In the end, the wonder of it all was that it only took the National Football League about four months to figure out the extraordinary pickle dubbed "Deflategate" and assess, with obvious pain and equivocation, the requisite punishments. But then there were never going to be any winners in this mess. Nor are there any Solomon's working for this corporate behemoth anymore.
The penalties will please few, which probably makes them as fair as they could have possibly been. Those enamored of this team and its many-splendored Quarterback would have regarded even an arched eyebrow too harsh a reprimand while those who detest both -- and their ranks are growing, south of Hartford and west of Worcester -- might have considered an indefinite suspension for Tom Brady too soft.
Instead he gets benched four games; not that grave a rebuke, actually. But the damage to his image and his historical standing in the world he loves will be incalculable. Once believed to have conquered his game he'll now be remembered as its most celebrated cheat. The team also got a slap, or two. But if you're looking for the biggest losers in this mess try the ball boy and locker room attendant who got ensnared in the now fabled machinations. About five minutes after the ruling came down, the owner pointedly suspended both indefinitely. Guess we know who Bob Kraft blames.
More complex than meets the eye, this thing will be bickered over ad infinitum; what we're now witnessing being just the beginning. Questions linger and remain intriguing and plentiful.
Q. Okay, for openers how did it ever get to this ridiculous extreme wise guy?
A. Via a long trail of tears stretching about a half century since the National Football League became bigger than General Motors and almost as big as Organized Crime. For the Patriots, the timing was terrible with the many recent controversies raising the ante hugely, especially for the Commissioner. The fact the Patriots were again alleged culprits unquestionably guaranteed a circus although our clever boys from Foxborough clinched that deal by acting stupidly with their now customary institutional arrogance.
Q. Is not the main problem the fact the NFL's rule on how much air should be in these footballs a tad silly? Even if reasonable, how can anyone take it this seriously?
A. Here's how Bill Polian, retired NFL GM now serving as TV commentator and one of the game's most learned, respected, and fair-minded men, puts it. "This is not running through a stop sign. This is not speeding five miles over the limit. This is a serious competitive violation that has to be treated as such by the League."
If with a doctored football a single pass is completed that would not have been otherwise or a single fumble is averted that would have otherwise occurred then the difference is significant, even if impossible to prove. In the end, the margin of difference between winners and losers in this game can be infinitesimal. For further affirmation of this point one suggests you re-examine this year's super bowl.
Q. Give me a break, says you. They won that playoff game that's so controversial by five TD's. It was a stomping, a farce. Any advantage they got from an altered football had to be miniscule, meaningless!
A. It's the law that's been violated that counts not the profit that may or not have accrued to the law-breaker. A charge of armed robbery does not get excused because the thief got only ten bucks. The next time you get stopped for speeding and you argue with the cop that no one got hurt, no damage was done, and no harm resulted so why does it matter, see how far that gets you.
This argument that the game in question was too lopsided for any of this to matter is the most ludicrous of all the positions held by the Patriots and their oft pathetic apologists. Moreover, a lot of teams that have lost close games in harsh conditions to this team in recent years are now wondering if doctored footballs might have been a factor in the crucial plays that proved decisive. They have every right to.
Q. But why do you blame the Patriots for compounding their problems and call their actions, "stupid."
A. Ah now, let me count the ways. They could not have botched this case more thoroughly if they'd made it their fervently determined goal to do so.
Take Himself, Tom Brady, the lordly quarterback who long seemed untouchably above the fray and clearly made the mistake of believing that. Not surprisingly Brady, foremost victim in the fiasco, was also the foremost blunderer. He should have kept his mouth shut!
As New York columnist Mike Lupica has vigorously noted Brady could have stymied the entire ordeal at the very get-go by stepping forward when the story broke and humbly taken the blame by saying he had probably "misled" the ball-boys by harping so much on how he liked his footballs to be nice and soft, inadvertently encouraging them to deflate them a bit too much just to please him. He couldn't get away with that now. But it would have been easy back in January with the added bonus for him of looking like a swell fellow in trying to get the poor working-stiff locker room attendants off the hook, etc. All he had to do was drop an "aw shucks" or two, look contrite, bite his lower lip, and 'fess-up just a smidge. It would have been over and out quick, leaving only hard-core Pats' bashers fuming.
Instead Brady resorted to righteous indignation. Big mistake and, for such a smart fellow, very dumb! In his stirring professions of absolute innocence he blurted-out all the obtuse equivocations and calculated evasions that now find him being branded "a liar." Biggest mistake of all however was Brady's brilliant decision to try thwarting the investigation by withholding his phone, text, and e-mail records, etc., triggering an anvil chorus of alarm bills in the offices of Ted Wells, the very able investigative officer. Obviously he didn't want Wells to know of his many phone-calls to the attendants in the early hours of the crisis. But that rather naÔve strategy flopped.
Q. So you're saying Brady has no one to blame but himself?
A. Not entirely because he had plenty of help. As captain of this ship Bill Belichick could have stepped-up and nobly accepted responsibility while acknowledging the buck stops with him. That would have minimized the problem, swiftly and decisively. Belichick chose not to. Just "Why?" is a fabulous question to which we will never have a good answer. Wells went easy on Belichick but his lodge brothers -- believing nothing happens on this team that he doesn't know about -- won't.
Owner Kraft's behavior reeked of condescension bordering on arrogance. His demand for apologies even before an inquiry was mounted was needlessly aggravating. A ridiculous mistake was made when "alleged" football-deflator Jim McNally was made "unavailable" to the investigators once it was realized he was leading the cause into hot water. Only someone at the top of the chain of command could have made that call. Who?
In the end, the entire organization's alternately smug and mocking tone -- consistently minimizing the issues -- backfired. But Brady, in a streak of hubris further sullied by an all-consuming sense of regal entitlement, takes first prize in this dubious sweepstakes. It's a story as old as time.
Q. Admit it! You're just another Pats-Basher. Everyone is jealous of this team because it's been so great so long.
A. That's the weakest claptrap of all. Only delusional fan-boys who prance around wearing uniform tops bearing the number 12 really believe such nonsense. Great teams are always envied and deservedly so. The yearning to bring them down is feverish and reasonable. The greater the yearning, the greater the measure of greatness. It was so of the Celtics, Canadiens, Yankees, Packers, and Steelers of yore. But they didn't lead with their chins as these Patriots have, essentially inviting contempt. Lead with your chin and you'll get it clipped; every bloody time.
Q. So what, pray tell, is the last word here, Sir?
A. It was all about "the cover-up," old Sport. It always is.
Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Bostonís WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.