This Super Bowl should be a great game between two fantastic teams, but because of nonstop talk about deflated footballs the New England Patriots will be the the heels on Sunday.
While everyone from Taylor Swift to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne knows the haters are gonna hate, people have been trying to come up with reasons to discount the Patriots’ success long before this latest controversy. Here are few of the most common ones and why they don’t hold water. (RELATED: Tom Brady And The Liberal War On Success)
The Patriots only win because they are in a weak division. There might be something to this argument if New England typically went 9-7, sweeping the AFC East and scraping into the playoffs by winning just three other games. That’s basically what the 2008 Arizona Cardinals did the season of Kurt Warner’s final Super Bowl appearance and nobody criticizes them (rightly so, in my opinion). And what about all the years Peyton Manning played in a lackluster AFC South?
But since Tom Brady became the starter, the Patriots have averaged nearly 11.3 wins per regular season. This includes a 16-win season, three 14-win seasons, a 13-win season and four 12-win seasons (not counting playoffs). They’ve obviously beaten a lot of other teams.
This year, the Patriots’ record was better outside the division (8-2) than inside it (4-2), as they played a murderers’ row of some of the best teams in football to overcome a 2-2 start and become the top seed in the AFC. Additionally, only one team in the AFC East had a losing record in 2014.
At this point, it could be argued that Tom Brady is the reason the Patriots dominate the AFC East at this point. The other three teams have talented rosters with relatively unproven quarterbacks.
In 2008, when Brady was on injured reserve there was almost parity in the division: two teams at 11-5 (one of them being the Patriots) and a third at 9-7. That third team, the New York Jets, might have done even better if Brett Favre hadn’t injured his throwing arm while his squad was 8-3.
There would be no Patriots dynasty without the “tuck rule” game. Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis recently regaled us with a particularly incoherent version of this theory. Here’s the story.
In 2002, Brady appeared to fumble in the waning minutes of a divisional round playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders were up by three and their fumble recovery appeared to seal the game.
But according to the NFL rulebook at the time, “any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body.” A replay showed forward movement, thus no fumble. The Patriots kept the ball, won the game and then won their first Super Bowl two games later.
The trouble with any conspiracy theories is that the tuck rule was adopted in 1999, before Brady was even in the league. It was actually first called against the Patriots in a 2001 game, with an apparent New York Jets fumble overturned by the tuck rule. The Jets went on to win that game.
At the time of the game against the Raiders, Brady was still a sixth-round pick only recently promoted from backup quarterback. Robert Kraft was less influential in the league. The Patriots franchise had never won a Super Bowl. There was no special reason to show them favoritism.
Even if the referees upheld the call that Brady fumbled, he had played well enough up to that point that he likely would have retained the starting job next season. Whether the call was right or wrong, it was made by the officials, not the Patriots. The tuck rule was repealed in 2013.
The officials always side with the Patriots. This complaint is a byproduct of the tuck rule controversy. It’s also demonstrably untrue. Just in the past few seasons, the Patriots lost a game to the Ravens based on a questionable field goal, lost to the Carolina Panthers after possible pass interference against tight end Rob Gronkowski (a non-call that divided former NFL officials) and lost in overtime to the New York Jets due to a debatable violation of a push rule being enforced for the first time.
Not all of these calls were wrong. But the point is the Pats don’t get all the calls.
The Patriots haven’t won since Spygate. Actually, they’ve won more than three-fourths of their games since Spygate, a higher winning percentage than before. This includes an undefeated regular season, three AFC championships and seven division titles.
If you mean the Super Bowl, then a lot of teams should be suspect. Only seven out of 32 teams have won the Super Bowl since the Patriots’ last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.
The Patriots are also one of only four teams to make multiple Super Bowl appearances in that time period. Unfortunately, they lost — due more to highly improbable catches by unheralded receivers than anything that can be attributed to Spygate.
All that was ever conclusively proven in Spygate was that the Patriots illegally taped the New York Jets’ defensive signals in a 2007 game. The taping was done out in the open and wasn’t clearly forbidden until the league put out a 2006 memo. The Patriots were punished, then won their next 17 games.
It’s been alleged that Spygate was worse. Some of these accusations have proven erroneous. It’s possible the tapes contained things that would have given a real competitive advantage, in addition to the Zapruder film, the 18-minute gap in the Nixon tapes, footage of alien landings and outtakes from “Debbie Does Dallas.”
We’ll never know because the league destroyed the evidence. Maybe they were covering for the Patriots or broader league-wide problems, but this is the same NFL whose “unnamed officials” have been leaking incriminating Deflate-gate information like a sieve.
Spygate’s obsessives are the 9/11 truthers of football.
Perhaps sensing the tenuousness of trashing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s post-2007 record, Patriots haters have more recently switched to claiming that was the year the team started using deflated footballs to become an invincible non-fumbling machine. (Nobody told poor Stevan Ridley.) I can’t deal with these contentions in this space, but here’s a different perspective on the stats.
Then there’s Deflate-gate. This situation is unresolved and what the Ted Wells investigation will show is anybody’s guess. There’s always that equipment manager’s alleged trip to the bathroom with the footballs.
But given alternate explanations for the loss of air pressure, some questions about who is driving the investigation, some details in the anonymously sourced stories that haven’t held up and an apparent lack of documentation that accompanies the football testing process, maybe we should reserve judgment until all the facts are out.
May the best team win Sunday — no controversies and no excuses.
W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.