Rick Osentoski/AP

In a season like no other in NFL history, I’ve come down with a serious case of controversy fatigue. Let’s all take a deep breath and exhale. This doesn’t rise to the level of threatening the integrity of the game in any lasting way

By Don Banks
January 23, 2015

You know what I find deflating? Mostly the current state of the NFL itself. A season that began amid a storm of controversy is ending in the same way. We’re less than 10 days away from Super Bowl 49—supposedly the pinnacle of the football year, if not the sports calendar—and we’re talking more about air pressure in game balls than we are about the pressure of the playoffs.

 

Once again the game on the field is being overshadowed, and controversy has almost completely trumped competition. I don’t know about you, but in this season like none other in NFL history, I’ve come down with a serious case of controversy fatigue.

 

Yes, by all means, investigate and punish those evildoers in New England, with their penchant for cutting corners and pushing the envelope until it no longer looks like an envelope. Rules are rules, even though they do get twisted out of shape from time to time. But don’t try turning this story about two pounds per square inch of missing air into the Hornung-Karras gambling investigation, because it ain’t that. This doesn’t rise to the level of threatening the integrity of the game in any lasting way. Sorry, but I’m not buying into that popular level of hyperventilation.

 

Some perspective, please?

 

When the Patriots’ football deflation scandal leads all three broadcast networks’ news broadcasts, as it did on Thursday night, we might officially be through the looking glass. If that’s the most important story in the world, then it says more about our judgment and our focus than it does the significance of the topic. And it also proves, to no surprise, that controversy drives both the league and the news cycle like never before. (And how lucky are we that deflate rhymes with gate, as if we ever needed the impetus of a rhyme to attach -gate to any tempest? Who can forget the Super Bowl’s Nipplegate?)

 

I don’t think I’m alone here. A good deal of football fans must be beyond weary of the nonstop controversies engulfing the NFL these days. Sure, the attention and scrutiny come with the game’s enormous popularity, but the game itself shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle of the scandals and contretemps du jour. But it has all too often this season, on numerous fronts.

 

You want to talk about deflating?

 

I find it deflating that in just these playoffs alone, going by the eyeball test, no one still has any idea of what actually constitutes a legal catch, or how to describe its rule-book definition in a pithy 100 words or less.

 

I find it deflating that pass interference, possession of the ball, and what is or isn’t a muffed punt are still open for debate and subjective interpretation—to the point that not even the NFL’s director of officials and the referee analysts on TV (who used to be NFL referees, or even the league’s director of officials!) can consistently agree on calls.

 

I find it deflating that we still can’t really pinpoint what a “football move” is, but when it comes to stories that really move the needle, it turns out that needle can also surreptitiously be used to let a little air out of the football.

 

I find it deflating that my colleague, Peter King, actually called for the league to institute background checks on ball boys and make them pass through metal detectors before reaching the sidelines, an idea that sounds somewhat reasonable in today’s everything-is-absolutely-critically-important-and-we-must-get-it-right climate that pervades the NFL.

 

That’s where we’re at? Background checks and metal detectors for ball boys? Heaven help us.

 

I find it deflating that a dim-witted but fairly innocuous comment like the one Jets owner Woody Johnson made about Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis at a press conference this month inspired a tampering charge and a league investigation. Does every issue have to be taken so DEFCON 1 seriously just because the NFL is powerful and popular? If Johnson picked up a phone and contacted either Revis or his agent in an attempt to reacquire the player, or started a public lobbying campaign with that in mind, that’s tampering, in spirit and act. What I heard Johnson say was just an example of his usual talk-first, think-later style. There’s a distinction to be made.

 

I find it deflating that, once again, you couldn’t track all the head coaching and coordinator comings and goings even if you had a microchip planted in everyone’s backside. A head coach staying just one or two years in a job is no longer a rare phenomenon—see Buffalo’s Doug Marrone and Chicago’s Marc Trestman—and even sustained high-level success doesn’t buy you job security these days. The last two men to lose the Super Bowl, Jim Harbaugh and John Fox, were asked to turn in their key cards and surrender their parking spaces this year. Next man up, indeed. Continuity is for chumps.

 

I find it deflating that the league and the players’ union still can’t agree that today is Friday.

 

I find it deflating that the Browns are being investigated for their in-game texting patterns and could have their smartphones taken away like grounded teenagers.

 

I find it deflating that the league’s scouting combines seem to be multiplying faster than rabbits.

 

I find it deflating that the NFL rule book has grown so complex and obtuse that it makes the U.S. tax code look like light summer reading.

 

Remember when the league’s biggest problem was mainly that the Super Bowl was overhyped and always sucked? Ah, the good old days.

 

For now, Deflategate rages on and the story has become bigger (no exaggeration) than the Super Bowl showdown itself. Everyone has an opinion on the Patriots’ latest alleged questionable tactic, so let me add one more: If proven, it’s a serious enough offense that it deserves a serious enough punishment. But it’s not so serious that it should overshadow the NFL’s biggest game of all. That said, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t continue to do so.

 

And that’s the most deflating thing of all.


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