I do love North American football, the game I grew up with, played and watched. There is, I must confess, nothing like it. But there is now a scandal overtaking the Superbowl that is quite astonishing. In the conference final for the AFC, the game balls used by Boston were underinflated which apparently makes them easier to catch. And let me tell you, catching a football thrown by a real quarterback is a bracing experience – try catching a leather-covered brick thrown at you at full speed from about ten yards. I can well believe that underinflation (which is different from deflation) can be a genuine benefit.
No one is owning up to anything. But I do have to say that if the single most important tool of your trade is a football, you will know what it ought to feel like the moment you pick it up. If it’s not quite 13 pounds per square inch – that is, if it doesn’t feel like a leather-covered brick – you will know, as will all of the people who the ball is being thrown to. Had Boston not won the previous game 45-7, the story would be even more intense, but with the score so one-sided, nothing else to say. And since each team uses its own ball, the other team’s quarterback would not have had the same advantage. And since the referees check the game ball before it goes into play, and are kept separate the entire time, for the balls to have been underinflated would require a conspiracy of some proportion.
Nevertheless, what interested me this morning was this comment by the Boston Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady:
“This isn’t ISIS,” Brady said. “No one’s dying.”
Sometimes it troubles me that I can wile the hours away on such frivolity as such things as grand finals, test matches, the World Series and of course, North American football while the world is going to hell at every turn. But if Tom Brady can see the relative significance of such things, so can I.
Personal Explanation and Some Follow Up: I’ve just come home from reading The Herald Sun which has as its main front page story of the day, how England’s one-day cricket captain is being blackmailed. I have checked the front pages of The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The La Times and The Washington Post. All have this story on the front page, and it will no doubt rage for at least another week.
The headline lead story on Drudge is “NFL ON THE BRINK” and comes with this picture.
Cheating in sport is not unknown. The referees pick up the ball on every play, so it is even possible (remotely) that Brady never noticed, since they didn’t seem to notice. But it is not the end of the world as we know it, there are other events going on that are more important. I find Brady’s sanity and sense of proportion in the midst of it all quite alluring.
FUTHER UPDATE: John Hinderaker at Powerline has also bought into this, where he can see things right from inside the US. He wrote:
Over the years, some have argued that not having to care about politics is a luxury that Americans are able to enjoy because of our stable democracy and effectively guaranteed freedoms. There is some truth to that. Still, it is hard to believe it is a good thing that sports arouse more passion, attract more attention, and are more often the subject of intelligent discussion than politics. If Americans knew as much about Republicans and Democrats as they do about Seahawks and Patriots, wouldn’t the country be better off? One would think so.
In his press conference this afternoon, Tom Brady – note that there is no need to identify him (QB-NE) the way we do with politicians (R-TX) – said of the football inflation controversy, “This isn’t ISIS, you know, no one’s dying.” To me that seems like a voice of sanity, but football fans were unconvinced. At the moment, at least, “Who deflated the footballs?” is a more compelling question than “Will ISIS take Baghdad?” And eight years after the event, there are still more people who consider Bill Belichick a villain for taping opposing coaches than who consider Barack Obama a villain for violating the Constitution.
Priorities. It is all a matter of priorities.