In 2007, "Spygate" happened when the New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick, was fined $500,000, and the Patriots organization an additional $250,000, by the NFL for videotaping opposition coaches' signals against the rules. Scuttlebutt was that it wasn't an isolated incident. This year, former pro quarterback Kurt Warner was still ruminating over Spygate and whether or not it factored into the Patriots beating his St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. While Warner wouldn't say he thought the Pats cheated, his extensive I-don't-really-think-so-but-I'm-not-quite-sure explanation included: "It adds a sliver of doubt ... I don't want to have to wonder ... That's the unfortunate part that I don't think you'll ever get over, because you know something was done outside the rules ... I don't know if it gave them an advantage ... Or gave them no advantage. I don't know."
Now, in 2015, it's Deflategate. The NFL is investigating whether, during the playoff game to decide which team would meet the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, the Patriots played with deliberately under-inflated footballs. The conventional wisdom is that under-inflated footballs are easier to grip and handle during the cold and rainy conditions on the field that day against the Indianapolis Colts. Again, it appears this wasn't the first time for the Pats, with both the Colts and the Baltimore Ravens taking their suspicions of under-inflated footballs to the NFL earlier in the regular season. Ironically, in 2006, Pats quarterback, Tom Brady, and Denver Colts quarterback, Peyton Manning, convinced the NFL to allow visiting teams to use their own footballs, which used to be supplied by the home team. Brady said back then, "The thing is, every quarterback likes it a little bit different. Some like them blown up a little bit more, some like them a little more thin, some like them a little more new, some like them really broken in."
Seattle Seahawks head coach, Pete Carroll, chimed in with support for Belichick's statement that he had no information about a violation and the footballs, after all, were really Tom Brady's business. Carroll likewise expressed ignorance, saying, "I hadn't checked on the whole process of how our footballs were handled until this week ... but I know every step of it now." And so do the rest of us. I now know that NFL footballs are supposed to be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 psi.
As a therapist and sports fan, I can't help noticing the parallels between life and sports that serendipitous events throw my way. There are some who say that the psi of footballs didn't factor into the 45-7 win of the Patriots over the Colts. There are others, like the 40,000+ people who signed a Change.org petition to "immediately disqualify Patriots and replay the AFC Championship between the Colts and Raven," who think it did.
What if the footballs hadn't been deflated? Would the Colts have won? What if the Pats hadn't videotaped opposition coaches years ago? Would the Rams have won? In Green Bay, Packers fans are probably still working through their own devastating "what ifs." What if Marshawn Lynch hadn't scored that touchdown with 1:25 left to play? What if the Packers had won the overtime toss? What if Jermaine Kearse hadn't caught the final throw from Russell Wilson?
That's the power of what ifs -- their capacity to create never-ending questions. Never-ending questions can rob you of a sense of closure and, robbed of closure, people find it difficult to move on. When people find it difficult to move on, they become trapped in a quasi reality of almost-was. Too many people I work with in therapy live in this almost, not-quite, just-out -of-reach world, unable to move forward because they're stuck wondering about the past.
In sports, what ifs make great commentary but, in life, they're a lousy place to live.