Tag Archives: AFC title games

Where Goodell goofed

Roger Goodell would have you believe he wants to clean up this town, rid the NFL of the felons and the scalawags, the gratuitous violence and the Culture of Cheating. And maybe, beneath that bureaucratic exterior, the heart of a reformer does beat. But it’s clear, with every misstep he takes, that the commissioner doesn’t have the faintest notion how to pull it off. In times of crisis he can seem overmatched, as if running on a treadmill that’s set too fast. Kind of like George Jetson when he tried to take his dog Astro for a walk:

(Think of Astro as the NFL and the cat as Any Problem That Lands on Roger’s Desk.)

Don’t get me wrong. Running a sports league, especially one as gargantuan as the NFL, is a difficult and largely thankless task — except on payday. But it doesn’t have to be quite as difficult as Goodell is making it. When, after careful consideration, you initially suspend Ray Rice for two games for punching out his future wife and then, a year later, suspend Tom Brady for twice as long because you suspect he masterminded a football-deflation scheme, you’ve basically told the world your moral compass is about as reliable as the air-pressure gauges used in the AFC title game.

And when the league announces that you’ll be the one who hears Brady’s appeal — rather than an independent arbitrator — you’re basically admitting, “No other vertebrate with a sixth-grade education would ever agree with me.”

The commissioner makes a big deal about “protecting The Shield” — as if the NFL’s Park Avenue offices are Camelot, and he sits at the head of the Round Table:

But if that’s truly his aim, the league shouldn’t have handled Deflategate the way it did. Indeed, its behavior — and the three-month media circus that followed — was the exact opposite of “protecting The Shield.”

Allow me to explain. According to the Wells Report, it wasn’t until the day before the AFC championship game that the Colts raised the issue of the Patriots using underinflated footballs. This didn’t give the NFL a ton of time to decide what to do, but it certainly gave it enough time. That the league, operating out of a hurry-up offense, Totally Screwed the Pooch showed how rudderless a ship it often is.

There were, in my mind, two ways the NFL could have gone.

1. It could have notified the Patriots about the Colts’ concerns and told them, “We plan to monitor this closely.” Then it could have dispatched additional personnel to Foxborough to see to it that no funny business occurred. The footballs for both teams could been kept under the control of a league representative — or a battalion of them — for the entire game. At the end of every quarter, if need be, the air pressure could have been rechecked.

2. The NFL could have taken all of the above precautions but not notified the Patriots beforehand. (Of course, on game day, it wouldn’t have taken the Pats long to figure out what was going on.)

Unfortunately, the league ended up choosing Door No. 3: It (a.) kept the Patriots in the dark while (b.) taking virtually none of my suggested precautions. (And it worked out just splendidly for them, didn’t it?)

What it comes down to, ultimately, is: What’s your main objective? If it’s to catch the Patriots red-handed, then obviously you don’t notify them — and let things play out however they will. But if your main goal is to make sure the game is above suspicion, that the outcome doesn’t have anything to do with the Pats having a “competitive advantage,” then you do notify them — and wait until the offseason to look into the Ball-Pressure Issue (if one exists).

By not notifying the Patriots, then failing to make certain their footballs were properly inflated in the first half, the NFL, it could be argued, acted negligently. That’s because, well, look at what happened. Despite a heads-up from the league, referee Walt Anderson lost track of the balls . . . and a nightmare scenario unfolded. You even had one of the air-pressure gauges used by the officials getting significantly higher readings than the other — which would make anyone wonder about their accuracy.

At any rate, this is the best Goodell and his Knights Templar could do on short notice, this sorry example of executive decision making?

Luckily for them, the Patriots blew out the Colts, 45-7. If the game had been close, as so many of the Pats’ postseason games have been, you would have had fans saying, rightly or wrongly, that the deflated balls might have been the difference. That’s the risk the NFL ran by not being more hands-on.

