COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Former New England tight end great Ben Coates has heard from too many friends recently all bashing the Patriots for deflating footballs.
Hold off, Coates said Monday, pointing fingers because ''honestly, stuff happened all the time'' and the Patriots are looked at more harshly because of their success.
Coates was a 1991 draft pick of the New England out of Division II Livingstone College and blossomed into their best tight end of the decade with 490 receptions and 50 touchdowns in his nine seasons. He was named to five straight Pro Bowls and was voted to New England's all-1990s team.
Coates rolls his eyes about team's latest controversy about under-inflated footballs in last January's AFC championship game.
The 6-foot-5 Coates said friends of his are all too happy to think New England is breaking rules because of their success of four Super Bowls in the past 15 years - and the issues the team has had
''The Patriots are now getting scrutinized so much, you're like, `Okay (NFL), if you're going to do something to them, go ahead and do it,'' Coates said. ''You're talking about the `Spy-gate' before, now you're talking about the inflated balls, who knew, who didn't know.''
Coates spoke before the NFL levied punishment against the Patriots on Monday, including hitting the organization with a $1 million fine and suspending quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the next season.
The former New England tight end left the Patriots after the 2000 season, catching playing one more memorable NFL season in 2000 when he helped the Baltimore Ravens win a Super Bowl.
Coates has no direct knowledge of whether Brady had other staffers alter specified football air pressure before New England's AFC title game win over Indianapolis this past season.
Brady and New England followed that two weeks later with their fourth Super Bowl win under coach Bill Belichick.
But Coates doesn't believe ''Deflategate'' tarnishes the team's achievements and brand them as rule-breakers.
''I don't worry about the reputation,'' he said.
Running back Terry Allen, like Coates a South Carolina Athletic Hall inductee, played with Coates on New England in 1999. Allen smiled when asked about the deflated-football issue.
''Considering I didn't ever play with a quarterback that didn't have a clue what was going on with the footballs, I'll leave it at that,'' said Allen, a Clemson runner who scored 79 touchdowns in 11 seasons with five NFL clubs.
Allen, following the issue while finishing his degree at Clemson, said before the NFL announced its penalties that New England would receive similarly harsh penalties from the league as New Orleans did in 2012 for its wrongful bounty program. Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for that season as was linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
Several other coaches and players were suspended and the team lost second round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.
''I'd be surprised if (New England) didn't get better or equal to what happened with New Orleans,'' Allen said.
Along with Coates and Allen, the other inductees were South Carolina pitcher Kip Bouknight, the Golden Spikes Award winner in 2000 as the nation's top baseball amateur; Joe Cabri, a former Lander tennis coach who won 12 national titles in 31 seasons; former Clemson and U.S. soccer standout Bruce Murray; Furman national championship winning football coach Jimmy Satterfield; and the late Les Timms, a longtime sports writer and editor at South Carolina newspapers.
Coates, 45, was born and raised in Greenwood, South Carolina. He's proud that his Patriots of the 1990s began the run that's resulted in stellar success. And he knows, like ''Spygate'' before, the furor of ''Deflategate,'' will subside, too.
He believes the Patriots would deal with the penalties, ''and hopefully, move on.''
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