PHOENIX -- Hey, old-timer. With Super Bowl 74 at the new stadium in Arizona this week, we want to look back 25 years to Super Bowl 49 between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. Everybody was talking about something called Deflategate. Can you tell us about it?
It was one of the strangest episodes of the NFL’s Tackling Era. You have to remember: This was a simpler, more wholesome time. Super Bowl Media Day wasn’t even a national holiday yet. Nobody had thought to hold it on an aircraft carrier. The most interesting interview that day was this fellow for Seattle named Marshawn Lynch.
What did he say?
I know! So, back to Deflategate: The Patriots were accused of illegally deflating footballs in their previous game, against the Colts. Deflating the balls would make them easier to hold and catch. This was a huge story, and not just in sports. It even led the national news on some nights, partly because all the major international crises at that time were ratings duds.
What was the national feeling about this?
Reasonable people agreed: If the Patriots did it, they cheated. Deflating footballs fit the most straightforward definition of cheating: breaking a rule to gain an advantage that would help your team win. But reasonable people also agreed: Deflating footballs, on its own, was not the worst transgression in the world. I mean, this was nothing compared to what we saw a few years later during Manziel-Petrinogate.
So what was the big deal?
It was interesting mostly because of what it said about the people involved. The Patriots had already been caught illegally videotaping opponents’ signals a few years before. Would they be so bold as to deflate footballs? Were they that desperate to win? It was no secret that many people in the NFL were suspicious of the Patriots, even before this happened.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was this odd football genius who captivated the nation with bold statements like "Seattle is a great football team," and "Seattle’s very good in all phases of the game." He said it all with this twinkle in his eye that hinted that perhaps he was sitting on a football, deflating it right in front of you.
How did Belichick handle all this?
At one point he claimed science was to blame, but then he was shot down by this science guy named Bill Nye the Science Guy (with a name like that, how could he be an English teacher?) and other well-known scientists. The media was fairly harsh on Belichick, though it was nothing compared to what you see today on the Torch and Pitchfork Network.
And so after the Super Bowl, Belichick tried to speak directly to the fans on this clunky Internet service called Twitter. It was part of something that we dinosaurs used to call "social media".
Belichick sent a series of angry tweets, then finished with this one: "I resign as HC of the NEP."
Why did he resign?
Everybody thought he was getting out ahead of the sheriff, but as it turned out, he decided to run for governor of Massachusetts.
And was he elected?
By acclamation. People wanted Belichick to fix the roads and improve school-lunch programs, but his first order of business was invading Rhode Island. He was successful, of course, but the problem was that he didn’t say he was invading Rhode Island, so nobody noticed. It really didn’t seem like a big deal until the 2016 presidential election, when the whole country waited up to see who won Rhode Island’s four electoral votes, only to learn, the next morning, that Rhode Island no longer existed.
After Democrats and Republicans fought about it in Congress, Belichick finally held a press conference. Reporters asked him why he invaded Rhode Island, but he refused to answer. Instead he just kept saying, "We’re on to Connecticut."
Then the feds went after him, and the whole thing was a big ugly court mess until Belichick got pardoned by Vice President Goodell.
So the vice president had the power to pardon him?
No, but that’s a whole other story. Anyway, Belichick spent the next few years conducting science experiments in his backyard (which straddled the border of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, allowing him to avoid paying property taxes in either state). Everybody thought he was nuts, but then he released a research paper titled: "Global Warming: Bad For Future Generations, And Even Harder on Our Precious, Precious Footballs."
Everybody agreed: The paper was brilliant. Somehow, Belichick convinced even the biggest skeptics that climate change was real. It seems so silly to look back and realize that, when we walked into venerable University of Phoenix Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday, we thought that history would remember Bill Belichick as a football coach.
So what happened?
The Patriots beat the Seahawks, 24-23. Fantastic game.
No, I mean: Were the Patriots found guilty of deflating footballs?
Oh. Gosh, who can remember?