Crowning a Villain: The Forced Heel Turn of The New England Patriots

The AFC Championship game on January 18th 2015 ended in controversy because of course it did. It was the penultimate game to arguably the most controversy laden season in what has become the most controversy laden sport in America, so obviously had to end in controversy.

Not in the fun “sports” way, either. It didn’t end in a penalty that forced an overtime. It didn’t end with an improbable hail mary. It didn’t end in an impossible field goal in terrible conditions. We did not get a Hollywood ending that would help to build the mythology of a franchise or of the league itself.

The only epic thing about the AFC championship game was the score; New England over Indianapolis 45–7. It was a blowout, which is arguably the least controversial outcome in sports.

In any other year and like the five previous times New England has gone to the SuperBowl in the modern age of football, the Patriots would have left Gillette Stadium, boarded their plane with an extra week of rest under their collective belt, and headed to the SuperBowl for a week of last-minute preparation, media coverage, and general hoopla that normally surrounds the annual most watched night in sports.

But not this year. Not in this NFL.

Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and their New England “Patriots” weren’t going to get off that easy because they’re cheaters and everyone knows it. We got you this time, you sneaky bastards.

We have it on good authority (an unnamed league source and a member of the Colts defense who recanted his statement) that these ANIMALS had the gaul to deflate their footballs by precisely one pound per square inch before the game.

…What?

It hasn’t been SuperBowl fever that has swept over the football world over the past week and a half, it has been SuperBowl cholera aka DeflateGate; the accusation by the NFL that perhaps the New England Patriots submitted game balls to the officials that were not inflated to the regulation 12.5 pounds per square inch of pressure.

This of course would have made it easier to grip the football which lead to that heel Tom Brady leading his team to victory by using nefarious means over the forthright and stalwart Indianapolis

Colts. In simpler terms, he threw ceremonial salt in the eyes of his opponent when the referee wasn’t looking and stole the title. WE ALL SAW IT.

The wrestling metaphor here is the most apt of any that have been used in the last 10 days and here’s why: the media has established a good guy, a bad guy, and a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. This is not football; it is sports entertainment.

More than anything, it is just good TV.

When not telling stories about sports, my day job is to sell non-tangible advertising space on the internet. When I’m not doing either of those things, I am performing or studying improv comedy. When I need to unwind, I’m either watching scripted television, movies, or reading comic books, and all of those things make me an expert to discuss this topic.

In virtually every facet of my life, I traffic in make believe. As an expert in made up shit, I can tell you without hyperbole, that at their most fantastical moments, not Mark Zuckerberg, Del Close, Vince McMahon, or Stan Lee could come up with something as crazy as what DeflateGate has become.

It’s borderline Seussical. Your Fate, My Fate, We’re all screwed! DeflateGate.

It has not been a great year for the NFL. Revenues and ratings may have never been higher, but the NFL’s public image has never been worse. If this were the true story of seven sports entities (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, players associations, the media, and the fans), who have agreed to have their work and lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real, then the NFL is Puck and we are all hanging by a thread to hear the next inflammatory thing to come spilling out during their confessional. The ratings might be great for the network and San Francisco may be the gold standard for Real World seasons, but is all of that worth it if you’re the character everyone remembers for being the bad guy?

Through each of the major scandals in the modern day era of the NFL (concussions, collective bargaining, domestic violence issues to name a few), the NFL has taken the most decisive stances and immediate action on alleged breaking of the written rules of the league because of course they did.

Of course.

It is the lowest hanging fruit on the tree. Violations of the rules by a team are the easiest thing to sanction because they deal with the punishment of several over the swift hammer of justice swinging at the head of an individual. There is no moral gray area to sift through. There is no sponsors threatening to turning off the faucet of cash. There is no legal quagmire in which to wade. No activist groups to worriedly stare into the face of and frantically ask, “isn’t the punishment I came up with enough?”

