We’re now less than a week from the kickoff of the Super Bowl, which means we are also now more than a week into the Patriots’ football-deflating controversy.
It is one of the stranger situations we can recall in sports, and the combination of its oddity, the timing and the status of the Patriots as a longtime NFL power that hasn’t always played within the rules makes “Deflategate” a story that fans are curious about but one that people can’t quite seem to wrap their heads around.
“What do you think of this Patriots story?” has been a very common question lately. Here are the four ways to interpret it, as we see it:
• The deflated footballs in the AFC title game were not an act of humans, but rather an act of nature explainable by science: This is the explanation the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick would love for all of us to believe, of course.
Belichick became an amateur scientist during an unscheduled session with the media on Saturday, talking about how environmental factors such as low temperatures can decrease air pressure while insisting the Patriots “followed every rule.”
This seems more like a convenient retroactive narrative. Anyone who has ever held a football or dribbled a basketball in the cold knows that air pressure drops at least a little with the temperature. That said, ACTUAL scientist Bill Nye said of Belichick’s comments, “What he said didn’t make any sense.”
• Someone within the Patriots altered the footballs, but it’s something a lot of teams do and is not a big deal: Maybe altering footballs falls into the same category as a pitcher scuffing a baseball or a hockey player using an illegally curved stick — a type of common breaking or bending of the rules that’s in the eye of the beholder and the more competitive might describe as “only cheating if you get caught.”
And do we really think the Patriots would have lost to the Colts instead of beating them 45-7 had the balls, for whatever reason, not been deflated?
• The Patriots altered the footballs, and it is a big deal: Cheating is cheating. The final score against the Colts is irrelevant; what if the game had been 27-24? What if New England altered footballs against the Ravens, too, in a narrow playoff win the week before?
If they gained even a small edge illegally, they should be punished. Remember, this is a franchise that has already been caught spying on other teams. They were fined heavily and docked a first-round draft pick in that scandal. If that didn’t deter them from cheating more, the penalty this time would need to be more severe.
• All of this is a creation of the NFL: If you prefer conspiracy theories, you can accuse the NFL of manufacturing this story because 1) It provides great intrigue heading into the Super Bowl, and 2) It’s a far more benign controversy than most of the heavy stuff the league has dealt with this season, and the NFL would gladly have this be the enduring offseason story rather than Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson or concussions.