“People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.” - Richard M. Nixon
"The first I've heard about it was this morning." - William S. Belichick speaking Monday on those deflated footballs
President Nixon is the father of all "Gates." He authorized, lied about, and covered up his involvement in the break-in at the Democratic party headquarters located at Washington's Watergate Hotel in June of 1972. The resulting scandal from this "third-rate burglary" would eventually topple a presidency, leave the nation reeling, and forever raise doubts in the sincerity and honestly of our national leaders.
Bill Belichick coaches a football team and loves to push the rules to their limits, and beyond.
[Internet disclaimer time: Historic analogies are perilous. Obviously, no one is equating the real-world with the football world. But their stories carry plenty of similarities and teach us similar lessons.]
Nixon was once the most-powerful leader in the world. He, believe it or not, enjoyed immense support, if not affection, at home. He ran for national office five times and was national political figure for more than four decades.
No matter Nixon's political, foreign policy, legislative success, there was a segment of the population, culture, and press that loathed him. Noted New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael said after Nixon beat George McGovern by carrying 49 states in the 1972 election: "I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know."
1972 was an election year. Nixon was riding high in the polls. He had recently returned from China and the Soviet Union. The number of U.S. troops in Vietnam had fallen markedly in his first term. Inflation was in check.
Still, "Tricky Dick" felt the need to try and bug the DNC's office.
Paranoia, a hunger for control and power, a need to control the situation. Shrewd. Brilliant. Manipulative.
Does any of this start to sound familiar?
In light of constant criticism from "East Coast Elites" and others, Nixon coined the phase and courted the support of the "Great Silent Majority." These were the people who inhabited what is now called Flyover Country and, in general, voted for Nixon.
Belichick's Great Silent Majority consisted of Patriots' fans and neutral types. They saw an over-reach and foolishness in the past allegations, assertions, and punishments he received for Spygate and various other petty offenses.
Nixon's Great Silent Majority left him when it became patently obvious that the Commander in Chief lied to them countless times.
Belichick's Great Silent Majority reached its tipping point sometime on Wednesday. They feel robbed of a Super Bowl, and a lot more.
The parallels between Nixon and Belichick are both humorous, stunning, and telling. They are both men of greatness in their chosen fields who are/will be forever stained by scandal and impropriety.
Nixon resigned when the last of his support in Congress evaporated. Belichick's fate, both short and long-term, hangs in the balance. He'll need the support of his owner and the league's commissioner to ride this out without any serious, long-term punishment.
Both faced foolish scandals before getting caught up in "The Big Lie."
Nixon delivered his famous "Checkers" speech after he was accused of having personal expenses covered by a campaign fund in 1952 when he was running as Eisenhower's vice presidential candidate. Checkers, by the way, was a dog.
Belichick had Spygate in all of its forms. True and false. It was a puppy.
In the eyes of some, Nixon was a "crook" long before Watergate. In the eyes of some, Belichick was a crook long before anyone was discussing the shrinkage of balls in the AFC title game.
Both Nixon and Belichick shared an antipathy toward the press. Nixon was reviled by media of his day and famously told reporters after he lost his California gubernatorial bid in 1962: "You won't have Nixon to kick around any more."
We may hear the same words from Belichick on Thursday. Or something close to it.
Nixon's battle with the press continued until his resignation in August of 1974. He demonized the Washington Post, New York Times, and the network newscasts, as they demonized him. His first vice president, Spiro Agnew, once summed up the establishment press of his day as "the nattering nabobs of negativism."
"It is the responsibility of the media to look at the President with a microscope, but they go too far when they use a proctoscope." - Nixon
Nixon, for reasons historians continue to debate today, bugged the Oval Office. He taped all of his conversations, save for those 18 1/2 minutes "accidentally" erased by Rose Mary Woods.
"Goddamn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get them. The way I want that handled is…just to break in. Break in and take it out! You understand? … You are to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them out…Just go in and take it! Go in around eight or nine o'clock. And clean it up."
- Nixon in 1971, ordering chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, to break into the Brookings Institute. It held files to be used to blackmail former President Lyndon Johnson. The conversation took place a year to the day before the Watergate break-in.
Or was that Belichick discussing the Patriots' soon-to-be former ballboy?
Both men achieved greatness in their time as leaders, but only after failing on a massive scale. Nixon lost his 1960 presidential bid to John F. Kennedy. Belichick's reign as coach in Cleveland ended with a 5-11 season and him being fired.
Belichick led the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles in four years. All three were squeakers. Nixon edged out Hubert Humphrey by 500,000 votes in 1968 in a three-way race that included George Wallace.
Nixon's 1972 electoral rout came just 4 1/2 months after the Watergate break-in. Belichick's Patriots won Sunday's AFC title game 45-7, about 2 1/2 hours before news broke that would eventually break everyone's balls.
By the end of 1973, Nixon's popularity had plummeted. His vice president resigned due to scandal. The United States was facing an "Arab" oil embargo. Inflation was on the rise. The Mid-east was embroiled in war. Meanwhile, the facts surrounding Watergate agonizingly dripped dripped out through aggressive reporting and congressional hearings.
Where Nixon had his loyal aides, Halderman and Ehrlichman, Belichick has Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia. Nixon had G. Gordon Liddy to execute the break in. [And John Dean if necessary.] Belichick has Gordon Gronkowski's son, Rob, to spike and deflate balls whenever possible.
Nixon's special counsel Chuck Colson found Jesus after he went to prison. Former Patriots QB Tim Tebow often visits prisons to spread the Word of Jesus.
