No matter how he denied it in his press conference, Bill Belichick is the man who makes all key football decisions within the Patriots organization.
He may not have told the ball boy to insert a needle into the football so air pressure could be lessened in last Sunday’s AFC Championship game against Indianapolis, and he may not have given instructions on how to prepare his team’s footballs in any game this season. However, it’s his show, and his shock and amazement simply does not fly.
Tom Brady may like his footballs underinflated, and he may be the one more directly responsible for the deflating alterations. Brady may have been doctoring footballs since his days at Michigan, and doing it without saying a word to anyone.
However, he has not been sneaking around the locker room since 2000, doing it under the cloak of secrecy. Brady may believe it’s a common practice, and Aaron Rodgers gave that belief some validity when he said he likes throwing a football that has been overinflated.
That doesn’t matter. Belichick was not supposed to stand up in front of the media and take the Sgt. Schultz “I know nothing” routine. If he was going to tell the truth, he might have felt compelled to say he is guilty of benign neglect on the issue.
That would make sense. Belichick knows the rules, and if his quarterback is intentionally violating those league-wide standards by asking attendants to remove air from the football’s bladder so it’s easier for him to grip it and throw it, Belichick clearly doesn’t want to know what is going on.
So, Belichick may choose to stay away from that process the way college football head coaches like to stay away from the booster who gives the college quarterback a $500 handshake.
What Belichick doesn’t know, he doesn’t have to lie about.
Again, benign neglect.
It’s a concept that we are all familiar with. Say you come home from work after a miserable day, and you find your spouse is unhappy with a number of issues that you address after you come home. Then, you see your 15-year-old son sitting on the couch playing X-box. You have talked to him about his homework each of the past three days, but there he is sitting on the couch playing Call of Duty.
Instead of demanding to see the completed homework, you let it go and figure it’s a battle that will be better-fought tomorrow or the next day.
You are neglecting to do your parental duty, because you are not checking the homework. You know the chances are that it’s not done, but you just don’t feel like fighting that battle today. You know the same situation is likely to come up the next day or the next week, and you can address it then.
Belichick has been in trouble with the NFL before with his Spygate activity in which it was alleged that opponents practices were videotaped. That’s why Deflategate is such a slap in the face to the NFL. The perception is that Belichick will do whatever he wants to help his team get an edge, and the rules don’t matter.
He can deny his responsibility all he wants, and he may be able to make a pretty good cases at first blush, but he has always been one of the most thorough, thoughtful, clever and sharpest leaders in the league. He didn’t get that way by ignoring the small details on a regular basis.
Belichick’s legacy is taking a beating. The distraction of Deflategate may take away from his team’s preparation to play its best game in the Super Bowl against a nasty, aggressive and hungry opponent like the Seahawks. The Pats appear to be capable of staying in this game for 60 minutes and perhaps even winning it, but if they are not at their best, they will get beaten by Pete Carroll’s team.
But whether the Pats win the game or not, Belichick may no longer be considered among the best coaches in the history of the game. Right now, you can make a good argument that he is the No. 2 coach in the history of the NFL behind Vince Lombardi.
He ranks with Don Shula, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh, and he may be at the top of that list. However, when all is said and done, the public may not be willing to give Belichick his due much longer.
Instead of perceiving him as a brilliant strategist and a great coach, he will be identified as a cheater and the most arrogant kind of rule breaker.
That’s what Belichick has done to himself, and it’s likely to stay with him for the rest of his life.