By: Connor Lenahan
A week from tonight the 2015-16 NFL season will begin with the New England Patriots taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tom Brady will be starting the game for the defending Super Bowl champions. Today brought about the news that many – Read: Everyone in Boston – has been talking about all summer long. Tom Brady was suspended for four games for the Deflategate story, appealed the NFL decision in court, and today had his suspension overturned by a federal judge.
This was not exactly the most shocking news in the world. From the time that the Wells report came out it appeared fairly certain that the NFL’s case against Brady was fairly weak. They could have Roger Goodell act as judge, jury, and executioner all he wanted, but the minute he had to face an actual judge, the problems began.
The central issue of the case was two parted. First was proving that Brady had a hand in deflating footballs for the first half of the AFC Championship game in January. The NFL never did this. They had largely inaccurate science, hadn’t kept entirely accurate record of the pre-game findings (to be able to show a deflation), and never could make a conclusive finding on the matter. However, and this is key, I am totally and completely convinced Brady did deflate the balls. Not personally, but there is no doubt in my mind he had someone take some air pressure out because that’s what he likes when he throws the ball.
This isn’t a hugely big deal to me. I’ve talked to friends and family members that have played the sport competitively and none have raised that deflating balls would have swung the game outright. Additionally, the Patriots won the game in question 45-7. To this day I am still flabbergasted by the outcry that has come from this. Aaron Rodgers openly admitted he likes his balls overinflated. This is purely a touch thing. Further, the Patriots played with reinflated, legal balls in the second half. They outscored the Colts in both halves. Brady breaking a rule wouldn’t make Andrew Luck worse.
But talking about why Deflategate is dumb – again – isn’t the main point. The larger issue is how Goodell decided to punish Brady. That’s what the judge specifically mentioned in his decision earlier today. The judge took note of how Brady’s alleged rule breaking was to fit under the “conduct detrimental” section of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. But it didn’t. The punishments for such a rule being broken where nowhere near the 4 game suspension and millions of dollars worth of fines that the NFL levied against the Patriots and Brady. Because Goodell overstepped his boundaries as an authority figure – which he also was found to have done in the “Bountygate” scandal with New Orleans, Adrian Peterson’s case last fall, and even his second punishment of Ray Rice last fall – he lost a major case for the NFL again. It goes without saying that this is a bad, and potentially the worst, moment in his tenure as commissioner.
Brady is back for the full season and the NFL is appealing this new decision – something I genuinely didn’t know was possible until a few hours ago. If I were to place a bet I’d be going against the NFL getting an overturned decision overturned again.
The other point that had been raised to me today came from my friend Matt Gronsky. He argued that four games was excessive – a relatively universal opinion as of late – but that Brady deserved at least some form of a suspension. Now, for the sake of full disclosure, Matt is a die hard fan of Brady’s Week 1 opponent. Matt would much rather Jimmy Garoppolo start against the Steelers than Tom Brady. But at the same time, I can entirely see myself getting behind this argument.
Brady was notoriously uncooperative in the NFL’s investigation. The thought that he wasn’t at least generally aware of the deflation seems impossible. Had Brady gotten 1-2 games – something that had been discussed in settlement hearings – I doubt anyone would have had much issue. However, selfishly, I couldn’t be happier that this was not the case. A settlement after eight months is too easy. This story continued to grow from being a stupid phenomenon in the late winter into the defining sports story of 2015 and an all out war against the commissioner of the most powerful sports league on Earth by potentially the best quarterback in said league’s history. For someone that looks for things to write about every day, despite how annoying it was at times, and the fact it cost Bill Simmons his job, this story was amazing.
So with that, all of that craziness, we say goodbye to the most ridiculous story in sports that I have ever seen. And with it we welcome the ultimate visceral joy. A furious Tom Brady coming to defeat every single team in his path this season.
With this singular decision the upcoming NFL season has been rendered more interesting than ever before. Get excited, we are a week away.