Deflate Gate is one of those confusing controversies where some people think it’s going to tear apart the reputation of a man fans were just calling the greatest of all time a few months ago and others think it doesn’t make any difference at all. It’s the type of scandal that’s almost becoming cliché for the New England Patriots. They push the rules, but just a little bit, so you’re left thinking: well, they did cheat, but not that badly.
It’d be different if it came out that Julian Edelman had Stickum on his hands or that Rob Gronkowski was using steroids. Those things clearly break the rules and they clearly give those players an edge. The biggest Patriots fan in the world would have to admit those things were wrong.
With Deflate Gate, it’s easy to rationalize. After all, the balls were pretty close to the minimum. The Patriots only had those deflated footballs for half of a game in which they absolutely dominated, and they were better when the refs found out and pumped the balls back up. They would have beaten the Indianapolis Colts with one-pound footballs or 20-pound footballs. The game wasn’t close. Then they went on to beat the Seahawks with normal balls in the Super Bowl.
At the same time, it’s easy to point out just how heinous this is. It seems fairly clear from the Wells Report that the Patriots were doing it on purpose, they knew they were breaking the rules and the goal was explicitly to change the air pressure after the refs checked the balls. Brady probably—we still have to say probably, as he and his agent are denying it and he may be innocent—asked for the deflation because he knew he could get a little better grip with a flatter ball.
So, how much does it matter? In some senses, it matters a lot because it’s clearly cheating. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter at all because the Patriots in no way beat either the Colts or the Seahawks simply because the footballs were a little flat. The ones in the Super Bowl were fine and the Colts got kicked all over the field regardless.
One thing that should be noted, though, is that the outcome shouldn’t necessarily change the perception of the event. Yes, saying the Patriots wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl without Deflate Gate is absurd. Anyone saying that probably just hates the Patriots already. However, if the Patriots cheated, they deserve the punishment regardless of the way they won the game.
Think of it this way. If a linebacker takes steroids, he’s cheating. If he then goes out into a playoff game and his team wins, but he doesn’t record a single tackle, he still cheated. His cheating didn’t win the game for the team; that outcome would have happened either way. Since he cheated, he would be fined and suspended in accordance with that breach of the rules. He’d get the same punishment with zero tackles as he would get with 20 tackles.
Many football players have actually defended the Patriots, saying that every team cheats in all of these little ways to win. In some ways, this argument is similar to the issues with college football—namely, that all of the teams pay players under the table, and just those that get caught are punished. While it does seem to absolve the Patriots of some blame, rules mean nothing if everyone is allowed to break them together.
In the end, Deflate Gate won’t matter too much in the years to come, except as an interesting tidbit to bring up, the way Spy Gate is now. The NFL will not take away New England’s win. They’ll probably just fine the team and Brady and perhaps make him sit a few games.
In the long run, New England still won the Super Bowl and that’s what will sit in the record books. While that may be in some ways unfair, the minimal impact that the cheating had means the event will largely be forgotten.