There is Patriot world, where everything is awesome, Bob Kraft is Gandhi, Bill Belichick is a god, and Tom Brady would never do anything to disgrace the uniform or the game.
And there is the rest of the free-thinking world. Where reality lives.
In Patriot world, the NFL is out to get you. Everybody is out to get you. It’s a conspiracy. It’s a sting. The Wells Report is ridiculously flawed. There are factual errors. The league was OK playing half of the AFC Championship game with footballs that might have not been inflated properly. The other 31 franchises are insanely jealous of the Patriots’ success. A couple of New England’s adult ball boys maybe went off the reservation, but all the evidence against the Patriots is circumstantial. The league has nothing.
In the rest of the free-thinking world, the Patriots are liars and cheaters. They were caught red-handed in Spygate in 2007 and now the league has got them again. The Patriots intentionally and systematically deflated footballs, below legal limits, to accommodate Brady. They did it because they believed it gave them a competitive advantage (more completions, less fumbling, better play in bad weather — all Patriot trademarks). Brady knew about it, lied about it, then withheld information from the Wells investigators.
None of the above is going to change. Folks are going to align themselves with one side or the other. Even after the penalties are announced.
It feels like the sanctions are coming soon. And it’s pretty clear that the NFL has made up its mind about this.
Officially speaking, the NFL’s executive vice president, Troy Vincent, will hand out the punishment(s), but we all know this is commissioner Roger Goodell’s call. And it’s a huge one. I heard some “expert” on TV Friday say that Goodell’s ruling on Patriot sanctions would be a bigger deal than Kenesaw Mountain Landis’s decision to ban eight White Sox players for life after they conspired to throw the 1919 World Series.
Wow. Fallout from deflating footballs is now a bigger deal than fixing the World Series? We are certainly in uncharted waters.
The Patriots have done nothing to inspire mercy from Goodell since the report was released Wednesday. They have done what they always do. They have obstructed the investigation while they denied everything. They have pointed fingers and demanded apologies. They have tried to position themselves as victims. Brady’s suddenly available flyweight agent has been crying foul to every media outlet. Meanwhile, the Patriots’ formidable media cartel has been working overtime, poking holes in the report and defending the franchise against enemy forces.
None of it matters, of course. The Patriots are members of a club, and the judge and jury of this club is Goodell. And he has strong feelings on these kinds of transgressions.
Here’s what Goodell said at his pre-Super Bowl news conference Jan. 30:
“All of us want to make sure that the rules are being followed, and if we have any information where the potential is that those rules were violated, I have to pursue that and I have to pursue that aggressively . . . We are a league of rules . . . If there are rules that dictate the pressure in footballs . . . we’re going to enforce those rules . . . Whether a competitive advantage was actually gained or not is secondary in my mind as to whether that rule was violated. That’s the integrity of our game, and when those rules are violated, we will take that seriously.’’
Remember, this is what Goodell said before the Patriots lawyered up and made Jim McNally unavailable after the investigators got a look at McNally’s texts. As good as flipping off Wells feels (“Yeah, stick it to ’em Bob, tell ’em go take a hike, Bill!”), New England’s refusal to fully cooperate is likely to hurt the Patriots when the punishment is doled out. And let’s not forget the Patriots have a record of cheating. They have a prior.
Goodell has been part of an unholy alliance with Kraft and CBS boss Les “I love Patriot Place” Moonves, but now he must choose. Kraft threw down the gauntlet during Super Bowl week. Last week, when the report was finally released, Kraft issued a tantrum/statement, expressing his disappointment with the investigation and challenging the findings. Then, on Thursday night at Salem State, Brady rejected an opportunity to state his innocence.
This looks bad for Fanboy Nation. Patriots fans need to stop arguing about the science and the sting. Don’t convince yourself that “more probably than not’’ gives the Patriots a loophole. It doesn’t. In NFL-speak, “more probably than not’’ means the investigator has determined that Brady and the Patriots are guilty of knowingly breaking the rules of competition. It doesn’t matter that this might not hold up in a court of law. This is not a court of law.
For those who would question Wells’s integrity, here’s what Goodell said on Jan. 30:
“Ted Wells’s integrity is impeccable.’’
So, where’s the daylight for the Patriots? The commissioner said he will take rules violation seriously. He said his investigator is impeccable. And his investigator has determined that the Patriots are guilty.
Is it any wonder that folks in Foxborough are nervous?
Sorry. Time to parachute down from Planet Patriot and introduce yourself to reality. A hard rain’s a-gonna fall on Tom Brady and the Patriots.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy