The accumulation of evidence does not stop. Even when Coach Bill made his customary turn-the-page statement during the week — “All my attention is focused on the Denver Broncos” — and even as the Broncos themselves arrived for Sunday night’s stop-the-world matchup in Foxborough, the wheels of outrage have continued to turn. The shameful events at the end of the Patriots’ 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers Monday night must be dissected, trisected, stop-actioned, and exposed.
Truth and justice must be served.
“Gronkgate Hotline,” I say when my telephone rings. “How can I help you? Share your stories. Share your home videos. Share your sadness, your pain, your innuendos. Let us work together to make this situation right.”
It is a little service that I have started.
The response has been overwhelming.
“I have a picture from the game that someone posted on Facebook,” Mike from Methuen says. “You can see the outline of a gun in Luke Kuechly’s right hand . . . ”
“I have a recording,” Sally from Shrewsbury says. “My cousin was at the game. His cellphone somehow picked up a conversation between Roger Goodell and the referee. Roger tells him . . . ”
“If you run the play in the slowest of motion . . . ,” Duke from Dorchester declares. “You can see — there it is! — the attack from the pack of pit bulls is unleashed from the sidelines . . . ”
No call goes unanswered. No theory is too preposterous.
I am sure that you are familiar with what happened, especially if you live around here. On the final play of that Patriots-Panthers game, Tom Brady threw an 18-yard pass into the end zone that was intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski. The pass, underthrown a bit, was intercepted as time expired by rookie safety Robert Lester, who stepped in front of Gronkowski and caught the ball.
This was a terrific move, EXCEPT . . . there was a penalty flag on the play, thrown by an official at the back of the end zone. A penalty flag? A quick replay showed that Gronkowski WAS HELD BY CAROLINA LINEBACKER LUKE KUECHLY IN A HAMMERLOCK, IN A HEADLOCK, IN A WWE-STYLE, MIXED-MARTIAL-ARTS DEATH GRIP OUTLAWED BY THE GENEVA CONVENTION AND ALL OF CIVILIZED SOCIETY. (NOT TO MENTION THE NFL.) This was the reason for the penalty. Gronkowski couldn’t move back toward the underthrown ball.
The penalty meant the Patriots would be given one more play from the 1-yard line. They would win the game or lose the game on this one play, which probably would have been a Tom Brady quarterback sneak. This decision seemed fair for all parties concerned, EXCEPT . . . EXCEPT it was overturned. Referee Clete Blakeman said the ball was uncatchable and the penalty didn’t count and the game was finished. He ran briskly off the field to prove that point.
There was no replay. There was no chance for appeal. The good folks of Patriots Nation — a place I mostly describe to people around the country as a pleasant spot with picket fences, autumn leaves, white churches, a thriving Main Street, everyone singing sweet songs at the bandstand on the town green on a Saturday night — were left to wail in disbelief. They saw what they saw. They knew what they knew.
The wailing has not stopped.
“I remember how I felt when those hanging chads were being counted in Florida,” Cathy from Cambridge says. “That’s how I feel now. Helpless. Hopeless. I feel like George W. Bush picked up that penalty flag and put it in his pocket and that’s that.”
“It’s payback for the World Series, for the Red Sox, for our happiness,” Bob from Billerica suggests. “America hates us. Too many championships. Too much fun. They hate the duck boat parades. They hate ‘Sweet Caroline.’ They hate the swan boats, the Cheers bar, Aerosmith. The NFL has surveys, processes information like this into billions of dollars. This penalty was what the people of America wanted. This was what the NFL gave them.”
“Obamacare is in there somewhere,” Walt from Waltham says. “I’m just not sure where.”
I have heard from local optometrists who say they have information about referee Blakeman they would like to share. I have heard from local lawyers who think Gronkowski has a civil case for damages even if the criminal case went the other way. I have heard from pretzel makers who said they couldn’t have done a better job than Kuechly did on Gronk.
I try to answer questions, but can’t answer all of them. Were power tools involved? Can’t answer. Didn’t see any power tools, didn’t hear any power tools on the replays, but I haven’t watched every replay out there. Was rope involved? Couldn’t tell, same deal, but possibly. Gronkowski looked like he had been hogtied. Could have happened in the middle of all of that activity with Kuechly. Electricity? Quicksand? Duct tape? Don’t know, don’t know, don’t know. Hypodermic needles and medication? Fire? Toothpicks under the fingernails? Don’t know.
A bad call simply sticks in the mind. And sometimes you can’t let it go.
“Gronkgate Hotline,” I say. “How can I help?”
“There’s nothing you can do unless you find a kitchen sink was involved,” Timmy from Tewksbury says. “It’s a rule in professional contact sports, in football, hockey, basketball, lacrosse, all sports, that in the final minute, especially on the final play, you can hit the other guy with everything but the kitchen sink. There will never be a call. That’s just the way it is. Everything else is legal.”
I try to soothe. I try to help.
I promise that we will look for the kitchen sink.