Monday, January 26, 2015

Balls! (Or will Ball-Ghazi ever end?)

Last fall, I decided that, although I love watching sports, I would be removing football from my playlist.

There were a number of reasons: concussions, wife-battering, child abuse, rape, football’s conflation with Americanism (well, yes: violent, exceptional, exceptionally violent), a hyped-up (one might even say overinflated)  sense of self-importance , etc.

As I’ve maintained for years, watching football is like eating veal. If you thought about it for a moment, you wouldn’t do it.

But, just as I went ahead and ordered the scrumptious orecchiette vitello at Tuscano’s, there I was as the season wound down taking an occasional (quarterback) sneak peek at a Patriots game.

No, I was nowhere near my all time high NFL watching level, achieved in the last couple of years of my husband’s life when we often found ourselves sitting through a couple of games on Sunday, then Monday night, then Thursday night, then all the playoffs and then, even Super Bowl – something we’d really done unless the Pat were playing in it.

Still, with Super Bowl now in “our” sights, I was back to watching the NFL. And I was delighted to take in the Pats-Ravens playoff game in the company of my sister and her family, and the Pats-Colts AFC playoff at my cousin’s.

While I would not have been crushed if the Pats had lost that game – I’m just not that big a fan – I left MB and Dan’s after a Pats victory a wee bit excited about the prospect of their making it to the Big Game.  And more than a wee bit dreading what the next two weeks of wall-to-wall, all Super Bowl, all the time, coverage was going to be like.

No, no, a thousand times no to every newscast leading off with what size pom-pom was on the hat Tom Brady wore to practice, what Devon McCourty ate for breakfast, and whether or not Rob Gronkowski had read the soft-core ebook that he inspired (A Gronking to Remember: Book One in the Rob Gronkowski Erotica Series).

In a sports-crazed city such as the one I live in, coverage is non-stop, obsessive, and down right silly at times. And any period leading up to a Super Bowl in which the Patriots are playing is one of those times.

But then we wake up to DeflateGate, the deep dark night of the football soul crisis that has completely consumed not just local but national coverage since it was found that the Pats had played the first half of their playoff against the Colts with footballs that were marginally deflated in terms of pressure per square inch.

DeflateGate – personally, I prefer Ball-Ghazi – got blown way out of proportion for a number of reasons.

Mostly it’s the fathomless maw of the 24/7 “news” cycle that needs to be filled. That and the blog-erati. But I suspect that if the situation involved the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Carolina Panthers all it would have gotten is 15 minutes of fame and that would be that. Three and out; one and done.

But this is the Patriots, so we’re talking about:

Widespread dislike hatred, fomented in part because the Pats win a lot, in part because they’re fairly arrogant about it, in part because they play in New England – a region that’s so despised for reasons that would take up a post in its entirety, so I’ll save it for a rainy day.

The Pats also operate under a cloud of suspicion because the team and its famously grumpy and taciturn head coach, Bill Belichick, were punished and fined a while back for illegally taping their opponents. The frothing commenters, who have been moth-to-flame drawn out of their troll-caves by DeflateGate are acting as if what the Pats did was completely despicable, totally heinous, and indicative of the Cheatin’ Heart beating at the core of Patriots Nation. Commenters act as if the Pats taped and no one else did. The facts have shown that many/most teams taped, and that what the Pats had violated was a new rule that said you can tape from vantage point A, but you can no longer tape from vantage point B.

Undoubtedly, the Pats and Belichick (in the eyes of many, henceforth Belicheat) were cocking a snook at the NFL over what they thought was a stupid rule. (Having spent so many years in parochial school, I consider myself something of a connoisseur when it comes to stupid rules myself, so I can see the Patriots’ point on this one.)

SpyGate, as this earlier hoo-hah was branded, became the rallying cry for those who hated the Pats to begin with.

Since then, every win that the Pats have had is tainted, every record they break should be asterisked.

The competitive edges that other teams come up with – like encouraging their fans to drown out the audibles of the opposing team – are good clean fun. Anything the Pats do – such as run an unorthodox (but perfectly legal) formation - is indicative of their evil ways.

And the deftlaters are now going about and beyond DeflateGate and SpyGate, and throwing up new claims that is is statistically unlikely that the Pats have as few fumbles as they do, etc.

That the game is rigged so that the teams that the NFL wants in the Super Bowl end up there – in the Pats case, because of the friendship between FNL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Pats’ owner Bob Kraft (a.k.a., Krafty).

And just how is it that a 6th round draft pick like Tom Brady ends up being a superstar and gets the girl, who’s so rich that he can take a salary discount for the good of the team? Plus he’s handsome to boot. So while we may think of him as Tom Terrific, or our Tom, the rest of the world calls for the downfall of Shady Brady.

Maybe the Pats did somehow engineer a tremendous feat of cheat. Maybe there’s a scientific explanation of the case of the shrinking balls. Maybe the league has always tolerated a bit of under-and-over on ball inflation measurements, and some teams have taken advantage of it. (The Pats aren’t alone. The Green Bay Packer’s St. Aaron of Rodgers, perhaps second only to Tom Brady in the sanctity of his image, has said something along the lines that he likes a ball that’s slightly overinflated, and he’ll use them until the league catches him at it.)

I certainly hope the Pats didn’t cheat. (This sort of cheating is, by the way, considered a fairly minor infraction. That said, there doesn’t appear to be any great consistency with respect to how rules are interpreted and enforced in the NFL.)

But let’s get on with the show…

No, I don’t have to watch or read the news. I don’t have to watch or read about the Super Bowl.

But I will.

So let’s dropkick DeflateGate to the sidelines of history where it belongs.

As our Tom said in his press conference, ‘this isn’t ISIS.’

So let’s get down to the real news of the day – like whether or not Gronk liked the book.

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