Forgive me if I sound a bit deflated (pun intended!), but I’ve just spent nearly two weeks talking and writing about the inflation levels of NFL footballs and whether Bill Belichick, Tom Brady or some anonymous locker room attendant knowingly let the air out of those pigskins and the New England Patriots’ legacy in order to gain a competitive advantage. Deflategate has dominated the sports conversation ever since the news broke two Sundays ago that 11 of the 12 footballs used by the Patriots in their 45-7 AFC Championship Game thrashing of Indianapolis were deflated well below league standards, thereby giving Brady a better grip with which to throw spirals.
It doesn’t help that the Patriots are repeat offenders, having been fined heavily by the league in 2007 after they were caught taping an opposing team’s signals. (That act of malfeasance became known as Spygate.) It also doesn’t help that Patriots owner Robert Kraft is bosom buddies with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who will be in the awkward position of having to discipline a man who’s been a mentor and the most influential of his 32 bosses.
As the Patriots prepare to play the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday’s Super Bowl, the Deflategate story has legs all right—like a stampede of Budweiser Clydesdales.
We’ve seen Bill Nye the Science Guy take the air out of Belichick’s feeble theories about how those 11 footballs might have lost at least two pounds of pressure per square inch in such a short period of time. We’ve witnessed Brady, who expressed a fondness for underinflated footballs in a 2011 interview, squirm and plead ignorance during several interviews.
We’ve laughed at a “Saturday Night Live” skit spoofing the Patriots’ stance, invoking a Jack Nicholson-like “You can’t handle the truth!” response from an equipment manager who claimed, under intense media cross-examination, to have done the dirty deflation deed. We’ve chuckled during a news conference when Belichick made an out-of-left-field reference to Marisa Tomei’s character in the comedy, “My Cousin Vinny.” We’ve listened to several clever musical parodies about the legend of “Bill Beli-cheat.” We’ve read angry columnists who believe that Belichick shouldn’t be allowed to coach Sunday and that Brady shouldn’t be allowed to play because they cheated.
And we’ve marveled at just how stupid the NFL power brokers must think we are when they told us the league won’t conclude its investigation—or even interview Mr. Brady—until after the Super Bowl. That’s right, despite the fact Brady handles the football on every offensive snap, the investigators haven’t gotten around to talking to him, even though they’ve found time to talk to at least 40 other members of the organization. How convenient.
And so, this bizarre story serves as the backdrop for an overhyped event that hasn’t been in need of any additional hype for several decades. In a strange way, deflation will lead to inflation. Though neither team is especially likable in the eyes of the majority of American football fans, expect Super Bowl 49 to become the most watched television program of all time. And expect this unofficial national holiday to give new meaning to the term excess. We will over-eat, over-drink, over-analyze and over-wager.
According to WalletHub.com, Americans will consume 1.25 billion chicken wings and 14 billion hamburgers this Sunday. (How they come up with these numbers, I have no idea.) The ads we watch will cost $4.5 million per 30 seconds, resulting in $359 million in revenues. Budweiser clearly isn’t just the “king of beers,” but also the king of Super Bowl advertisers; Anheuser-Busch has shelled out $152 million since 2010. The average ticket price for this game is $4,835. Television sales traditionally spike before Super Bowls, with 7.5 million new sets expected to be purchased leading up to this one.
Betting will contribute to deflated wallets. Roughly $115 million is expected to be wagered, and not all the bets will be made on the game. Sure, you can put down money on whether the Patriots will cover the one-point spread and how many touchdown passes Brady will toss. But you also can bet on whether Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch will grab his crotch, as he did during the NFC Championship Game, an obscene gesture that resulted in a $20,000 fine by the NFL. Heck, some are even taking bets on whether any of the 100 or so game balls at the Super Bowl will wind up being underinflated. (The required range is 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch, in case you were wondering.)
The immensely popular video game, Madden NFL 15, is predicting a 28-24 Patriots victory in which Brady throws for 355 yards and four touchdown passes to win Super Bowl MVP. Before you plunk down your hard-earned money based on that prediction, you should know that last year the Madden folks had the Denver Broncos beating the Seahawks, 31-28. That didn’t work out too well as Seattle routed Denver, 43-8, in the real game. Another reason for caution: Madden is just 4-3 in prognosticating the correct winner in recent years.
I would tend, though, to agree with the video game people on this one. I think, despite the enormous distractions wrought by Deflategate, the Patriots will retain focus and edge the Seahawks in a tight game. The victory will enable Tom Brady to tie his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl titles. It also will enable Belichick to tie Chuck Noll’s record for most victories in the big game.
After the Lombardi Trophy is hoisted amid a confetti blizzard, our attentions will return to the investigation—and whether the Patriots’ nefarious acts will deflate the way we look at this NFL dynasty down the road.
Scott Pitoniak is a best-selling author, nationally honored columnist, television correspondent and radio talk show host in his 42nd year in journalism. You can listen to him Monday-Friday from 3-7 p.m. on 95.7 FM, AM 950 or on-line at espnrochester.com.
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