By: Keith Raad – Sports Editor
Would you rather be loved or feared?
Sonny presents a young Calogero with this question in Robert De Niro’s “A Bronx Tale,” and the same question has an appropriate ring as the legacy of the New England Patriots hangs in the balance.
Following the AFC Championship game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots, a grievance was filed by Indianapolis leading to an investigation by the NFL. The search and investigation is ongoing, but 11 of 12 New England footballs were said to be underinflated by two pounds per square inch. Though there is a range of air pressure, 12.5 to 13.5 PSI, allowed in the balls, anything out of that range is a violation.
The air pressure in the football helps or hurts quarterbacks, while running backs can hold onto a deflated ball more effectively. At home in 2014, the Patriots did not fumble the football a single time.
In the court of public opinion, faces, public figures, celebrities and athletes are almost always guilty before proven innocent when faced with controversy. Now, with the sports world looking into the eyes of the sweatshirt guru Belichick and a talented quarterback who gave him three Super Bowl wins, the legacy is tainted.
That’s where Patrios head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady find themselves as they prepare for Sunday’s Super Bowl against Seattle. Instead of watching film on Seattle’s flawless defense, Belichick and Brady have had to face the media.
But in a world of battling great defenses, young elite quarterbacks like Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson, or tough matchups with Peyton Manning in the AFC, a competitive edge is necessary. If you don’t have an edge, you’re cooked.
Is what New England did illegal? Yes. Is it understandable? Oh, yes.
If you’re late to work or school and the speed limit is 30 mph, driving 35 or 40 mph is justified, right? You can’t be late to work. To the underage student using a fake ID to get into a local bar, just don’t get caught, right? Everyone’s doing it.
These competitive edges that we use every day without thinking can range into the category of illegal, especially when the penalty is a slap on the wrist in the grand scheme.
Paying a speeding ticket is much more convenient than finding a new job. Although in Ohio a fake ID penalty includes either a $1000 fine or 12 months in prison, according to studentlegalrights.org, the bouncer or bartender will most likely tell you to “get lost.” It’s almost worth the seconds of humiliation to “fit in” with the drinking crowd.
Despite deflating footballs, Belichick and his staff always seem to strategically sign a free agent from a common opponent in order to understand that team’s playbook. It’s been the most interesting, legal, competitive edge.
Over the years, the New England front office has added players from division and common AFC opponents. Danny Woodhead and Shaun Ellis are two players that played for AFC East rival New York Jets and then signed with New England the following season. Cornerback Darrelle Revis, one of the best in the league, was added not just for his talent, but for his knowledge of the Jets playbook. Finally, the signing of LeGarrette Blount, after the Pittsburgh Steelers released him, signified Belichick’s edge in securing a guy with intimate knowledge of the Steelers, if New England were to face them in the postseason.
Teams do not have full access to other teams. Yes, the game film is there. Countless hours of game film are available in the league, and it may seem to be enough and almost outweigh the reason behind the free agent signings.
“Spygate” was the 2007 incident that found Belichick and the Patriots guilty of illegally filming a New York Jets practice in order to steal their team signals. The NFL investigated and found New England guilty. The result was a $500,000 hit to Belichick’s personal pocket, a $250,000 team fine, and the loss of a first round draft pick.
Forbes reports Belichick’s salary at $7.5 million. The “Spygate” fine, the largest against an NFL head coach in the history of the league, was a hit to the pocket. But with the title of “The Greatest Coach and Quarterback Combination” in NFL history as a byline to Belichick and Brady today, the question of legacy resurfaces.
A few hundred thousand dollars and a lost draft pick in exchange for the glorious pages of history.
If you were Belichick or Brady and you needed a competitive advantage, would you have cheated?
Before you point the finger or stand on the moral hill, look at the speedometer in the car when you’re in a rush. Look at the bouncer in the eyes as you hand him or her your fake ID and ask yourself what makes you so different.