(Photos courtesy of the New England Patriots)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Forget the impact "Deflate Gate" might have on New England’s preparation for Super Bowl XLIX. I’m more concerned with the bigger picture – namely, what impact it might have on the legacies of quarterback Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick and Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft.
And make no mistake: It will have one.
I’m more certain of that now than I was before I consulted colleagues on the Hall-of-Fame’s board of selectors, asking if "Deflate Gate" would affect their opinions – and their responses surprised me. Basically, respondents were conflicted, mostly because they look unfavorably on anyone who plays loose and fast with the rules.
And, it appears, the Patriots have. Again.
“I do think it affects their candidacies,” said one selector, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It does have to be taken into consideration.”
OK, I know what you’re saying: Who’s kidding whom? Brady and Belichick are going to Canton. They’re slam dunks. And you’re right. In fact, the consensus is … or, at least, was … that both are first-ballot choices. But now along comes this hiccup, and we’re left to wonder: If the NFL office drops the hammer, and there’s a significant fine, suspension and/or forfeiture of more draft choices, what then?
I mean, a week ago we had Hall-of-Fame coach Don Shula calling Belichick "Beli-cheat." Now, there's this.
“If there is a finding that the balls were tampered with,” said another selector, “the issue will need to come up when Belichick and Kraft are in front of the Hall’s board of selectors. I think Brady gets a pass in both this case and Spygate. In my opinion, it strains credibility to suggest these actions were taken without Belichick’s tacit approval, at the very least. And as overseer of the organization, Kraft’s reputation as owner would be diminished once again.
“In short, Brady gets in as a no-brainer. The legacies of Kraft and Belichick have taken another hit, and they will come in the room slightly tarnished.”
The key word there is: slightly. As I said, Belichick and Brady are going to Canton, but I’ve heard more than one selector suggest Belichick be penalized by waiting a year to be admitted. In other words, don’t make him a first-ballot choice, and, OK, so you’re either a Hall-of-Famer or you’re not. What difference does waiting a year make?
An important one. Trust me, everyone who’s in the Hall knows who made it on his first try. It’s a select club, and, until now, Belichick was more in than out. However, this could push him in the other direction, and it may … I say may … have a residual impact on his quarterback, as well as the club’s owner.
“I believe the onus is on Brady for this one,” said a long-time selector. "There’s not a quarterback in the world that wouldn’t throw a deflated football when it’s raining; better grip all the way around. And the under-inflated ball would also be a big help if it were cold. Brady has been around long enough to know the difference, too.”
Most of those interviewed were tougher on Belichick than Brady, with selector Ira Miller – who supported both -- saying “it would take a lot more than this to really dim (Brady’s) legacy … and we still don’t know what role, if any, he had in this. Or if, in fact, this was another Patriots’ trick or something else.” Nevertheless, one high-profile member of the Hall – former Oakland coach John Madden – believes the New England quarterback knows more than he’s letting on.
“I can see … and you hate to make examples of what you can see because it sounds as if you are accusing guys … but I can see it being between the quarterback and the equipment guy,” Madden told the Sports Exchange’s Frank Cooney, a member of the Hall’s board of selectors. “He is the guy affected. He is the only guy.
“I heard some pundits saying the ball is easier to catch, but that would never, ever, ever be done for that unless the quarterback wanted it. You wouldn’t do something for the receiver to catch the ball if the quarterback couldn’t throw it. So it’s going to be done for the quarterback.”
His comments seem to be supported by Brad Johnson’s admission that he paid unnamed persons $7,500 prior to Super Bowl XXXVII to scuff up 100 footballs. But Brad Johnson isn’t going to the Hall. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are … and Robert Kraft might. The only question is: How much will this episode tarnish their reputations?
Answer: Stay tuned.
What seems certain is that, if culpability is ascertained, it’s not only their legacies that are damaged; it’s the legacy of a franchise that has been the NFL’s most successful over the past 14 years – and there’s nothing good that can come out of that for everyone involved.
"If true, like the taping, it is a brazen effort to circumvent the rules," said another selector. " When the day comes for enshrinement, there will be those watching that cringe and be disgusted seeing them put on that gold jacket and be honored. I couldn't help but think of the Hall's mission: Honor the Heroes of the Game; Preserve Its History; Promote Its Values; (and) Celebrate Excellence Everywhere."