NFL’s Bully Reemerges in Deflategate

Bill Belichick

Bullies commit acts against smaller, meeker competition to make up for a lack of self-esteem. When pressed by a bigger, tougher, and more self-fulfilled opponent, the bully often finds itself dejected and defeated.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because for the past 10-plus years, the New England Patriots have been the NFL’s bully. And the League’s tyrant struck again in his most recent beatdown in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

It wasn’t enough for the Pats to simply be better than the Indianapolis Colts — a team New England has overwhelmed and overmatched the previous pair of times they’ve met. The Pats reportedly felt compelled to under-inflate their footballs to gain a competitive advantage in the soggy terrain in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Sunday.

The Pats have always bent the rules or taken advantage of loopholes in the system that other teams didn’t. In the beginning, it was smart football to hustle to the line and press opposing coaches to make a quick decision whether to challenge a play, or to take free yards on a quarterback sneak with the defense aligned poorly.

Yet, these smart acts of gamesmanship devolved into rule-altering actions like the memorable 2003 AFC Championship, in which the Pats defensive backs did everything but take the Colts receivers’ lunch money. That game specifically pushed the NFL to call pass interference, illegal contact, and defensive holding more tightly.

Few stood up to New England in the early years, and it ran roughshod over the NFL, claiming three titles in four seasons. But after Spygate leaks — in which the Pats were found to have taped the New York Jets coaches’ hand signals in their 2007 season opener — and the Pats’ bullying of the League in their subsequent 17 games, the New York Giants stood up for the rest of the League.

After the Giants’ stunning Super Bowl XLII win, which left the Pats 18-1 forever, what did the bullies do? They walked off the field before the game was even over.

I know, I know. Show me a good loser, and you’ll show me a loser. I get it. But since they finished 18-1, the Pats have only reached the Super Bowl once — despite claiming the AFC East crown in six straight seasons — and were beaten in the AFC Championship Game two straight seasons. They needed to leave no doubt this season.

So the Patriots, being the bullies they are, decided to do whatever it took to win.

It was funny and sad watching the legion of loyal Pats fans take to Twitter to defend Bill Belichick after ESPN reported late Tuesday that 11 of the 12 footballs the team used were underinflated — some by as much as two pounds. The argument is simple: the Colts’ balls were properly inflated, and New England’s weren’t. Think that’s a coincidence?

Listen, no one is going to criticize or judge fans for supporting the Patriots. Fandom runs deep, and it’s nearly impossible to flip a lifetime full of it over a couple nefarious acts. After all, Belichick and this dynasty will eventually move on, and fans will still be there.

But behind most every insane fan is a reasonable person with a job, a family, and a life. If you’re from New England and are blindly believing the Patriots didn’t cheat, take a step back and be logical. Consider the Pats’ track record, their insatiable appetite to win, and that they haven’t done so in years, then tell me you still ardently believe this bunch did not cheat.

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Pat Pickens
Pat Pickens covers the NHL for the New York Times, and XN Sports.