Deflating the game

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady faces questions from the media (Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty)

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady faces questions from the media (Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty)

Champions don’t cut corners. They don’t make excuses. Champions don’t sneak, spy, or steal. Champions push themselves, challenge each other, and elevate the game they love.

The New England Patriots were the better team in the AFC Championship game. It was apparent from the start. They dominated the Indianapolis Colts in every way. And they won by a large margin. 45-7 to be exact.

They didn’t need to give themselves an unfair advantage. But from all angles, it appears they did. Someone did. And now, with the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl upon us, football fans aren’t talking about the Patriots’ decisive win, the dramatic overtime victory of the Seattle Seahawks over the Green Bay Packers, or the biggest game of the year. They’re talking about deflated footballs. You can’t turn around without hearing a ball joke and “deflategate” has been the top news story all week.

The NFL kicked off the season embroiled in off-the-field issues surrounding Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the fallout from which called into question the integrity of the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Now, it closes the season with an on-the-field issue, which takes direct aim at the integrity of the game itself.

What did the Patriots know? When did they know it? And who was responsible? We may never know.

My brilliant and witty friend, Shandon, coined Patriots quarterback Tom Brady “The Blue Jasmine of football.” If you didn’t see the movie Blue Jasmine, the script was loosely written around disgraced financier Bernie Madoff’s (now estranged) wife, Ruth, an “innocent bystander” who benefited greatly from her husband’s greed. Bill Belichick in the role of Bernie Madoff doesn’t seem like a stretch. Except, of course, for his wardrobe.

The problem is, this Patriots plot has more holes than an adult film. Belichick, a notorious control freak, admits to scheming to make practice balls uncatchable, but wants us to believe he’s never thought about a football on game day. And Brady, who has a process for picking and preparing balls, has never actually squeezed one. For the record, my sister Jennifer (who is a Tom Brady fan) says even she can tell the difference in a fully inflated ball when she’s throwing it around the backyard with my nephews.

This franchise is no stranger to cheating scandals. In 2007, Belichick was imposed a $500,000 fine (the maximum allowable) for his role in taping the defensive play calls of the Patriots’ opponents, earning the nickname “Belicheat.” Now, with their team headed back to the Super Bowl, New England fans find themselves in the position of defending the Patriots and their accolades once again.

If the game isn’t fair, then the game means nothing. And this game means too much to too many people for that. The attention created by deflated footballs is not silly. As Tony Kornheiser said on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, “It shows you what the NFL means to this country.”

A strong stance is needed from the man in charge of defending the NFL shield. And with the game on the line, Roger Goodell can leave no doubt as to which team he’s on.

Time for a big play, Commissioner.

I hope you have it in you.


Not your average Bill Belichick press conference

Patriots coach Bill Belichick breaks his silence (USA Today Sports)

Patriots coach Bill Belichick breaks his silence
(Photo: USA Today Sports)

This…was a different Bill Belichick. At least, from the one we see publicly.

Addressing the media for the first time since the murder investigation surrounding their former tight end, the head coach of the New England Patriots showed a side of himself we rarely ever see.

He was…human.

Belichick opened by saying he thought it was important to address the Aaron Hernandez situation before the start of training camp. It was the only time he referred to Hernandez by name. After that, he was just a “player.”

The coach called it “a sad day, on so many levels,” saying he found out about the investigation when he was out of the country and that it left him “shocked and disappointed.”

He reached out to the family of the victim, Odin Lloyd, sending thoughts and prayers to them and anyone else who had been impacted by the tragedy.

And Bill Belichick also took responsibility, saying that as coach he is “primarily responsible” for the players they bring in. He stressed the extensive evaluation process the Patriots use, but admitted it was “far from perfect.”

“We try to look at every single situation on a case-by-case basis and try to do what’s best for the football team and what’s best for the franchise. Most of those decisions have worked out, but some don’t.”  -Bill Belichick

Calling it a “terrible experience,” Belichick vowed the Patriots would learn from it and use it to become a better team.

This was a different Bill Belichick press conference. He admitted feeling personally disappointed and hurt. He showed sorrow and evoked sympathy. He was honest, humble, and straightforward throughout.

A different Bill Belichick…or a different Bill Belichick press conference?

That remains to be seen.

But, I know one thing…

I like this guy. I’m pulling for this guy…and his team.

And that’s something I never said about the old Bill Belichick.


The secret life of the Patriots tight end

Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez  (Photo: Patriots)

Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez
(Photo: Patriots)

Aaron Hernandez. We hardly knew you. Or so it seems.

We thought we knew you. By all accounts, you seemed like a good guy who suffered a traumatic loss at a young age. Losing a father as a teenager can throw anyone off track. At least for a while.

You needed a male presence in your life and you found it. In your friends. Only they were the wrong friends for someone with your future.

Still, your star shined brightly in high school and college. You entered the NFL draft as one of the most talented players at your position. But suddenly, your draft stock fell. There was talk of a failed drug test.

Despite the red flag, the New England Patriots signed you in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. You were in the NFL. This was your chance. No matter what happened growing up, you could write your own future from here. And you would.

For three seasons, you did everything the team asked of you. In August of 2012, it all paid off. The Patriots presented you with a generous five-year extension. It was the contract that would set you up for life.

By the following June, you found yourself at the center of a murder investigation. At first, we thought it wasn’t possible. Surely your name would be cleared.

But there was more. There were other incidents. Incidents that went back to college. And incidents we knew nothing about. Until now.

There’s still a lot we don’t know. Expect for this…

We thought we knew you.

But in the end, we didn’t know you at all.


For an inside look at the Aaron Hernandez investigation, listen to my podcast.