Let us begin with Section IV-A of the INVESTIGATIVE REPORT CONCERNING FOOTBALLS USED DURING THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME ON JANUARY 18, 2015, the one entitled, “McNally Labels Himself the Deflator.”
I suppose this is a key piece of evidence that relates to a legitimate ethical query, but I don’t know – at some point, when an official document breaks down into headers that could be part of a spec Batman script, I start to lose the ability to take things seriously.
This is the problem with the whole bloated and nebulous “Deflategate” controversy, and this is why I imagine it won’t stick with Tom Brady over the long term: Even if he did break the rules, as Ted Wells’ report seems to imply, he broke the rules in a way that allows for bawdy puns and grade-school guffaws. There is a legitimate question here as to whether Brady may have cheated – if he is suspended for the beginning of next season, I don’t think many people outside of New England will find fault with the decision – but even if he did cheat, he did it in a way that feels like it was purposefully crafted for a Key & Peele sketch.
Let us not forget: The Patriots outscored the Colts 28-0 after the deflation was discovered; even if Brady was involved in a conspiracy, it was an utterly pointless conspiracy, based more on the control-freak tendencies of a legendary quarterback than any sort of inherent scientific advantage. It was the moral equivalent of throwing a spitball, and when we look back on this in 30 years – after the ill feelings about the Patriots have dissipated into history – I imagine we’ll view this incident with the same amount of tsk-tsking that we regard the career of, say, Gaylord Perry.
This report will seem like a big deal in the moment, obviously, as people hate the Patriots (with some good reason) and loathe Tom Brady, largely because he has become the avatar of human perfection. And this is why I’m not sure if this report affects Brady’s legacy at all, except in ways that might ultimately benefit him. The fact that he appeared to both disregard and then pander to a couple of low-level Patriots employees, John Jastremski and Jim McNally – and the fact those employees appeared to bitch about him via text message behind his back (what non-Patriots NFL fan hasn’t muttered “Fuck Tom” while watching a Patriots game in the past decade?) – might finally pierce the gauzy viewpoint of Brady as the apex of human evolution, as the American dream personified, as a flawless human being with a flawless life. We already witnessed the fallibility of Tom Brady on a football field, when the Giants destroyed the Patriots undefeated season back in 2008; now, seven years later, we’ve witnessed the fallibility of Brady off the football field.
As he approaches the end of his career, this could be the best thing to happen to Brady. Soon enough, his skills will dissipate. Soon enough, he will take off that uniform for the last time and become an unarmored human being. There is an opportunity, in the wake of the report, for Brady to issue a sincere public apology; there is an opportunity for him to have a Clintonian moment of remorse that will endear people to him in a new way. I have no idea what Brady wants to do when football’s over; I have no idea if he’ll remain in the public eye or retreat from it all. But either way, by (maybe) cheating and (maybe) covering his own ass in the midst of this cheating, Tom Brady just became a far more interesting human being, the kind we can all relate to. More than any single football, an aura was deflated, and weirdly enough, this might wind up being the best thing to happen to Brady’s legacy in a long time.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb