Somewhere right now, Roger Goodell is shaking his head in the gesture of disbelief that conveys, “I can’t win.”
The NFL commissioner might or might not be drinking heavily. If not, may I suggest he start?
This Super Bowl was supposed to be the respite, the antidote, two weeks of rah-rah over how Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots loomed as such a great matchup. It was supposed to be back to football at last after a dark season of off-field embarrassments — notably the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson domestic-abuse scandals — that walloped the league’s image and kicked dirt on its precious shield.
Now instead, the buildup to the Feb.1 mega-game will be how the Patriots cheated to get there. Again.
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Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday in Phoenix should be fun, by which I mean deliciously ridiculous.
It will set the modern record for questions not answered.
The Patriots’ session will be an interrogation over findings that 11 of the 12 footballs New England used in the AFC Championship Game were intentionally and improperly under-inflated. It is being called “Deflategate” (of course), with the Patriots re-branded the “Deflateriots.”
Coach Bill Belichick and his team will attempt to parry all such questions with, “I’m just here to talk about football,” while the media insists, “We’re just here to talk about deflated footballs.”
This would be a minor story instead of one hijacking the conversation if it weren’t Belichick and the Patriots because not even the most zealous Indianapolis fan can say the Colts lost 45-7 because of this.
No, it’s the principle of the thing. It’s whether the Patriots have any principles.
This is the same outfit that in 2007 starred in “Spygate” and first earned Belichick the nickname “Beli-cheat.”
The NFL fined him $500,000 — the largest penalty ever imposed on a coach — for the videotaping of opponents’ signals. In addition, the club was fined $250,000 and ordered to forfeit a first-round draft pick.
That was a serious guilty verdict, yet Belichick’s reputation largely survived it because when you win a lot (and are headed to your sixth Super Bowl in the past 14 seasons), you get applauded for your competitive edge. You get to be the Genius, even if you were the Genius who, well, shall we say cut corners?
If Deflategate reports are true, Belichick and club must be socked hard by the NFL as repeat offenders, with fines and forfeited picks. Belichick also should be suspended for games, which he was not in ’07.
The penalties should be harsh not because slightly deflating balls is so felonious, but because Belichick and the Pats would be NFL convicts who had the gall to cheat again. And I’ll say this: If I were a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter I would surely consider everything that led to that “Beli-cheat” nickname.
How embarrassing for club owner Robert Kraft and any self-respecting Patriots fan. It’s one thing when a team’s player is arrested. Even if it is serious, such as the Pats’ Aaron Hernandez awaiting trial for murder, the coach or franchise bear only so much responsibility for that. But when the club itself is involved in the wrongdoing, and the cheating involves competitive balance, that’s worse. (That is why Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended an entire season for his role in “Bountygate.”)
How embarrassing not just for the Patriots but for the NFL, which already has exceeded its reasonable limit on embarrassment.
And unfortunately it isn’t only the Pats bringing baggage to this Super Bowl. Seattle brings plenty, too, much of it courtesy of running back Marshawn Lynch.
He’ll be a one-man spectacle on Media Day, assuming he reprises his tired act of rudely refusing to answer even the most benign questions. Let’s see how it plays nationally.
Although, in fairness, Lynch not having the basic politeness to answer questions is probably not as rude as his habit of grabbing his crotch to celebrate touchdowns — something every bit as offensive as any gesture or wardrobe malfunction that has gotten a Super Bowl halftime performer fined by the FCC.
(Lynch’s Patriots counterpart, LeGarrette Blount, is his own walking embarrassment, with a track record that includes a suspension for punching a college opponent, punching an NFL teammate, a marijuana arrest and how he got to New England. While with Pittsburgh this season, Blount left a game early and was subsequently released — in effect quitting his way to the Patriots. But at least Blount answers questions!)
With Belichick’s Deflategate and the surly Lynch grand-marshaling the parade to this Super Bowl, Goodell and his beleaguered NFL will hardly get the relief they hoped for or needed in terms of a buff and shine for that sullied shield.