As the latest chapter of Deflategate concludes with Tom Brady's four-game suspension being overturned in court, I'm reminded of an old line from Jerry Seinfeld: “Maybe comets killed the dinosaurs. Maybe they tripped and fell. What's the difference? We'll never know.”
That's basically all we are left with in the Brady saga: speculation. That's all we ever had.
Do you think it is, as independent (cough, cough) investigator Ted Wells put it, “more probable than not” that Brady either orchestrated or was aware of a ploy to deflate AFC Championship Game footballs below the league's allowed minimum? There are at least a few loose ends to support your stance. Do you believe that Brady played it straight all the way through, the blame instead falling on the Patriots' equipment managers or even science itself? OK. Sure.
Judge Richard Berman on Thursday turned Brady's case back over to the court of public opinion, where a hung jury awaits for all eternity. Berman's ruling shredded the NFL discipline process, in particular how it meted out punishment in the case. It did not close the book, however, on what exactly happened during New England's AFC Championship against the Colts.
Unofficially, though, Brady has been vindicated. Which is all he ever wanted. This battle pitted Brady's legacy against that of commissioner Roger Goodell, and Brady refused at any point to sacrifice his own standing for any level of compromise.
“Tom Brady is a person of great integrity, and is a great ambassador of the game, both on and off the field,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement following the NFL's July decision to uphold Brady's four-game suspension. “Yet, for reasons that I cannot comprehend, there are those in the league office who are more determined to prove that they were right rather than admit any culpability of their own or take any responsibility for the initiation of a process and ensuing investigation that was flawed.”
Because of the investigation, there was a hypothetical asterisk attached to the Patriots' Super Bowl run and, more specifically, to Brady himself. The Spygate scandal was an organizational misstep by New England, but this latest alleged incident was a potential crack in the quarterback's armor.
As such, there will be those out there—surely including a few Colts fans—who refuse to let Brady off the hook now. The circumstantial evidence remains: the busted cell phone, the odd text messages and so on.
What will that mean for Brady's place in NFL history? Over time, very little.
Even if the NFL had won this latest round, it's debatable how long-lasting the effects on Brady would have been. The league's investigation was such a methodical, painstaking process that aside from the most ardent anti-Brady faction, the general consensus was that a conclusion—any conclusion—would be welcome. That Goodell picked such a bizarre rule to dig in his heels on only added to the public's frustration.
It still may not be over. The fallout could include anything from the NFL appealing Berman's ruling to other suspended players taking their arguments to court. (You can pretty much bank on the latter happening.)
But for Brady, barring an unexpected development in the coming weeks, the matter can begin to become a thing of the past. He now has the backing of a federal district court ruling to support his stance that the NFL overstepped its bounds.
What really happened? We may never have those answers.
The league never sufficiently proved that Brady was guilty, so the future Hall of Famer can continue to proclaim his innocence. Legacy secured.
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