To Wear or Not To Wear

For the sake of completeness, I will leave this post up but I have to say that my thoughts have changed on this issue in the last couple of days. I am now inclined to believe that this entire issue was overblown (sorry!) and to believe the statements that Bill Belichick made on Saturday. While I still am open to the possibility that the Patriots purposefully altered the footballs illegally, I refer you to my latest Facebook posts which are much more supportive of the Pats and critical of the farce this entire issue has become. RD

It arrived in the mail today. But, somehow it doesn’t look like it did when I ordered it.

Last Sunday evening, in the wake of the New England Patriots’ crushing victory over the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, I ordered a wool, winter hat with the Patriots’ logo on it. Actually, it isn’t the current logo, it’s the old logo which I grew up with: a minuteman type character centering a football. I always loved that logo and preferred it to buying an “AFC Champions” shirt because I wanted to hold out for buying a “Super Bowl Champions” shirt if the opportunity arose. I went to bed that night very happy and was only mildly amused on Monday morning to hear that there was some issue with the footballs used by the Patriots during the game.

Of course, it turned out that this seemingly trivial issue has turned into a scandal which has hit all the front pages, all the nightly newscasts and keeps getting more and more bizarre as accusations and denials fly though the air.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, it seems that the footballs used by the Patriots when they were on offense (each time provides its own footballs when it is on offense- I didn’t know that before this week) were under inflated below the standard that the league provides. Clearly, this gave the Patriots some kind of an advantage as their quarterback, Tom Brady, has often stated that he likes the balls to be lighter while other quarterbacks prefer heavier footballs. He feels they give him a better grip. But, these were tested after a question was raised and found to be significantly below the required minimum weight.

So, there we are. If this is true and no other explanation can be found for why the balls turned out to be underweight, then the assumption has to be that the Patriots cheated their way into the Super Bowl. And that hurts. It hurts badly. It hurts me because as much as I like my teams to win, it seems that this would be a blatant, arrogant action which would make a mockery of the league and its rules. For someone who likes sports as I do and who sees my Boston and New England teams as a way to connect with my childhood home, I feel like I have been cheated. I’ve watched and cheered for this team and would be deeply disappointed and angry if these allegations are in fact true.

But, before I burn the hat and find something else to do next Sunday, I want to wait to make sure, and it hasn’t been ascertained for sure yet, that the story is as the accusers say. We are in our tradition supposed to judge someone “lichaf zichut”, with the benefit of the doubt and even in a situation like this one, in which the Patriots had previously been caught doing something illegal several years ago, one should still lean on the side of giving the benefit of the doubt.

So, I’m willing to wait to hear more information. In the meantime, let me mention two issues that are being raised to try to argue on the Patriots’ behalf. One makes a difference to me, one does not. The one that does not matter to me is the fact that the Pats would have won this game one way or the other. They completely crushed the Colts and they beat them on defense (using the Colts’ footballs) and beat them with a running game which presumably is not helped significantly by the weight of the football. So, according to this theory: no harm done. But, I can’t accept that. It’s wrong one way or the other and it has no bearing on whether the course of the game was changed because of the weight of the ball.

However, the other issue is more critical. The other issue is the point  now being made  that many, many quarterbacks do something to the balls to make them more to their liking and that often these go beyond actions permitted by the league. Whether it is scuffing up a football or making it heavier or lighter, some claim this is common to the league. That perhaps might explain why the officials didn’t stop the game when they picked up the noticeably lighter footballs: they were used to it, they’d seen it often before and knew that if they called attention to it, they would be being inconsistent. Now, the fact that others do it doesn’t make it right but it does raise the question as to why this issue is being raised now and why the Patriots should be singled out for criticism. If the league has been “letting things go”, to suddenly become strict doesn’t seem fair.

But, in the end, if we were to hear without question after the NFL investigation results are made public, that the Patriots did in fact willingly and knowingly break the rules in a way giving them a distinct advantage, it will take a lot of fun out of what could be one of the greatest Super Bowls ever with the Seahawks’ tremendous defense against a Patriots offense which seems at times unstoppable. If the results show purposeful cheating, I’ll  probably still watch the game but I have to be honest, my heart won’t really be in it and I won’t wear the hat. Bending the rules in sports is a common practice and I’m willing to concede that a lot of what we’re hearing comes from “Patriot Haters” of which there are many. But, it wouldn’t change the fact that the team I have been proud to cheer for will have let me down. Worse things have happened in my life, of course, but should it all be true, it hurts and hurts bad.

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