It’s now as official as the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy, only that sterling silver ball has been attached to a heavy metal chain.
Four months after the NFL crowned Tom Brady and the New England Patriots as Super Bowl champions, the league has formally determined they are also brazen cheaters.
How rich. Football’s reigning Super Bowl MVP is brought down by the deflating of the very piece of equipment that pumped him up.
How deserving. Football’s longtime spying and rule-skirting organization will now have to affix those latest championship rings with scarlet letters.
The four-game suspension of Brady and the stripping of two New England draft picks and $1 million by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday was the perfect ending to a story that has forever stained Tommy Perfect while fitting the Patriots’ reputation perfectly.
You remember how it all began, right? Fun from the start. One minute Goodell was posing for a photo with Patriots owner Robert Kraft at Kraft’s home on the January weekend of the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. Less than 24 hours later, that game was being interrupted with charges that Kraft’s team was cheating the Colts by deflating the footballs.
An investigation was launched and, finally, last week, a 243-page report was submitted by league-appointed attorney Ted Wells, who not only confirmed that the footballs were deflated, but wrote that it was “more probable than not” that Brady was aware of the intentional deflation plan by two Patriots employees.
Amid claims of unfair treatment and circumstantial evidence from the sadly blinded Boston sports fans whose parochial arguments often make as much sense as Bill Belichick’s haircut, the sports world anxiously awaited Goodell’s ruling with everyone wondering if he would let his personal affection for Kraft and admiration for Brady affect his decision. When the answer was finally given, it was both resounding and refreshing — Goodell used that pin in the football to stick a fork in the champs.
Brady has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 season. This is deliciously difficult timing in that, for his first appearance, Brady will have to face the team and fans he cheated, as the Patriots’ fifth game is against the Colts in Indianapolis.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have been fined $1 million — matching the largest fine in NFL history — and stripped of a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017. This is also good timing in that, well, it’s never a bad day to fine a team that has spent 15 years playing loose with the rules.
The Patriots’ playoff chances probably won’t be affected, even with Jimmy Garoppolo and his 27 career NFL passes playing quarterback, because Coach Bill Belichick is famous for making adjustments. The team’s coffers won’t really be affected either, because what is $1 million for a franchise that is worth more than $1 billion? The loss of the first-round draft pick will hurt the most, but the Patriots are adept at building rosters from makeshift parts.
The damage here will not be seen in Brady’s play or the Patriots’ record, but in their shared legacy. Brady, a former sixth-round pick who has long been considered the NFL’s shining example of hard work and perseverance, is now officially a cheater who belongs in the same conversation as a Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds. The Patriots, who had already been fined and docked a first-round draft pick for spying in 2007, might now be officially the most deceitful organization in NFL history.
“Today’s punishment . . . far exceeded any reasonable expectation,” Kraft said Monday in a statement. “It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.”
The evidence, highlighted by text messages between Brady and the two team employees who doctored the footballs, was more than enough. Could it have been more conclusive? Sure, maybe if Brady had not actively hindered the sleuths by refusing to release texts and emails, which is considered conduct detrimental to the league.
“We recognize our fans’ concerns regarding the NFL’s penalties and share in their disappointment in how this one-sided investigation was handled,” Kraft said.
Hey Bob? It’s over. You were caught cheating. Again. Nothing you can say is anything anyone should believe. Just zip it.
There is truth to Patriots fans’ claims that Brady didn’t need the deflated footballs to beat the Colts in a 45-7 romp, and that he legitimately was the Super Bowl MVP by throwing properly inflated footballs for four touchdowns and 328 yards in the 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
But there is also truth to the claims that Bonds was headed for the Hall of Fame before he allegedly began using steroids, and that Lance Armstrong could have won the Tour de France without the injections. It doesn’t matter that Brady didn’t need deflate footballs. They were deflated anyway. Cheaters are cheaters even if they never needed to cheat.
And with Brady, one now legitimately wonders, exactly how long has he been cheating, and how much has he gained from it? Hmmmm. Prior to the 2006 season, the NFL stipulated that the home team supplied all of the game’s footballs. But after much lobbying by a quarterback group that included Brady, the rules were changed to allow each team to supply its own balls, which would have enabled him to have the balls deflated, making them easier to handle.
Before that rule took effect, in Brady’s five seasons as a full-time starter, only once did he throw for as many as 4,000 yards, and never did he throw as many as 30 touchdown passes.
But after that rule change , he became the statistics monster that he remains today, throwing for more than 4,000 yards in six of the ensuing eight seasons, with at least 30 touchdown passes in five of those years.
Coincidence? You decide. After Monday, there is a chance that the pages of NFL history have decided already.
Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @billplaschke