Here’s the problem, though: By approving the penalties he did, including a $1 million fine for the Patriots and the stripping of their first- and fourth-round picks in 2016, Goodell is obviously trying to send the message that this is a major offense, that ball pressure matters. But the league’s half-baked response to the Colts’ accusation — and the referee’s bungled carrying out of that response — send an entirely different message: that ball pressure doesn’t matter much at all.

And it really doesn’t. If it did, the NFL would never allow these shenanigans to go on, never leave it up to the honor system. It would be just as vigilant about the balls quarterbacks use as the ones kickers do.

You ask yourself: Are there any circumstances under which Goodell would have invalidated the outcome of the game? If the margin of victory had been a field goal instead of 38 points, and if the Patriots’ balls had measured well below specs at halftime, would the commissioner have said, when it was over, “I’m disqualifying New England from the Super Bowl and sending the Colts to represent the AFC”?

If so, then the league’s actions after being tipped off by the Colts — actions that were straight out of the Three Stooges playbook — border on malpractice.

And if not — I’m leaning in this direction — then what in the name of George Halas is all the fuss about?

(By the way, I’d be surprised if Jeffrey Kessler, Brady’s legal muscle, hasn’t also thought of this — and a bunch of other stuff. Strap yourselves in, folks. This ain’t over yet.)

Sammy Baugh threw deflated footballs

Just dug out the transcript of an interview I did with Redskins Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh back in the ’90s. I remembered him talking at some point about manipulating the air pressure in footballs — which happens, of course, to be one of the topics du jour after Sunday’s AFC title game in New England.

We got off on this tangent when I asked Baugh about an old tale: That when the Steelers were playing at home, they’d use the fat, 1920s footballs instead of the slimmer, modern ones to make it harder for opponents to throw against them. (Those early Pittsburgh teams, you see, never placed much emphasis on the pass — indeed, they stuck with the single wing through the ’51 season — so the size of the ball didn’t really matter to them.)

“The home team supplied the balls back then,” Baugh told me, “and if they didn’t have a good passer you wouldn’t get that slim ball, you’d get the big fat one. The Steelers would do that. I Can see Goldsmith football laces better in this onethink Goldsmith used to make a ball with 10 laces instead of eight, and it was just fatter than everything. I don’t blame ’em. If I didn’t have a good passer on the team, I’d put that damn fat ball out there, too. You could throw it, but it was a different kind of ball.”

Sammy also volunteered this information, which fits in nicely with Deflate-gate:

“Kelly [Harry “Kelly” Miller], our clubhouse guy, would put the air in the balls we were going to use in the game. One day I asked him, ‘Kelly, how much air do you put in those damn balls?’ He said, ‘Thirteen pounds.’ I said, ‘Put in 11 today.’ So he did. And from then on, every time we played at home, we played with an 11-pound ball instead of 13. I liked the feel of it better. I knew what 13 felt like, and I had played with an 11-pound ball some in college, and it felt better to me.”

This would be fine except that the ball, according to the rules then and now, is supposed to be inflated with between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds of air. Here are the relevant paragraphs from the 1942 Record and Roster Manual:

Ball inflation guidelines, 1942

(I included the supplemental notes for your amusement, specifically the one about the white ball for night games.)

So, by his own admission, Sammy Baugh, one of the greatest passers in pro football history, played with an illegal ball whenever the Redskins were home, a ball he “liked the feel of” better and presumably made him more effective. I’m guessing this more than made up for his annual trips to Pittsburgh, where he’d have to throw that dang Goldsmith ball.

Just thought I’d mention this while the NFL is deciding what, if anything, to do about the Patriots’ situation. Maybe the Pats did deflate the balls, but they certainly aren’t the first to come up with the idea.

Redskins great Sammy Baugh looks to pass -- presumably with a deflated 11-pound ball (since this game was at Griffith Stadium).

Redskins great Sammy Baugh looks to pass — presumably with a deflated 11-pound ball. (This was a home game.)