The match up for the 2015 Super Bowl has been set. The real challenge for the media over the next fortnight is to find something intelligible to say about the personnel of the two teams. The defending champion Seahawks of Seattle barely made it back to the big game with a comeback for the ages. The Patriots of New England pounded Indianapolis into submission in the other semifinal contest. The National Football League must be pleased with this match up, but what can sports reporters say for two very long weeks? The media hates a vacuum.
Suddenly, an issue has arisen which appears tailor-made for the NFL's silly season. There is nothing better than a controversy, even if it is manufactured and baseless. Someone has accused the Patriots of having broken the rules by deflating the footballs it used in its convincing 45-7 trouncing of the Colts. There are rules, of course, on how many pounds of air can (or must) be injected into the game balls. The ball must be inflated to about 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch and weigh between 14 and 15 ounces. The referees monitor these measurements. They also handle the ball before it is put into play. A deflated ball might be easier to throw and catch, something quite important during the monsoon that hit Foxborough on Sunday evening. Critics say the Patriots must have cheated. Otherwise, how could they have done so well?
Who could possibly be the snitch? One would think it would be someone who was not happy about the domination demonstrated by the New Englanders. It wasn't much of a contest after all. Although some "experts" had determined that it was time for the Colts quarterback, Andrew Luck, to assume his rightful place as the premier NFL quarterback, he obviously wasn't ready for the coronation. He will eventually be anointed the golden boy of football, but the Pats were not ready to hand over the crown just yet. It still fits on Tom Brady.
There are many football folks who are angry with Bill Belichick, the brilliant, if not loquacious, head coach of the Patriots. He has continued to demonstrate a creativity and determination that puts other head coaches to shame. John Harbaugh, the coach of the Baltimore Ravens, is likely still smarting over Belichick's inventive use of a "non-eligible" receiver on the offensive line during the Baltimore-New England contest the week before. Would Harbaugh have had special access to the game balls? Would it matter to him if he had real facts, or would it have been sufficient to simply make up an accusation?
Belichick was again at his inventive best during the Colts contest. Nate Solder, an offensive lineman, reported in to the referee as an eligible receiver and proceeded to catch a touchdown toss from Tom Brady. Solder has announced that he did not notice anything untoward regarding the inflation of the ball he caught, but as a 320-pound tackle he did not have much experience in ball handling. Other Patriots basically laughed off the accusation while at the same time pledging full cooperation with the League as it investigates what the media quickly labeled "Deflation-gate."
This contretemps is a fitting kickoff to the two worst weeks of football media coverage of the season. In a league of 32 clubs, there is always something to write about from mid-summer until the playoffs. How would our team fare against the dreaded other team this coming Sunday (or Thursday or Monday)? Is it possible that the coach would turn to the other quarterback after the starter threw a series of interceptions this past weekend? How about the possibility that the club would move to Los Angeles? There was no need to expound on the inflation (or lack thereof) of the footballs.
Now, of course, we are down to two competitors. The Seahawks will play the ultimate contest away from the noise-quake of CenturyLink Field. (CenturyLink is a nationwide communications company which depends upon its customers being able to hear, something quite difficult after an afternoon of screaming near the Seattle waterfront.) Some of those who contributed to the decibel records at the Seattle home park will likely make the trip to Glendale, Ariz. for Super Bowl XLIX. The Patriots faithful will also make the journey to the southwest for the game even if their beloved club deflated the balls. Let us hope once this "scandal" passes that the media finds something interesting and newsworthy to say while we watch the slow turning of the calendar.