Nixon confided in Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who tired, but failed, to serve as a moral compass. Belichick's counterpart there is elder-statesman Robert Kraft, who may not be able to save his coach from the NFL's wrath. John Dean dished the dirt Nixon. He did more to damage Nixon during the Watergate hearings than anyone. Belichick has Eric Mangini, and a slew of other scorned disciples, who sold him out/did the right thing in telling the world about his antics.
Brady? He appears to be Gerald Ford in this saga. Both played football at Michigan. Ford was Agnew's successor as vice president and was never implicated in Nixon's cover-up. But he did pardon Nixon. And that likely cost him the 1976 election.
The marked difference is that Ford's honesty was never seriously questioned. However, Brady's initially laughing-off the question about the "deflated balls" on Monday leaves his sincerity here in doubt.
Brady's legacy is tied to Belichick's. The fact that he went 9-for-9 in the third quarter with a 157 passer rating and 2 TD passes against the Colts after the "correct" balls were used Sunday might be his saving grace in all of this.
As of now, Belichick's players and staff remain "unindicted co-conspirators."
Nixon had an enemies' list. It included the usual suspects of media folk, political opponents, and various agitators and liberal intellectual types. We don't know if Belichick has an enemies' list. But would anyone be surprised if he had an Eric Mangini, or John Harbaugh voodoo doll in his desk?
Those "Don't Blame Me, I'm From Massachusetts" bumper stickers were a staple of my youth. When it comes to Belichick, Massachusetts might be the only state he'd carry in any nation-wide poll of support.
It's hard to pinpoint an exact moment in history, especially 40 years later, when national sentiment toward Nixon crossed the line from "this can't be true" to "I can't believe this guy lied to us."
Many point to the testimony of Alexander Butterfield telling the Senate that Nixon's taping system existed.
You can pick just about anyone on the Colts to fill Butterfield's role in this saga. Wednesday's news, for many, took the wind out of New England's impending Super Bowl appearance.
The disappointment Patriots' fans are feeling is real, wide-spread, and not-so-silent on Wednesday. It has been shared across social media and by callers to both stations straddling the Mass. Pike in Brighton. Sadly, this Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl match-up has lost much of the excitement and vibe it carried at 10 p.m. Sunday night. Perhaps it still can be salvaged. Perhaps not.
The narrative for Super Bowl XLIX is set.
The Patriots are cheaters if they beat Seattle.
The Patriots got caught cheating and then could not beat Seattle.
While this mantra was once the province of a loud minority Sunday. It is now a part permanent part of Patriot lore once Super Bowl XLIX is finished. That is the great loss here. The team will never escape the "Deflatriots" moniker.
If the Patriots want to preserve their historic legacy, they reclaim the Lombardi Trophy a week from Sunday. Then they can begin the long road toward reputation reclamation.
A potential Super Bowl defeat on Feb. 1, once thought to be a mere disappointment, could now become calamitous in the long term for the Patriot Way.
This franchise needs a Super Bowl win "now more than ever."
As we noted before this news "11 of 12 balls news" broke, the Patriots have to own this. This is on them, their coach, their quarterback, and their organization.
They should cop to it all, embrace the hate, accept responsibility and punishment, and move on to Glendale.
They brought it upon themselves, no matter what the Colts did or didn't do.
Like it did with Nixon, history will eventually judge Belichick is a more favorable light than he enjoys at this moment. His success as a coach, innovator, and mastermind will withstand the emotion and anger of this week. Still, Deflategate and Spygate will now be in the second paragraph of his obituary.
For Nixon, Belichick, and Brady in this matter, the question was/is always the same:
"What did he know and when did he know it?"
The answer to that question contains the last shred of hope for the True Believers.
The exact details of how those balls ended up being illegal on Sunday may never be 100 percent clear. As one learns more about the science involved, it becomes more apparent that barometric pressure and temperatures had nothing to do with this.
It's common-place for QBs at the pro and college level to manipulate the football. Brad Johnson did it when he won his Super Bowl. Matt Leinart says it no big deal.
And, of course, the NFL hates Belichick.
True on all counts. Still, this is about the Patriots, their coach, their quarterback, and their legacy.
The time to parse words and point fingers at the rest of the league has passed.
At best, Deflategate will hover over the Patriots in Glendale and be an annoyance for the players and coaches. At worse, it will collapse upon them like the Hindenburg.
Those deflated balls didn't affect the outcome Sunday.
What about those 50 passes Brady threw against the Ravens a week earlier in 19-degree weather? And sweet bomb from Julian Edelman to Danny Amendola?
If they existed at that time.
What about the week before that, or that?
We'll never know for sure.
And there-in lies the rub. Or the rub-down.
Spygate was confusing, convoluted, and concocted.
Deflategate is all to easy to understand in its stupidity, risk, and unnecessity.
We know after the AFC title game fact that it wasn't necessary in order to gain a competitive advantage? Before the fact, no so much.
The "Why" and "How" of this mess will be known once the culprit[s] decide to confess.
But we have learned that even a broken Spygate Truther can be right twice a in a lifetime.
Of Nixon, Kissinger once noted: "Can you imagine what this man could have accomplished if he had ever been loved?"
Truer words never applied to the coach Foxborough, as well.
The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Bill has reported for ESPN, CBSSports.Com, and was a sports/deputy sports editor at the Orlando Sentinel, Denver Post, and several other newspapers. Reach Bill on the OBF Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
OBF email Address. Thanks always for reading.
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