Conspiracy Theories Shrink "Big Game"
by Dave Staba
Since it seems that anyone who writes, talks or thinks about professional football is required to offer an opinion on how 11 footballs came to be slightly inflated before or during the New England Patriots’ 45-7 win against Indianapolis in the AFC Championship game, here’s mine:
The ball boy did it. To the dismay of conspiracy theorists everywhere, he acted alone.
This view, like the rest bouncing around both corporate and social media for the last couple weeks, is based almost wholly on conjecture. With a splash of reason thrown in.
It’s easier for me to believe that an over-zealous, low-level team employee took it upon himself to curry favor, even anonymously, with a quarterback with an expressed preference for gripping a softer football than it is to envision Tom Brady and Bill Belichick huddling with said low-level employee to concoct a scheme offering minimal benefit and carrying maximum risk.
The adamant denials from New England’s quarterback and coach of any involvement would likewise be far more self-destructive than self-serving if they were made knowing they could be undermined by a guy (who is presently under investigation by the NFL after being caught on video slipping into the men’s room with the offending footballs on his way to the field before kickoff) who decides he isn’t willing to take the fall.
Widespread acceptance of such a scenario, of course, would have denied the nation’s sportswriters and expert analysts the opportunity to call for the firing or suspension of the most-successful, and most-hated, coach in professional sports, or to smear the legacy of the game’s most-successful, and most-openly envied, quarterback.
It would also deny millions of Americans fuel for the emotion treasured above all others—self-righteous outrage. Not to mention the unlimited opportunity for ball-related puns and double entendres.
The nice thing about following a sport, professional or otherwise, used to be the escape it provided from the nonsense of the real world.
“Sports is the toy department of human life,” said Howard Cosell, who was at once the best-loved and most-hated of broadcasters over the course of several decades because he brought elements of hard-news reporting into a journalistic genre that had long specialized in shamelessly promoting the image and interests of the athletes and organizations it purported to cover.
Cosell, a dogged critic of the National Football League’s arrogance and hypocrisy—at a time when it was much less brazen about both—would probably get a kick out of the crossover chaos leading up to Sunday’s meeting between New England and Seattle in perhaps the gaudiest single event in American Life, the Super Bowl.
The 49th renewal of The Big Game (as all commercial entities not licensed by the NFL must refer to the event in advertising materials) features two teams that clearly dominated their opposition through most of the regular season and playoffs. The stark contrast between the physically overpowering Seahawks and the strategically superior Patriots makes for a potentially spectacular contest.
That last part has been all but lost amidst the frenzy engulfing the run-up to the game itself. The Patriots, infamously caught videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive signals in the 2007 season opener, again find themselves cast in their customary and comfortable role as the bad guys.
Never mind that no evidence had emerged as of press time that connects Belichick or Brady to this peculiarity. This is America in 2015, where roughly half the country believes science is for commie nerds (except as it pertains to air pressure inside a football, apparently), and previously academic topics such as the age of the earth and once-innocuous small talk fodder like the weather are just two more topics for partisan rancor.
So it is with Deflategate, or Ballghazi, if you prefer.
Those who envy or otherwise resent the Patriots’ sustained excellence over the past 14 seasons—a run unmatched in duration by the Packers of the 1960s, the Steelers in the ‘70s, the 49ers in the ‘80s or the ‘90s Cowboys—decided right around the time reports of air-pressure inconsistency emerged that Belichick and Brady were undoubtedly cheating again.
New England fans, meanwhile, look for reasonable doubt wherever they can find it.
As for the game (sorry, The Big Game) itself, history shows that the Seahawks had best prepare to duck. After Spygate received the obligatory “–gate” suffix in early 2007, the Patriots laid waste to the rest of the league for four months, compiling the league’s first—and to date only—16-0 regular season by an average score of 37-17.
With half of Seattle’s starting secondary operating at less than full capacity due to injuries, the league’s top defense over the past two seasons suddenly appears vulnerable, particularly when faced with a riled-up Patriots offense.
Should New England prevail, the wailing and gnashing of teeth from deflation truthers will carry on until next season, and beyond. I’ve especially enjoyed the passionate concern over the integrity of a league that just this season realized domestic violence is a problem among some of its employees—at least when that violence is captured digitally and released to the public. The NFL’s sacrosanct integrity also involves suspensions for the use of performance-enhancing drugs so frequent they barely rate a mention unless a star player is involved.
Absent an accusatory confession from the locker room guy, the Patriots will get fined the proscribed $25,000 for failing to provide properly inflated footballs by the NFL, which will close the investigation and announce its findings after destroying any evidence.
Then, no one is going to change his or her mind about any of this, putting the entire matter into the same realm of pointless, unwinnable debate as just about any political topic you care to mention.
If Cosell were alive today, he would realize that we no longer need a toy department. We live in one.blog comments powered by Disqus
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