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Bob Ryan

If not for Patriots, Deflategate would be a non-story

(Boston Globe) Tom Brady says he did not alter the footballs in the AFC Championship game and does not know what happened. (By Alan Miller, Globe Staff)
(Boston Globe) Tom Brady says he did not alter the footballs in the AFC Championship game and does not know what happened. (By Alan Miller, Globe Staff)

You can argue that Tom brought it all on himself.

If Mr. Brady had not tried a foolish, uncompleteable pass to Gronk last week, we wouldn’t be having any of these conversations. No INT, no ball in Indy’s hands, no nuttin’. Life goes on.

But he did throw that awful pass, and thus we have had a juicy story to occupy us in a week that otherwise would have been filled with innocuous stories about ticket requests and travel arrangements.

The scope of the coverage has been almost unimaginable, with Deflategate not only dominating the sports pages, but also leading the nightly network news. One day last week it was the leading Twitter trending topic globally, not merely domestically.

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What’s amusing is that nothing actually happened. We have learned that Tom Brady threw far better with approved NFL footballs, ones inflated to the proper setting, than he did with the underinflated, and thus illegal, footballs. There was no “competitive advantage,” period.

The truth of the matter is that had the alleged “cheating” team been any other NFL club, it would have been a footnote item in the Tuesday morning papers, the entire matter having been settled by noontime the day before. Yup, Greg Aiello or Troy Vincent would have made a little statement to the effect that a minor issue involving the pressure of the footballs used in Sunday’s AFC title game between, say, the Chargers and the Jets (ha-ha) was investigated and resolved, and then everyone would have toddled off for a nice Manhattan lunch.

We all know that did not happen. We all know, or should know, that the reason this has become such an enormous story, and one that has generated such passion and venom among media, fans, and assorted NFL personnel, is that the team accused of wrongdoing is a recidivist transgressor.

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The New England Patriots do not get the benefit of the doubt. And as long as Bob Kraft owns them and Bill Belichick coaches them, they never will.

Yes, I lump Bob Kraft in there because Belichick answers to him. Kraft wants championships and he appears content to live with the actions of a coach who has shown a continual disregard for all sorts of rules. He wants championships, and he is willing to digest the entire Belichick package in order to get them. Said package includes, well, whatever it takes, apparently, starting with sagacious selection and deployment of personnel and ending with, well, whatever it takes . . .

The issue before the NFL isn’t “competitive advantage.” The issue is integrity, doing things the Right Way. People inside and outside the league forever question whether or not Belichick ever considers that, or even knows what that means. The supreme irony of this entire affair would be if Belichick himself is completely exonerated, because if it weren’t for his previous behavior, this innocuous football-pressure issue would not be under discussion for any other team. It would have been an “Oops, beg your pardon, and we won’t let that happen again,” and that would have been that.

People in New England have never come to grips with the ongoing ramifications of Spygate. They don’t understand that the rest of the world will never let it go. Spygate has caused lasting and irreparable damage to the Patriots’ reputation. Belichick had a slight chance of regaining some respect with a fourth championship. No longer. The Patriots are in the news for all the wrong reasons again, and he remains the face of the franchise. If the Patriots defeat the Seahawks, there is zero chance of the players getting the full credit they will deserve from a vast percentage of the American sporting public.

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Belichick may be extremely comfortable in his own skin, and that’s fine. He is free to present himself in a certain way to the public. But what he apparently fails to grasp is that by his sullen and condescending public appearances he embarrasses his owner, his team, and his fans, who were placed on the defensive by Spygate and who will always have to listen to people downplaying the team’s achievements.

The public outside New England hates the Patriots, and it’s not just because they are successful. Ninety-nine percent of the reason is Bill Belichick, and that ridiculous performance during the Q & A session of Thursday’s press conference was precisely the reason.

Part A was fine. He professed ignorance of game-day procedure regarding the football in a reasoned discourse. When it was time for Part B, the questions, rather than continue in a professional, cordial, and respectful manner, he chose instead to channel his inner Marshawn Lynch, giving a repetitive answer to every question, including one involving how he felt about having his character impugned. It was a rude, snide, snarky, and condescending approach that reminded just anyone watching or listening why he or she had gotten out of bed loathing Belichick that morning. It was classic Belichick, all right.

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Whatever happened with the stupid footballs happened. The ultimate crime was the equivalent of attempted jaywalking. But it involved intent, and it involved the Patriots, and so it was the Lindbergh Baby, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and O.J. all rolled into one.

Thanks, Bill. You, too, Bob. Oh, and Tom, next time wait till Gronk’s open, OK?


Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.