that the Patriots provided satisfactory footballs to the officials before the game, and then some how, as the request of QB Tom Brady, bled air out of those footballs before game time. Tom Brady, for his part, at a press conference, denied altering the pressure of footballs yesterday.
It's possible, looking at what he REALLY said semantically, that he was telling the truth. What I believe is that the NFL has a rule about doing pre-game inspections on footballs...and it is poorly and inconsistently enforced. The Patriots recognized that, and I think they have been using balls at this pressure for...a while.
Is that good? NO! But...to me...playing loose with a rule that is seldom enforced is different than the other side's story....that someone actively went and Mission Impossible'd air out of 11 footballs after the officials inspected them.
Call it rationalization because I'm a Patriots fan...call it pragmatics...to me, while both of those scenarios end up with footballs being underinflated...one path to that destination is much more heinous than the other.
Either way...the Patriots should be punished. After Spygate, they can't do something just because 'everyone else is doing it.' They need to be not just better than everyone else, but cleaner. So, go ahead NFL...fine them, and take away draft picks. Now...if they have evidence(not even burden of proof, jury type evidence...the Patriots are already WAY guilty in the court of public opinion) that someone associated with the Patriots deliberately removed air from properly inspected footballs just prior to game time....then while it pains me to say so...throw the book at them. If it means you suspend our coach and suspend Tom Brady for the Super Bowl...then do it.
My only request is do it soon...before the Super Bowl. I would rather lose the Super Bowl at this point because we are playing with our back-up rookie QB, than win the Super Bowl, and have a huge asterisk next to it when the NFL comes out in a month, and decides to suspend Brady for the first 6 games of next season.