Two of the larger scandals which blew the media to kingdom come both involved the swift indictment of the same team: The New England Patriots. The first was the 2007 New England Patriots videotaping scandal aka SpyGate. The second is the current circus-under-the-big-top we’ve all got tickets to aka DeflateGate. In the first instance, the Patriots were found to be guilty of videotaping the defensive coordinator of the Jets during a game– an action that was common among many NFL teams– after a memo banning this practice was sent to all teams. The Patriots were fined $250,000 and docked a draft pick in the 2008 draft, while Belichick himself was fined $500,000 and branded a cheater for life.

Everyone might have been doing it but not everyone got caught. In that position, the NFL had to act. In reviewing the facts of the story, it could have been way worse.

Seven years later, the Patriots find themselves embroiled in another controversy, again en route to a SuperBowl. The charge this time is that the balls used in the game were not of regulation inflation, which as insane as it is to even consider, could be true. The speculation and allegations have gone far beyond that of normal thought process. Here are a few actual theories kicking around:

  • It was the ball boy who did it.
  • It is physics’ fault.
  • Belichick is so smart that he thought he could shave 1.5 lbs of pressure off every ball and that would be enough to give Brady a game time advantage over the Colts. Also, the referees are too dumb to notice that the equipment they handle daily is faulty. It makes perfect sense. He’s the mad genius for a reason.

The Patriots addressed these allegations during their week of preparation prior to Super Bowl activities beginning in Arizona. Members of the media went as far as to accuse quarterback Tom Brady of having to appear charming and sorry because women don’t like cheaters and only women buy Ugg boots, a product for which Tom Brady is the spokesman. They concluded that it was a completely insincere explanation and only done to sell some footwear.

In a second press conference held this past Saturday, Bill Belichick gave the media his science report on atmospheric conditions and their effect on balls having been inflated in a 70 degree room and then being moved to a stagnant state in a 50 degree arena where moisture would have been an issue.

As of the writing of this article, the going conspiracy theory is that the NFL has no working practice of controlling the inflation of the balls and because it isn’t tested regularly in each and every condition during each and every game played outdoors, there is no real conclusion to which they can come.

For more on this story, just ask the person standing next to you. I’m sure they have an opinion, because in the Information Age of Outrage absolutely everyone does.

The damage is already done.

From a public standpoint, the Patriots have always cheated because that is what cheaters do. They probably cheated against the Ravens. They probably cheated in every game they’ve ever played. Especially against (INSERT ANY TEAM), which just happens to be the team I cheer for. No way they could have beat US without cheating.

For the media, this is a homerun. Every major network with a sports desk is gleefully diving into a swimming pool full of money and lighting cigars with $100 bills in the wake of this most recently “gate.” From a meme standpoint this is Travolta at the Oscars times a thousand.

The only thing that could put an exclamation point on the 2014–15 NFL season is if Katy Perry stumbles into Wardrobe Malfunction 2.0 during the halftime show, in which case Rupert Murdoch will buy everyone at Fox a Bentley. The advertising dollars they would get out the of the spike in pageviews and demand for TV commercials during shows in which analysts dissect the ins and outs of her show time bustier costume preparation would more than pay for a fleet of custom made cars.

To paraphrase an embattled coach of a football dynasty, “at the end of the day, it is what it is.” Football is on television which makes it television; subject to the same rules, tricks, deadlines, and ratings that Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder are measured. There needs to be characters you root for, root against, and sympathize with in order to make it a hit. Sometimes when a special show comes along, your protagonist can fit all three of those categories.

Since 2001, we’ve seen the Patriots embark on a character arc on par with Breaking Bad’s Walter White; they’ve done it all. They’ve been the scrappy upstart, the defiant champion, and the living embodiment of being in the empire business. By the end the audience is not tuning in to watch the protagonists get what they have been fighting for; they are tuning in to see the protagonists get what they deserve.

The drama we’re watching unfold leading up to the Super Bowl may be the stuff of great TV, but from the media’s perspective, this is a Hollywood blockbuster all the way. If DeflateGate is proof of nothing else, it is that a compelling narrative in the Age of Outrage needs a champion to fall a lot more than they need a champion to rise.

The Patriots have been on top for a long time, and if the story the media has elected to follow is true, you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

Like this:

Like Loading…

Originally published at thedropstep.com on January 28, 2015.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated The Drop Step’s story.