Football Watch: "Cheating" is such a harsh word, but strange things just seem to happen around New England Pats' coach Bill Belichick
Strange things seem to happen around Coach Bill.
"There’s no answer for this one, for why, as Steve Young put it, the Patriots are a team that does the really difficult things well, yet trips up and sets off a national conversation in which everyone, from the Colts, the team the Patriots vanquished 45-7, to Vice President Joe Biden has weighed in."
-- the Washington Post's Cindy Boren
Funny how these things circle around. Here in New York, once upon a time, when the legendary NY Giants coach Bill Parcells had begun a process of extricating the NY Jets from a seemingly permanent morass, only to decide to effectuate his second (and far from last) retirement from coaching, and it appeared that he would be turning the team over to a still-little-known young protégé named Bill Belichick. What followed was so bizarre that I've had to turn to Wikipedia to refresh my memory of the sequence.
Belichick had two different stints as Head Coach of the Jets without ever coaching a game.I've had an eye or two on professional sports for a lot of years, and don't remember anything like this.
In February 1997, Belichick, who had been an assistant coach under Bill Parcells with the New York Giants and New England Patriots, was named the Jets interim Head Coach while the Jets and Patriots continued to negotiate compensation to release Parcells from his contract with Patriots and allow Parcells to coach the Jets. Six days later, the Patriots and Jets reached an agreement that allowed Parcells to coach the Jets and Belichick became the team's assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. When Parcells stepped down as head coach in 1999, he had already arranged with team management to have Belichick succeed him. However, Belichick would be the New York Jets' head coach for only one day. When Belichick was introduced as head coach to the media—the day after his hiring was publicized—he turned it into a surprise-resignation announcement. Before taking the podium, he scrawled a resignation note on a sheet of loose leaf paper that read, in its entirety, "I resign as HC of the NYJ." He then delivered a half-hour speech explaining his resignation to the assembled press corps.
Soon after this bizarre turn of events, he was introduced as the Patriots' 12th full-time head coach, succeeding the recently fired Pete Carroll. The Patriots had tried to hire him away from Parcells/the Jets in the past. Parcells and the Jets claimed that Belichick was still under contract to the Jets, and demanded compensation from the Patriots. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue agreed, and the Patriots gave the Jets a first-round draft pick in 2000 in exchange for the right to hire Belichick.
Anyway, off to New England Bill B went, and there he launched a career that would establish him as, I think it's fair to say, one of the elite coaches in NFL history. These days in the league while you can hold onto certain core players, you're essentially reinventing your team every year, and it has been mighty impressive to see how close to the top he has kept the Patriots during his tenure.
Except, there's the other thing. There always seems to be another thing. Awhile back it was that strange business of the Pats stealing signals and otherwise committing electronic mayhem. Just now it's the report that blazed through the NFL today about an official investigation into the balls used by the Pats in last weekend's NFC Championship Game 45-7 blowout. It seems the league managed to hold onto 12 of them, and 11 were under-inflated, to pressures below the range specified. For many quarterbacks and receivers, an under-inflated ball can be easier to catch and handle, especially in wet weather.
Again, it's a pretty strange story, so I'm going to let the Washington Post's Cindy Boren tell it.
Why the NFL can’t afford to bungle the Patriots cheating scandal, heading into Super BowlSure, maybe it'll turn out that, you know, everybody does it. It's just that, you know, with Coach Bill B there always seems to be something.
By Cindy Boren
January 21 at 5:03 PM
Suddenly, 2015 isn’t looking all that much rosier for Roger Goodell than 2014.
A domestic violence scandal that began the season may be mostly behind him, but now he must quickly confront an on-the-field story that involves the season’s end, with America’s biggest game coming on Feb. 1. That’s because one of the teams may have qualified for Super Bowl XLIX by using footballs that were not in compliance with NFL rules. Eleven of the 12 footballs measured by game officials and used by the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game were under-inflated, a fact that was discovered when the Indianapolis Colts intercepted a Tom Brady pass.
The incident, besides reviving those old “Belicheat” cliches from SpyGate, ripped the cover off a part of the game that many fans never think about: the journey of a football from approval to sideline. NFL footballs, according to the rule book, must be inflated with 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch. Each team brings a number of balls to game officials, who approve them and mark them 135 minutes before game time. The footballs eventually are returned to each team, and each side uses its own set of balls when it is on offense.
The NFL won’t be pulling the Patriots out of the Super Bowl. If it determines that they acted deliberately, a fine and/or loss of draft picks would be the likely punishment.
But in a multi-billion-dollar business, this is either a really bad way to go about things or it’s a nonchalance, an arrogant shrug that says “everybody does it” and pays no mind to the possibility that it taints all those gaudy stats offenses have put up the last decade. So one of the first questions Goodell must ask as the NFL probes DeflateGate is: how pervasive is this? At the college level, adjusting footballs is widespread, according to an unnamed equipment manager who spoke with Yahoo’s Charles Robinson, and it’s not a huge deal. “Being around football, it’s just common. It’s just the way it works. Everybody does it. You know you’re not supposed to do it, but nobody thinks it’s that big of a deal. I don’t think anybody looks at it as cheating.”
Each team, the manager told Robinson assumes the other is doing the same thing. As with baseball pitchers and catchers who doctor the ball, it’s done surreptitiously. “Honestly, I don’t think anybody ever thinks twice about doing it. Although, if you’re in a position where you have to do it on the sideline, everybody is always aware that you can’t do it out in the open,” he said. “You might have somebody stand in front of you when you’re taking air out, or you might sit down on the bench and kind of cover it up. But, yeah, it’s normal. It’s kind of the game-day process.”
Is that true in the NFL as well? An under-inflated football would theoretically be easier to catch and easier to hold onto, especially in a pouring rain, and the Patriots’ footballs were, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, under-inflated by 2 PSI. But quarterbacks are persnickety about the tools of their trade. For every one that likes an under-inflated ball, there’s an Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay Packers quarterback believes there should be only a minimum PSI requirement because he’s loves a football that is inflated to the max.
“I have a major problem with the way it goes down, to be honest with you,” Rodgers said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show. “The majority of the time, they take air out of the football. I think that, for me, is a disadvantage.”
That raises another question for Goodell: Why didn’t referees, who arguably spend more time touching the ball during games than players, do something Sunday? Did they correct the inflation at halftime (the Patriots scored 21 points in the third quarter). And why aren’t footballs, as Bill Polian suggested to Newsday’s Bob Glauber, “kept in officials’ custody until right before the game”? Just let “a neutral person” handle them during the game on the sidelines.
The sooner Goodell can put out this fire, the better with teams and media converging on Arizona on Sunday for Super Bowl week. The Patriots will arrive under a cloud of suspicion and controversy, their very presence questioned. Coach Bill Belichick has promised full cooperation with the investigation, but until there’s a resolution of the issue, people will only bring up SpyGate, for which Belichick was fined $500,000 in 2007.
“We try to do things the right way,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “We work hard at our jobs, our professions, to be successful and it’s unfortunate that things like this come up, but that’s life, that’s the world we live in.”
There’s no answer for this one, for why, as Steve Young put it, the Patriots are a team that does the really difficult things well, yet trips up and sets off a national conversation in which everyone, from the Colts, the team the Patriots vanquished 45-7, to Vice President Joe Biden has weighed in. “Having been a receiver, I like a softer ball,” Biden told “CBS This Morning.” “That’s all I can tell ya.”