Sports

DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Deflategate a stunning fall for Tom Brady

Tom Brady looked for a receiver during the first half of the AFC title game against the Colts on Jan. 18 in Foxborough.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Tom Brady looked for a receiver during the first half of the AFC title game against the Colts on Jan. 18 in Foxborough.

Looking back at The Needle and the Damage Done, there is still one thing I can’t get my head around.

It’s easy to believe that the Patriots bent the rules, created their own system of preparing game-day footballs, then covered it up and lied about it when they got caught. The whole thing is absurd, and probably wildly unlucky. Everybody does stuff like this, but the Patriots keep getting caught because they do it more than anybody else, they win, and there are jealous rats who hate them.

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The Patriots are paying for years of success, institutional arrogance/paranoia, and their modus operandi of flipping off everybody. Probably none of this stuff helped them win, but now they are stuck with the label of “cheaters.’’

Got it.

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It’s the trashing of Tom Brady that I can’t accept or get behind. He simply has been too good for too long. He’s been everything you want in a professional athlete. He’s been a three-time Super Bowl MVP, a team guy, and amazing in the clutch. He’s unfailingly polite. He’s tough. He has class. He’s never let success make him lazy or unprepared.

I buy the whole package with Brady. Always have. He is blessed with great parents and it shows. He is smart and funny. His story is gold. He is gold. We’ve been blessed to have him as quarterback of the local franchise.

He has always passed the teammate test. On paper, Brady would be easy to hate because he is the most handsome, has the most beautiful (and richest) wife, makes the most money, gets the most credit, and plays the glamour position. In high school, we all hated That Guy, right?

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But Brady has consistently defied the cliché. Teammates like him and stand by him because he is tough, works hard, and deflects the credit and attention. He has even redirected a good portion of his money in the quest to win.

In our city of champions, we have a handful of athletes who have been considered top-shelf, no dust: Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, and Ted Williams. For each of these men, a case has been made that they are the greatest of all time in their sport.

Russell won 11 championships in 13 seasons. Orr is always in the discussion of the greatest hockey player of all time and was never touched by a whiff of scandal. Bird was a three-time champion who was showered with local love that Russell never knew. Williams was ever a bombastic and controversial figure, but quite likely the greatest hitter who ever lived.

Brady is in this group. He is a four-time champion. He is in the “greatest ever” discussion. And like Orr and Bird, Brady is a Boston sports god who operated in the Hub without ever hearing a discouraging word from fans or even our carnivorous sports media.

Until now.

The thing I hate most about Deflategate is what it has done to the hard-earned reputation of Tom Brady.

The Patriots understand that Football America outside of New England loathes them. Deflategate is just another brick in the wall of hate. But the trashing of Brady — and the lack of support from the esteemed likes of Darrelle Revis, Troy Aikman, Jim Kelly, Joe Montana, and the rest — is somewhat stunning.

Taking a little air out of footballs is not on a par with betting on major league baseball while you are managing a major league baseball team. It’s not blood doping to win the Tour de France or the Olympic 100 meters. It’s not inhaling PEDs to hit 73 homers, and it’s not beating up your wife in an elevator.

But if it involves knowledge of illegal tampering with game-day footballs to gain a competitive advantage, then it is cheating and we want to know what Brady knows about this.

Unfortunately, all we have is Brady’s rambling and unfortunate “I have no knowledge of any wrongdoing” press conference from Jan. 22. That was before the Wells investigation and the Wells Report, before Brady’s four-game suspension.

Today, Brady’s deeds are denigrated daily across the land, and a sports marketing agency has determined that Brady’s consumer appeal ranks alongside that of Martha Stewart and Bill O’Reilly. Ten days ago, Brady was mocked in a “Saturday Night Live” skit featuring a Brady character smiling and delivering non-answers.

There hasn’t been much of a counterattack. Bill Belichick basically told everybody to “ask Tom” back in January. All-talk, no-action tough guy Bob Kraft did not mention Brady’s name when he surrendered at the right hand of Roger Goodell at the NFL owners meeting in San Francisco last week. A couple hundred Patriots fans interrupted Memorial Day weekend with a “Free Tom Brady’’ rally in a Gillette Stadium parking lot Sunday, but it’s best we pretend that the pathetic, ill-timed demonstration never happened.

Brady’s father has vehemently defended his son, and Brady’s flyweight lawyer has counterpunched on behalf of the quarterback, but we hear nothing from Tom. And that’s probably the way it will stay until Brady and the NFL Players Association have their day in court in front of Goodell.

Meanwhile, I ask myself how I can separate the deeds of Brady from the sins of the franchise. It gets tougher every day. Like a lot of New Englanders, I feel like that little kid outside the Chicago courthouse, pleading with Shoeless Joe Jackson after the Black Sox scandal.

Say it ain’t so, Tom. Say it ain’t so.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.
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