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The Super Bowl Mailbag

The vibe in Phoenix is ominous, thanks to Deflategate and Patriots owner Bob Kraft challenging the NFL to prove his team did anything wrong. Plus readers' questions on Jonas Gray, the Browns' luck and moving the big game to Saturday

PHOENIX — I keep thinking: Write about the game, write about the game. Then Bob Kraft stepped to the podium Monday evening.

The Patriots owner challenged the NFL—he was speaking to the assembled Super Bowl media, but really he was speaking to Park Avenue in Manhattan—to verify the allegations that the Patriots’ first-half footballs in the AFC Championship had been tampered. Failing that, Kraft said the league must apologize to the men he feels the league has wronged: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

The NFL has retained litigator/investigator Ted Wells to lead a probe into whether the footballs were improperly deflated, and if so, how. Wells said Monday the investigation could take several weeks.

Kraft is a friendly, collegial sort. But there was nothing of that tone when he strode to the podium at the Patriots team hotel shortly after their arrival in Arizona for Super Bowl 49 and said: "If the Wells’ investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope that the league would apologize to our entire team and in particular, Coach Belichick and Tom Brady for what they have had to endure this past week. I am disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon. We expect hard facts as opposed to circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation."

The MMQB on Super Bowl 49

Richard Sherman is back—in the Super Bowl spotlight, and on the cover of SI The men playing in XLIX are remembered by high school and college coaches The Legion of Boom on what unites them, and where they stand in historyEverything you need to know about Patriots-SeahawksThe Super Bowl referee’s remarkable comeback storyThe battle for the Lombardi Trophy will be a close oneNBC’s Al Michaels on calling his ninth Super BowlThe MMQB’s Super Bowl Hub

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This was doubling down on the league, challenging the NFL to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the footballs used nine days ago were tampered with by a human being in the short time (six to 10 minutes) between when they left the officials’ locker room and the time of the opening kickoff.

“We expect hard facts as opposed to circumstantial leaked evidence," Kraft said, his tone challenging and adamant. "I want to make it clear that I believe, unconditionally, that the New England Patriots have done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of NFL rules."

So now the Patriots and Seahawks prepare for the game. I do not recall a Super Bowl ever having the ominous and league-challenging tone of this week—because, simply, there never has been a week like this one.

Now for your emails:

THE ULTIMATE GRAY AREA.From the limited film available on Jonas Gray, do you see a pure football reason why the Patriots haven't used him pretty much at all since the Indy game? I mean, 201 yards and four touchdowns would seem enough for any coach not named Belichick to at least give him a couple more games with significant workload before sending him back to the bench. (And I don't think Belichick would shoot himself in the foot just because of the one time Gray was late to practice.) Was it a fluke? Just a fantastic offensive line against a terrible run defense that day? Could it be Belichick saving him for the Super Bowl? I don't think I'm the only one that doesn't get it.

—Roberto, Dallas

I don’t get it either. Gray has been buried for eight games, and two things strike me about it: 1) This is Belichick's way of saying that just because you were valuable for us one day does not mean that you are a centerpiece; 2) LeGarrette Blount had 64 touches in the last six weeks of the season and I think Belichick likes his pounding running style. But I’m also not sure that not using Gray has had any effect on the Patriots' bottom line. It's an interesting personal story, sure, but New England's run game has been productive without him. And because of the privacy of this organization—the Patriots are as secretive as any team that I’ve covered in my 31 seasons—we probably aren’t going to find out why Gray has been buried.

SUPER BOWL SATURDAY MAKES SENSE. Is there any hope the NFL will come to its senses and throw the average NFL fan a bone by moving the Super Bowl to Saturday? I’m sure businesses across the country wouldn’t mind either seeing as productivity the Monday after would probably improve 110% as well, at least for those who don’t call in “sick.” With so many people across the country tuning in, gathering together to eat, drink and take in the entertainment spectacle that it has become, the thought of having to get up the next morning and go to work takes some wind out of the sails.

—Mike, Omaha, Neb.

I agree. This is a question that I’ve wondered about for a while and the answer always seems to come back that the NFL believes television ratings on Sunday night always will be better than television ratings on Saturday night. I am not a student of TV ratings. If the experts say that’s the case, then maybe it is. However, I find it very hard to believe that if the Super Bowl were played on a Saturday night that even the casual football fan would say I have something better to do tonight. I think the specter of the event, in time, would dictate that the same size crowd would flock to the game on TV if it were played Saturday compared to Sunday.

BLAME THE BROWNS.Regarding Josh Gordon, you suggested this is a franchise that just can't catch a break. But aren't most of their problems of their own making? They blew a high draft pick on Gordon by taking him in the supplemental knowing he had a history of off-field issues in college. They're the same organization that put their future in the hands of Money Manziel knowing full well he came with a laundry list of issues. And of course there's the revolving door for coaches and GMs. I don't think it's about catching breaks, Peter. It's about sound management, or lack thereof. 

—Steve D., Toronto

You make a good point, Steve. But I would ask you this question: After Josh Gordon had one of the great receiving seasons in NFL history last year, even with his excessive baggage, don’t you believe that 20-25 teams in the NFL wished they had spent a second-round draft choice on Gordon? I think it’s easy to say the Browns have made all their own problems. And in the end, no one is going to feel sorry for them. But time after time, beams of light shine on the franchise and give the Browns and their fans such great hope. And almost every one of those beams flames out quickly. So yes, the Browns probably shouldn’t take chances on very high draft choices in the future. But playing it safe all the time probably isn’t the answer either. 

THERE'S A DIFFERENCE. So let me get this straight: a national headline reading ‘My Balls Are Perfect’ makes you laugh like you were 13 years old, but a player grabbing his crotch is demeaning and indefensible? You have to admit, that’s a little bit hypocritical.

—Mike, Seattle

It’s simple. One is a slapstick reference to a press conference in which double entendre was taken to new heights. The other involves a player who again grabbed his crotch in celebration. In my opinion, there’s no harm in laughing at double entendre. There is harm, in my opinion, in a crotch-grab that 30 million people are privileged to witness. Yes, I think there is a very big difference.

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