Some roads are paved by an overnight construction crew with a slab of blacktop. Some roads are paved brick-by-brick, by skilled workers who toil for hours on end to be sure each piece of stone is laid perfectly in unison with the next, all cemented in a pavement that will last for generations to come. Today, there is a new road being paved from Park Avenue in New York to Foxboro, Massachusetts. It might be cheap asphalt or it might be everlasting cobblestone. Only one thing is for sure, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is the foreman on the job.
Over the course of more than 100 days, the National Football League and the New England Patriots have been on far opposite ends of a legal tango trying to uncover the facts behind a relatively stupid aspect of league rules involving the proper amount of air in a game ball. While airing that controversy out, the NFL has cautiously detoured, carefully dictating the road that Brady will soon walk down.
This week the NFL, via a team of hired-gun lawyers and investigators, handed down a 243-page report, authored by an independent sleuth but powered by NFL league counsel Jeff Pash's checkbook. The Wells Report, camouflaged with legal mumbo jumbo, uncovered and delivered a "more probable than not" scenario to implicate two New England Patriots game-day employees for their role in tampering with game balls and deflating them to illegal levels of PSI (pounds per square inch) much to Brady's liking for an NFL playoff game contested on a cold, damp winter evening. The report also stated that Brady "was, at least, generally aware" of the incident. Although the Wells Report left "reasonable doubt" for a level of proof mandatory in a court of law, the investigation left little to the imagination in the all-important court of public opinion.
Why is this crazy incident and the Wells Report so important?
On one side of that document, the newfound Magna Carta for NFL integrity because of the fact the alleged perpetrators tampered with the GAME BALLS, is a model sports franchise, model owner and model quarterback with a (real) supermodel wife. The New England Patriots are not only the reigning Super Bowl champions for the NFL, the most powerful, profitable and influential sports league in word history, but they also represent the sport in nearly every fraction one can imagine.
On the other side of the document, the NFL is practically accusing its model citizens of cheating.
The team owner has been the foundation of that franchise, etched into the New England community for rescuing a football club that nearly moved down I95 to, god forbid, Hartford, Connecticut. But, more than that, Robert Kraft, along with a very small handful of other NFL team investors, is the face of NFL ownership with visions of man hugs dancing in our heads, even after contentious labor negotiating sessions when Kraft was portrayed as the savior of the NFL back when a labor stoppage threatened the 2011 season.
The team's head coach, Bill Belichick, has carved his own legacy in stone as he is certainly on the Mt. Rushmore of the NFL's greatest coaches ever, alongside Lombardi, Halas, Shula and Landry. Belichick out-smarts, out-prepares, or simply out-coaches his opponents on a scale unimaginable in the modern-day era of salary cap and free agency. His legacy, while secure, was tarnished severely back in 2007 when the NFL levied a $500,000 fine for an unfair videotaping incident known to all as "SpyGate." But, he surely endures.
The team's quarterback and leader, Brady, is amongst the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Period.
Off the field, Brady fast became the poster boy for what the NFL likes to portray as its typical All-Pro player. Brady's good looks, his storybook romances and media-friendly demeanor are fed to sports fans on a weekly basis every autumn. Most importantly, on the field of play, Brady has backed it up with his winning ways, complete with IV Super Bowl Wins and III Super Bowl MVPs. With it all, Brady has enjoyed endorsements, fame, glory, good fortune and extremely positive public relations throughout his career.
As the Patriots camp reacted to the Wells Report, the model team owner put out his statement, noting, "to say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC Championship game, would be a gross understatement." Then both Brady's agent and his father took similar positions to put up a smoke screen of plausible deniability, all using Nixonian-like phraseology, while failing to come out and plainly state -- "We didn't do it."
As fate would have it, Brady was booked at a Salem State University speaking series, where he had the nerve to helicopter in to sit alongside media maven Jim Gray for a show right out of Inside the Actor's Studio. On that set, Brady smugly glossed over the news of the day, claiming he hadn't had time to fully digest and read the account that will undoubtedly be attached to his lifelong resume, nevermind (potentially) negatively impact the 2015 New England Patriots season, depending on yet-to-be prescribed NFL discipline via fine or suspension.
Brady's continuous, ill-advised steps, from his initial press conference just days after the Deflategate controversy broke to his disingenuous remarks told at Salem State, place Brady in a precarious position, both in terms of fighting the NFL on the discipline and in the all-important court of public opinion.
While his actions can not be properly compared to the utter depths of sports malpractice, orchestrated somewhat recently by Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds or Lance Armstrong for cheating their sports and fellow competitors by constant denial of utilizing performance enhancing chemistry, the fall-out on Brady might be as impactful were it not for the mountain of goodwill he had previously built up.
Says sports media guru and former White House Director of Communications Kevin Sullivan: "While it's still unclear what exactly Brady's role was, he has too much personal goodwill in the bank and too much success on the field for this to seriously damage him. Deflategate will be part of his legacy, but more likely as a footnote than a headline."
With that in mind, it might be time for Brady, Belichick, Kraft and the New England Patriots to 'fess up. Even if they have ballboys Jim McNally and John Jastremski text it to us.