Sports

DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Deflategate will stick with Tom Brady, Patriots forever

This will stick with Tom Brady and the Super Bowl champions forever.

The NFL dropped the hammer on Brady and the Patriots late Monday afternoon. In the wake of NFL investigator Ted Wells’s 243-page “Deflategate” report, the league suspended Brady for four games, fined the Patriots $1 million (largest in NFL history), and took away two draft picks, including the club’s No. 1 selection in 2016.

The penalties were stiffer than the Patriots and their fans expected. As recently as January, owner Robert Kraft was asking for an apology from the league for raising the issue and embarrassing the team during Super Bowl week.

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Now the league has determined that the Patriots are serial cheaters. In the eyes of the NFL, and much of Football America, the Patriots are Alex Rodriguez. For the second time in eight years, New England is being punished in the name of “the integrity of the game.’’ Blindly loyal fans can continue to bay at the moon, but unless the Patriots secede from the NFL, this doesn’t go away for Brady and the team.

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The Patriots are a tremendously successful franchise. They win the AFC East every year and they have won four Super Bowls since 2001. Under the direction of Bill Belichick, they do things their own way and pay no heed to their critics. They regularly push the envelope and stretch the rules, and they win. This doesn’t make a lot of friends. And now it’s a field day for the army of Patriots enemies.

Right up until the sanctions were levied Monday, there was still a belief around New England that the Patriots might escape harsh punishment. Kraft’s formidable media cartel and a legion of fanboys attacked and mocked the report and insisted that the league had nothing on the Patriots. For New England boosters, the eternal fallback was the alliance of Kraft and commissioner Roger Goodell. There was considerable belief that Goodell would go easy on his friend’s franchise.

It went the other way. After a year of scandals, Goodell elected to pacify 31 other franchises by spanking the Patriots. He punished the Patriots for breaking the rules of competition and made it clear the league frowned on New England’s failure to fully comply with the investigation.

In the end, New England was not well-served by its time-tested strategy of denying everything and flipping off the authorities.

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This is bad, folks. Your football dynasty is no longer credible. The Patriots are a punch line across America. Try wearing your Tedy Bruschi jersey next time you fly out of town.

It might be time to stop minimizing the actual infraction in question. It doesn’t matter that New England won the AFC Championship game, 45-7. What matters is the notion that perhaps the Patriots were in position to crush the Colts because of systematic cheating over the course of the season, or perhaps longer.

A deflated football is easier to pass, catch, and secure. Ask the Ravens how they feel about losing the playoff game in Foxborough, in bad weather, a week before the AFC title game. Remember that one? That’s when the Patriots used goofy formations (since outlawed), confused the Ravens, then suggested that Baltimore coach John Harbaugh study his rule book. New England trailed in that game by 14 points twice, but pulled it out.

Prepare now for more study of the Patriots’ amazing play at home in horrible weather through the years — not to mention the staggering lack of Patriot fumbles since the rules changes regarding the preparation of your own footballs.

We believe the Patriots always win because they are good, smarter, and better-coached than the other guys. Swell. And most likely true. But now all those vanquished opponents can say, “The Patriots win because they cheat.’’ And the Patriots and their fans have no answers.

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The fall of Brady is perhaps the saddest part of the entire matter. Brady (“I would never do anything to break the rules”) looks like he was lying when he spoke to the media the week after the AFC Championship.

It is now established that Brady gained a competitive advantage with his involvement in the deflation of the footballs. It’s a violation of the integrity of the game. Rules were circumvented for a competitive advantage. And Brady has yet to admit anything. His Salem State pep rally with Jim Gray last Thursday looks more ridiculous every hour.

Brady also has made Kraft look like a fool. In his defiant moment in Arizona, Kraft spoke of how Brady and Belichick have never lied to him. One can only wonder what these folks are saying to one another now inside the imposing walls of Fort Foxborough. It’s probably time for some truth and humility from Gillette.

All in all, it just doesn’t get much worse than this, Patriots fans. More fights are in store, no doubt. But no matter what happens next, New England’s precious, hard-fought legacy is tarnished. Tom Brady and the Super Bowl champions have been branded as liars and cheaters.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com