When Gold Could Tarnish

By Michael LeCompte

Playoff hype is in full swing this week as Tom Brady, the NFL’s current “Golden Boy,” and the Patriots gear up for another postseason run. Outside of New England another Brady playoff march is utterly uninteresting, though, and leaves most fans wondering what if?

What if the NFL had been able to make Brady’s four game suspension stick? Would the Patriots still be primed for the playoffs?

Once upon a time, before multi-million dollar contracts, billion dollar television deals, lawyers, agents, and an all-powerful player’s union, the NFL could and did hold its players-even superstars accountable.

In the NFL of the 1960’s Paul Hornung was the “Golden Boy.” The Brady of his day Hornung, who played halfback and kicker in the pros, had the blonde hair, movie star looks and superior athletic skill. He remains the only player in NFL history to win the Heisman (1956 at Notre Dame), be the first pick in the draft, be named league MVP, win a Super Bowl (SB I with Green Bay), and be elected to the Hall of Fame.

In his prime Hornung seemed to have it all, yet like Brady today he wanted or for some reason needed more and found himself in trouble with the league concerning his actions and the sanctity of football.

In 1963 NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Hornung, along with Alex Karras of the Lions, indefinitely for betting on NFL games.

Hornung called his actions “a mistake” and after some hard lobbying on his behalf by his coach Vince Lombardi, was reinstated to the NFL after serving a one year suspension on the condition that he stay out of Las Vegas and no longer attend the Kentucky Derby every year.

Eventually Hornung’s legal issue was forgotten, overshadowed by one of the greatest careers in football history. Now 79, Hornung says of his betting on football, “I broke the rules and had to accept my punishment.” His legacy remains largely untarnished because he admitted his transgressions, paid the price then moved on.

That is the main difference between the “Golden Boy” of yesteryear and Brady. With the aid of lawyers, his union, and the courts he managed to move on without ever admitting anything. If Brady had simply stated what every fan already knows-that he cheated, and remorsefully served his suspension all would have been forgiven. However, Brady denied everything and his team hasn’t missed a beat.

The playoffs are here, where games become epics, instant classics in which mere men are transformed into gridiron gods right on our TV screens. It’s enough to make fans yearn for a simpler time when the game of football was played for fun and even gold could tarnish.

Brady’s Deflated Legacy

By Michael LeCompte

Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, A-Rod, among others, and now…Tom Brady, 4-time Super Bowl Champion and reigning golden boy of the NFL, can count himself a member of this dishonored club of athletes who have disgraced themselves and their sports.

The 243 page Wells Report, concerning whether Brady used underinflated footballs in the AFC Championship game, was released on Wednesday presenting a clear picture of his collusion in the deflategate controversy and instantly tarnishing his legacy.

Page 2 of the report compiled by attorney Ted Wells states that, “based on the evidence, it is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.”

That’s safe, legal speak. Of course Brady knew the balls were deflated. No one believed for an instant that the quarterback wouldn’t or couldn’t know that the balls he was throwing were somehow off. (Brady’s absurd denials are akin to a pitcher in baseball saying he didn’t know the ball he was throwing was missing a few seams)

The Wells Report goes on to detail the actions of a Locker Room Attendant and an Equipment Assistant and their interactions with Brady.

Locker Room Attendant Jim McNally (who referred to himself as the “Deflator” in texts with friends) and Equipment Associate John Jastremski exchanged texts and emails discussing Brady’s preference for “squishy” footballs as far back as an October game against the Jets.

Furthermore, eight days before the AFC Championship game when the Patriots were caught Brady personally delivered two signed footballs and a game worn jersey to McNally. Evidently those gifts were enough to make McNally sneak the game balls out of the referee’s locker room and into a bathroom for 1 minute and 40 seconds before the Championship game.

After the Patriots won, but were found out, Brady invited Jastremski into the QB room for a private meeting. (The only time in 20 years that the Equipment Assistant had ever been in the QB room). There’s no proof of what went on behind closed doors, but presumably Brady was telling him to keep quiet.

Superstar quarterbacks usually aren’t personal friends with locker room and equipment personnel, but the report reveals a series of phone and text messages between Brady, McNally, and Jastremski immediately after the Championship game and in the days following.

Brady made himself available for one day of the Wells Report’s investigation and refused to turn over his cell phone or any emails (perhaps further proving he had something to hide). The phone records of McNally and Jastremski provided more than enough evidence to establish Brady’s guilt, though.

The NFL is expected to suspend Brady next week (probably somewhere between 2 and 8 games) and the Patriots will reportedly be fined and possibly lose some draft picks.

For sports fans it is often hard to comprehend why athletes cheat. The ones who get caught are usually the ones who didn’t need to cheat to gain an edge to begin with (Bonds and A-Rod were first ballot hall of famers without the steroids, Armstrong getting out of that hospital bed and even competing again was inspirational enough).

In Brady’s case he certainly didn’t need any advantage against the Colts as the Patriots won 45-7. The deflated footballs probably had no impact on the outcome of the game, but Brady used them anyway. He cheated because he wanted or needed to get back to the Super Bowl at the age of 37, so he did everything he could to make that happen.

Tom Brady is a cheater. Although he will be reviled across the country, fans in Boston will continue to love him, and unfortunately for Seattle, which will eternally be one yard away from a second Super Bowl victory, he proved that cheaters do sometimes prosper.

Brady’s legacy is now in tatters, the label of “cheater” will follow him throughout the rest of his career. He may be a 4-time Super Bowl Champion (tied with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for most all-time) yet any discussion of his place among the greats will now be followed by a “yeah, but…”