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Bill Belichick’s stolid manner and deadpan press conferences make him an object of contempt outside of New England.
Bill Belichick’s stolid manner and deadpan press conferences make him an object of contempt outside of New England. AP

Anyone who thinks the Patriots crushed the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game because Team Belichick put under-inflated footballs in the hands of quarterback Tom Brady has been huffing helium or knows nothing about football.

It wouldn’t matter if the ball was puffed, stuffed or filled with confetti. The Colts couldn’t stop the Patriots from running it right through the heart of their defense for 177 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries. It was the same as the prior two times the Patriots flattened the Colts’ run defense into a welcome mat to the end zone.

The Patriots could have used a beach ball and beaten down Indy by the same 45-7 score to advance to Super Bowl XLIX.

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Deflategate, the moniker given to the NFL’s investigation into whether the Patriots used under-inflated footballs is a source of fascination, debate, and, in some corners, indignation because it’s the Patriots. A team that has enjoyed uncommon success since 2001 operates under the suspicion that it is using uncommon and untoward means to do so. That’s the Patriots’ own fault and the NFL’s.

This latest rules controversy is the residue of Spygate. That controversy’s fingerprints are all over this one, which is pumped up, even if the Patriots are guilty.

The team wasn’t formally notified of the NFL’s investigation into the state of its footballs until Monday, even though the Colts became suspicious after D’Qwell Jackson’s second-quarter interception of a Brady pass and notified the league at halftime.

According to an NFL letter about the investigation that was shared with the Globe, the Patriots were informed that initial findings indicated the game balls New England used did not meet specifications (inflation to 12½ to 13½ pounds per square inch). The league inspected the Patriots’ game balls at halftime. It studied each ball twice using different pressure gauges. It found footballs that were not properly inflated.

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Why or how they became improperly inflated is part of the NFL’s investigation. But television catches when the 53d guy on the roster picks his nose. It would be hard for the Patriots to have a guy on the sideline deflating footballs for Brady and Co., so it would have had to have happened under the cover of darkness in the bowels of Fort Foxborough.

The Patriots are guilty until proven innocent in the court of public opinion.

You can thank Spygate for that.

You remember Spygate, the embarrassing revelation that the Patriots had been systematically taping opposing teams’ signals from the sideline.

The Patriots got busted during the 2007 season opener in the Meadowlands against the Jets, who happened to be coached by Bill Belichick’s personal Judas, former assistant Eric Mangini.

The NFL fined Belichick $500,000, the team $250,000, and docked the club its 2008 first-round pick.

In a letter to the Patriots explaining his decision, commissioner Roger Goodell called it “a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field.”

Being labeled a cheater is the self-inflicted wound the Patriots and Belichick, who has won more playoff games than any coach in NFL history, have to bear.

Belichick will pursue any competitive advantage. Gray isn’t just the color of his hoodie. It’s the area he operates in.

He is an inveterate planner and a bit of a Nixonian control freak, so he pushes the boundaries.

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Outside of these parts his stolid manner and deadpan news conferences make him an object of contempt.

Any chance to nail his headset to the wall is greeted with glee, nationally.

As Wilt Chamberlain once famously said, “Nobody roots for Goliath.” That’s especially true if people feel Goliath is playing by his own rules.

The NFL did the Patriots no favors in Spygate by destroying the evidence it collected back in 2007, evidence that could have corroborated what Belichick told Patriots owner Robert Kraft that on a scale of 1 to 10 the impact the taping had on winning was zero.

We’ll never know because the NFL destroyed the evidence and left the Patriots eternally open to speculation, aspersions, and conjecture about being pro football con artists.

It remains one of the biggest mistakes of Goodell’s administration. It eroded public confidence in his investigations, in the game, and in the Patriots’ brand.

In what investigation does evidence that potentially could exonerate the accused get destroyed?

In the absence of evidence, people will believe what they want to believe about Spygate, including that it’s the only reason the Patriots won three Super Bowls (absurd) and that it’s part of a wider scheme of nefarious tactics used in New England.

There is, thanks to Goodell, no concrete proof to dissuade the most far-fetched football conspiracies.

That brings us back to Deflategate, which is kind of fitting considering that the Patriots-Colts AFC title game was about as close as the Richard Nixon-George McGovern presidential election of 1972.

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Certainly, no one advocates breaking the rules or pushing the boundaries of them. But it’s hard to fathom that anyone in the Colts organization truly believes they lost by 38 points to a team they have lost to by an average of 29 points in four meetings since 2012 because of improperly inflated footballs.

They lost because their young franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, was completely overwhelmed, and their defense was completely overrun, again.

Like the Patriots’ footballs, Indianapolis got smaller on the big stage.

Governor Charlie Baker was asked about the controversy on Tuesday and delivered an answer coated in double entendre that left reporters laughing.

“There is just no good place to go when you’re talking about allegedly deflated balls,” Baker said.

“There is no good place to go there.”

Baker took the issue about as seriously as it deserves to be taken.

But for the Patriots, allegations of bending the rulebook to fit their needs never will be a laughing matter.

Spygate and Goodell made sure of that.


Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.