HOUSTON — One of this year’s Super Bowl participants got caught cheating a couple of years ago. They were investigated by the NFL, found guilty, and punished with a whopping fine and loss of a 2016 draft pick. A team leader was ordered to serve a suspension.
Say hello to your cheatin’ Atlanta Falcons. Say hello to Noisegate — the scandal that went away quickly and quietly.
During the 2013 and 2014 NFL seasons, a Falcons marketing executive artificially pumped up crowd noise at the Georgia Dome when Falcons opponents were calling signals. The NFL got wind of it, investigated, and acted quickly. Atlanta was fined $350,000, lost a fifth-round draft pick, and team president Rich McKay was suspended from the league’s competition committee for three months.
Unlike You-Know-Who, the Falcons cooperated fully with the NFL’s investigation and accepted the penalties. When they were caught with crumbs all over their faces, they did not claim they hadn’t eaten the cookies. They did not demand apologies from the league, claim they never did anything, take the matter to federal district court, or issue “The Noisegate Investigation in Context.’’
The Dirty Birds basically said, “You got us. We won’t do that anymore.’’
And it all went away in less time than it takes Dion Lewis to return a kickoff for a touchdown.
As we prepare for the Falcons and Patriots to endure Monday’s Media Night TV special, it’s strange to look back at what happened when the Falcons got caught, and how it compares with the 25-month-long Deflategate conflagration that still rages in New England.
The Falcons weren’t very good in 2013 and 2014. The Georgia Dome was quiet and friendly to visiting teams. In an effort to give the Falcons a competitive edge at home, a team marketing employee turned up the crowd noise at the Dome even though NFL rules state that “at no point during the game can artificial crowd noise or amplified crowd noise be played in the stadium.’’
Roger Goodell did not need Ted Wells for this one. The league’s probe was swift and definitive.
“Our review concluded that Roddy White, the team’s former director of event marketing, was directly responsible for the violation,’’ wrote NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent.
After announcing the penalties, Vincent’s report concluded with, “We appreciate the courtesy and cooperation the Falcons organization extended during our inquiry.’’
Wow. How’s that for a knee-slapper?
What a bunch of saps those Falcons were. They clearly did not review the Patriots’ playbook of “deny-deny-accuse,” make key witnesses unavailable, and destroy evidence.
Here’s what Falcons owner Arthur Blank said when his team got caught: “What took place was wrong and nowhere near the standards by which we run our business. Any time there are actions that compromise the integrity of the NFL or threaten the culture of our franchise, as this issue did, they will be dealt with swiftly and strongly.’’
Why did the Falcons handle Noisegate so much differently than the Patriots handled Deflategate?
We can start, of course, with the popular New England narrative that the Patriots didn’t actually violate league rules. If you buy this, you probably sleep in Tom Brady pajamas and listen to a lot of Boston sports talk radio. If you buy into “nothing ever happened,” you need to suspend reality and dismiss Robert Kraft’s acceptance of the penalties. You need to be OK with the unexplained texts of Jim McNally and John Jastremski (and their subsequent disappearances), and Brady’s well-timed cellphone destruction. You need to believe that the league made it all up. The Patriots were simply innocent victims of 31 jealous franchises and a boob commissioner drunk on his own power.
More likely than not, the Patriots pushed back hard because the consequence of any admission — even to a small thing such as taking a little air out of game balls — was potentially fierce. The Pats could not admit to anything that might get traced to the top. Bill Belichick has a prior on his rap sheet: Spygate.
Brady’s fingerprints were also problematic. It was easy for the Falcons to ’fess up to Noisegate because their transgression did not involve their star quarterback or any of their players or coaches. It was different for the Patriots. Deflategate impugned the integrity of the face of the franchise. Nobody in Foxborough was going to roll over on that one.
So more likely than not, something was going on. The Pats couldn’t confess, and then got overpunished for a minor infraction because of their lack of cooperation. Even though every thinking fan in America knows it had nothing to do with their success. The Patriots don’t beat you because of sideline videos or deflated footballs. They win because they are smarter, better prepared, and just plain better than you.
And now here we are at the Super Bowl and still, the Patriots and their fans can’t let it go. Kraft was crying about unfair treatment just last week, the Wells Report In Context is still on the Patriots’ website, and the streets of Houston will be lined with “Free Brady” and “Goodell [bleeps]” signage through Sunday night.
The rehabilitated Falcons and their fans are just happy to be here. The Patriots and their fans remain on mission of revenge and justice.
No retreat. No surrender. Ever.