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DeflateGate could spoil Super Week

Bill Belichick said one thing that hit home during his surprise press conference Saturday to explain how atmospheric conditions could account for 11 of his team’s footballs being underinflated during the AFC title game.

“I’m embarrassed to talk about the amount of time that I’ve put into this relative to the other important challenge in front of us,” Belichick said.

No kidding, Sir Hoodie. You’re embarrassed? I’m sure the NFL is embarrassed. Fans are embarrassed. I’m embarrassed to think I’m heading to Arizona for Super Bowl week on Monday, knowing the DeflateGate controversy will devour everything in its path.

Really, should we be proud as a nation when the raging issue of deflated footballs has equal billing with President Obama’s State of the Union address and international terrorism on “Meet the Press,” CNN, the PBS NewsHour and the NBC Nightly News?

I cringe at the thought of Media Day, even in the best of times. Stupid Tuesday is generally the most dreary and demeaning day of my work year, and remember, I’ve covered the Bills for the last 15 seasons.

There’s no joy in standing around those raised stages, while players answer inane and repetitive questions, often while taking photos of the scene with their cellphones. Or seeing a former NFL star, now in some media capacity, suck up to the current player and hog the interview.

Don’t forget the radio goofballs who show up to grab attention, dressed as sausages or wizards or whatever. You’re waiting patiently to get in a football question, then the joker from WNUT jumps in and asks the star wide receiver what’s his favorite color or TV show.

By the end of Thursday’s final round of interviews at the team hotels, I’m ready to hitchhike south to Mexico and drop out of society altogether.

Now we’ll be inundated with questions about the deflated footballs – along with the feigned outrage and denials from the Pats. Thank heavens for the NFLPA. The union has instructed the Pats to keep quiet on DeflateGate, which will be a great relief for everyone.

I’m angry, if you haven’t noticed. By the end of last Sunday’s championship games, I was excited about the Super Bowl. It was the matchup I’d been hoping for: The Pats looking to win their fourth Lombardi Trophy and first in 10 years, and the Seahawks trying to become the first team since the Pats to repeat.

There are more compelling storylines and characters at this Bowl than any I can remember. It starts with the quarterbacks. Tom Brady tries to validate himself as the best ever against Russell Wilson, whose successful first three years mirror Brady’s early days as a starter.

How about Marshawn Lynch, the sullen ex-Bill? Will he even show up to Media Day? Will he speak, grab his crotch, scatter a bunch of hundred dollar bills on the artificial turf to pay a fine up front to the NFL, then stalk off into his own Beast Mode universe?

Our home boy, Rob Gronkowski, is back for a second Super Bowl, this time in good health. Who knows what Gronk might say, now that he’s more comfortable in his role as an NFL superstar? I saw him sitting with a bunch of people at 716 after the Bandits home opener. I should ask him what he thinks of HarborCenter.

Who wants to dwell on deflated footballs when Richard Sherman is holding court? Or Earl Thomas? The Seahawks have the best secondary in the game, but also one of the most talkative and volatile. Early this season, Thomas ripped into his defensive linemen for eating sunflower seeds at practice.

Belichick will be the center of attention. But Seattle coach Pete Carroll is an equally fascinating figure. Carroll coached the Pats before Belichick. He went on to Southern Cal, where he won a national title that was later stripped because of violations that involved improper gifts to Reggie Bush and his family.

Carroll put the college scandal behind him, of course. Sports fans have very short memories. No fan ever gives back a championship in his own mind, regardless of the dirty deeds along the way.

Bud Selig closed his eyes to a steroid epidemic, but he’s seen as some kind of baseball saint today.

But I digress. I’m mad at the Pats, whoever was responsible for the balls. I don’t believe their slick denials and manufactured ignorance. Those balls could not have been deflated without someone knowing about it, and if Brady didn’t want them set up to his liking.

It’s hard to believe that Belichick, a notorious control freak, was ignorant about the science of ball pressure until now. Of course, this is the same man who apparently wasn’t aware of Aaron Hernandez’s criminal lifestyle when the team gave Hernandez a $40 million contract extension.

Belichick made a somewhat plausible case on Saturday, contending that the footballs were legal when the officials tested them before the game, but dropped by about 1 pound per square inch during the game when atmospheric conditions brought the balls back to their “equilibrium state.”

Brady and Belichick seem to be finessing the facts here. I suspect that underinflating or overinflating footballs is commonplace in the NFL, depending on the QB’s preference. Why hasn’t it been a raging issue before now? Maybe because it’s not that big an advantage, or because it’s the hated Patriots.

But the point is, the Pats shouldn’t need to bend the rules. Belichick and Brady didn’t get to nine title games and six Super Bowls because they’re cheaters. They’re the best. After Spygate, they shouldn’t stretch the boundaries of fair play, they should bend over backwards to stay within them.

By speaking Saturday and using the scientific excuse, Belichick was challenging the league to get it right. He’s a master competitor. He knows it will be difficult for the NFL to prove intent. He knows the league rushed to a decision on Ray Rice and needs to be extra careful on this investigation.

There have been hysterical cries for action. Some are calling for Brady to be suspended from the Super Bowl, as if that would ever happen. If the league finds evidence that the Pats cheated, it should levy appropriate punishment, including a loss of a draft pick and even a suspension for Belichick.

But the NFL isn’t likely to reach a conclusion any time soon. It took them months to finish the Dolphins’ bullying probe last season. We’ll be closing in on the draft by the time we get a full report on DeflateGate. It wouldn’t be fair to the Patriots to interrogate them while they’re preparing for the big game.

Let’s hope some of the air goes out of this controversy by Tuesday. After a week, it has grown tiresome.

Bring on Beast Mode.


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