By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Amid the hysteria that came in the two-week period between last year’s championship round and Super Bowl, it was difficult to find a balanced, nuanced take on the budding controversy known as “DeflateGate.”
But as it turns out, among those weighing in on air pressure in footballs, Chris Long was able to keep perhaps the steadiest head.
In January 2015 he was a member of the St. Louis Rams. He’s not longer on that team, and that team no longer exists in St. Louis, but still, DeflateGate lives on in a federal appeals court. But even as it broke, the man who’s now a member of the Patriots saw through the nonsense and was able to put a solid perspective on the story.
In a 2,200-word story written for The Players’ Tribune, Long noted that the sensationalism of the story didn’t quite match the magnitude — or lack thereof — of the alleged crime.
“Let’s get down to it: this story isn’t as much about air pressure as it is about the cult of the New England Patriots. The Patriots are really good at two things: winning football games and not giving a [poop] what you think about them,” Long wrote. “This modus operandi has earned the Patriots an equal number of fans and haters. One thing that drives people crazy is Belichick’s ‘less is more’ school of media engagement. Media relations, after all, is a game. It involves three parties: the teams, the media and the fans. All three groups know it’s a game, but if a player or a coach doesn’t play ball, people get pissed. Bill Belichick is not only a Hall of Fame coach, but he is also the undisputed heavyweight champion when it comes to flustering members of the media. I find it hard to believe Deflategate would be as big of a story without Belichick and Brady as the villains. Anybody heard about the recent Cleveland Browns texting allegations? I didn’t think so.”
Long wrote that the story was the perfect storm for sports media and news media alike, because everyone knows (or at least believe they know) about air pressure. And so, as it ended up on every talk show, morning show, newspaper, magazine and even some advertisements, the story really spun far out of control.
–If the footballs were dramatically different from normal, the officials who handled them between every play would have noticed. If they didn’t notice, how much of an advantage was really being gained? “If a football feels so obviously different at 11 psi than it does at 13.5 psi,” Long wrote, “maybe the best officials on the planet should have noticed something was awry that night at Gillette.”
–The Patriots always play well in bad weather, so a win against the Colts in January 2015 need not be ascribed to deflated footballs. “So if you believe Tom and Bill have been using deflated footballs, game in and game out, for a decade and a half, why is this the first time we’re hearing about it? That’s all the way back to 2001. You know how long ago that was? The first PT Cruiser came out in 2001. Creed was killing it in 2001. So either the Patriots have been doctoring footballs in every big game since ‘Mulholland Drive’ was in theaters, or they’ve simply mastered the art of winning no matter the conditions.”
–If the footballs did have lower air pressure, it wouldn’t really make a difference. He cited Sport Science’s John Brenkus and made a point to say that ESPN was handing out the pitchforks early on in DeflateGate. “[Brenkus] concluded that ‘underinflated balls had a minuscule effect on any given play,'” Long wrote. “As ESPN’s authority on the intersection of physics and sports, I couldn’t help but wonder if he made the folks in Bristol a little uncomfortable. The mothership has tirelessly led the effort to make Deflategate a spectacle.”
–He did something the NFL did not do, which is take into account science. “Changes in temperature can alter game ball pressure, changing the magic psi number in a big way,” he wrote.
–He said Aaron Rodgers, who told CBS that he prefers his footballs to be overinflated, may actually be the one gaining an advantage in the air-pressure dance. “As Brenkus said this week on ‘Sport Science,’ an overinflated football actually travels faster,” Long wrote. “How’s that for an advantage?”
–He pointed out that the Vikings and Panthers were merely warned for heating footballs on the sideline, and that “no one’s calling Brad Johnson’s legacy into question” after the former Bucs QB said he paid someone $7,500 to doctor footballs prior to Super Bowl XXXVII.
–He wrote that the Patriots played much better in the second half of the game in question, after the footballs had been reinflated, and that Tom Brady played much better in the second half as well. “Maybe this sample size is too small to prove a point,” he wrote. “I’m sure, however, that if the Patriots had played miserably in the second half and lost the game, everyone calling for an asterisk next to the busts of Belichick and Brady in Canton would lead with that argument.”
–Long opined that the fact that the Patriots don’t fumble often has nothing to do with PSI. “For years now, the Patriots have been elite when it comes to protecting the football,” he said. “I’ve heard stories of the Patriots running drills with soaking wet, slick footballs. My college coach and good friend Al Groh is one of the tougher branches on the Belichick coaching tree, so I’m familiar with this style of coaching. As another coach told me, you get what you emphasize. This emphasis has been paying off for years. But that’s just the football player in me talking.”
–Long expressed appreciation of Bill Belichick’s famed Mona Lisa Vito press conference, because the coach refused to give the media what they wanted. “Tom stuck to his story. And so did Bill,” Long wrote. “Days later, Belichick stole the show by calling an impromptu press conference and pulling the ultimate ‘have some’ maneuver: he made the media wait, strolled in on his own schedule and went all Isaac Newton. The media, longing to get Coach Belichick’s time and attention for years, finally had it: in the form of a physics lesson. It was beautiful.”
–Long said the focus during Super Bowl week should be about a great matchup between the Patriots and Seahawks. “But as usual,” he wrote, “some members of the media chose to go after the low hanging fruit.”
–Long said that if the Patriots were found guilty of misconduct they should be penalized. “But,” he wrote, “we should wait for an investigation to play out.”
–Long said his opinion on the team would never change. “No matter what comes of this, I don’t think I’ll be questioning the Patriots’ legacy,” he wrote. “But that’s just one man’s opinion. Football is a profoundly difficult game. You could pair countless quarterbacks with countless head coaches and give them a bag of magic footballs and they’d still struggle to win a playoff game. Tom and Bill have won 20 (a record), with an ever-changing cast of characters in an ever-changing league. … I know this for sure: the most perfect, pristine footballs of all time will be flying around that field in Glendale, Arizona this weekend. If the smoke clears on Monday and the Patriots are world champions, my hope is that everyone will appreciate the Patriots for sustaining one of the great runs by a franchise in league history.”
Even from day one, when seemingly everyone in the country was out for blood from Brady, Belichick and the Patriots, Long kind of had this thing nailed down, didn’t he?
The description of Belichick’s “F.U. Here Is Some Science” press conference as “beautiful” might have been a clincher in terms of catching the attention of the Hall of Fame coach.
In any event, with analysis like that (and with 4.5 sacks in six career games against the Patriots’ AFC East foes), Long will fit in just fine here in New England.