Scandal deflates Pats’ championship

The ongoing Deflategate investigation looms over Sunday’s Super Bowl and leaves a majority of fans with no stake in the game rooting against the New England Patriots.

The NFL’s championship game also will feature the defending champion Seattle Seahawks. I’m confident that the Super Bowl will not echo the drubbing of the 2014 championship game, and will come down to the final drive.

It’s painful to say it – given quarterback Tom Brady’s 23-3 record against my hometown Buffalo Bills – but New England has the edge in the game despite the overwhelming cloud of cheating that surrounds the team.

In a recent report, the NFL said that it narrowed the investigation down to a locker room attendant who removed the footballs from the officials’ room before they were taken to the field, leaving a six- to 10-minute window to tamper with the regulated pigskins.

It was extremely disappointing to watch Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and Brady act completely clueless about how 11 of the 12 Patriots’ footballs became deflated below 12.5 pounds per square inch – the mandated minimum inflation rate – in the AFC championship game.

In an ESPN interview, Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter said it was maddening that all of the members of the Patriots tried to undermine ex-NFL players and the public’s opinions. Carter said that any professional football player who laid a hand on those footballs would know immediately that they were underinflated.

“[Kraft] is insulting my intelligence by saying that Tom Brady didn’t know the composition of those footballs,” the former Minnesota Vikings great said.

And furthermore, I’m not buying Belichick’s hypothesis that the change in atmosphere made such a major impact on the footballs’ air pressure. How would it have affected 11-of-12 Patriot footballs while all 12 Indianapolis Colts pigskins were cleared without any foul play?

Even more frustrating was Kraft’s plea that the NFL should apologize to his coach and players for being falsely accused, and then his refusal to answer any further questions.

If you’re trying to tell me that some ball boy took it upon himself to sneak off with the footballs before the Patriots’ most important game of the season – without the instruction of someone from higher-up in the organization – then I would be inclined to call you a liar.

I would be extremely disappointed by the New England organization if it lets this locker room attendant lose his job and go down as a rogue cheater trying to give his team – or employer – an unfair advantage.

The scandal mimics Watergate because the Patriots didn’t need to cheat in their dominating 45-7 win over the Colts in the AFC championship game. But Deflategate raises questions as to how often this action was taken during games in the regular season, or possibly in Brady’s 23-3 record against a divisional foe.

Especially, given the Patriots’ history with Spygate, where Belichick proved that he thought he was above the game. It’s easy to understand that I will be rooting for the Seahawks Sunday, and that will make it even more disappointing when Brady is crowned a champion for the fourth time in his career.

In my first column of the semester, I picked the Patriots to win over Seattle, 24-21, and I still believe that to be true.

They have proved that they have come together and got on a roll at the perfect time, after many wrote them off following their week-four Monday night 41-14 loss to Kansas City.  Dominating cornerback play and having Rob Gronkowski, who is a virtual mismatch against any Seahawk who attempts to defend him, gives the edge to New England.

Despite my Super Bowl prediction, nothing would make me happier than watching Belichick’s dejected stutter-filled postgame interview after being handed a loss in Arizona. But if my prediction is correct, there will always be mental asterisks placed on the world championship and the Patriots’ legacy, unless there is overwhelming evidence brought forward that proves their innocence.

I understand that in the United States, individuals or organizations are innocent until proven guilty, but all the evidence and ex-NFL players’ reactions have me believing that the Patriots aren’t so virtuous. I’m fed up with Patriots organization thinking it is above the rules.

Nothing would make me happier than the game concluding on a beast-mode touchdown run capped by Marshawn Lynch’s signature TD celebration with Belichick close by for a front-row seat.

CONNOR SONDEL

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