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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Deflectgate: Are the NFL's Accusations Against the Patriots Merely a Decoy?

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John Paul Filo/CBS


Maybe we need a Kickstarter campaign to send a few hard-working NFL media types on vacation after what was clearly another grinding season in a nonstop news cycle.

Mike Florio should top the list.

It only took the Pro Football Talk columnist a little more than a week to make a suggestion even dumber than when he hinted that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski should be subject to a public drinking penalty for chugging a beer during New England’s Super Bowl championship parade last week in Boston.

If that comment likened Florio to an uptight, goody two-shoes resident assistant in a college dormitory, then his hot take on Bill Belichick’s appearance on “Late Show With David Letterman” this week was akin to scolding a penguin for waddling.

Belichick’s interview with the outgoing Letterman - surrendering his longtime late night seat to Stephen Colbert later this year - was nothing special. The Patriots' coach was his uncomfortable self being the center of attention on stage before an audience at Manhattan’s Ed Sullivan Theater, where, of course, the discussion turned to Deflategate and the accusations swirling around Belichick’s team’s Super Bowl pursuit.

The whole chat was very banal, with Letterman - an Indianapolis fan - poking fun at the absurdity of the witch hunt aimed at determining if the Patriots utilized intentionally deflated footballs in their AFC Championship game rout of the Colts.

But Florio feigned some level of disappointment that Letterman didn’t summon his inner Carl Monday.

“[Letterman’s] efforts, however, weren’t focused at all on advancing the ball, moving the needle, or getting to the truth, with sarcasm or wit driving the bus. Letterman operated under the premise that the entire situation is a joke, that nothing improper happened, and that if it did it doesn’t matter because even though the difference between a properly inflated ball and a deflated ball is “palpable,” using deflated footballs ‘wouldn’t make any difference in a game.’”

After getting some heat for his reaction, notably from Deadspin, Florio clarified his stance in a follow-up post in which he wrote, “Letterman’s comments and questions flowed from the idea that it’s all nonsense, a dead issue that never should have been an issue, and/or an outright fabrication hatched by the NFL team that plays in Letterman’s home state. This overlooks the fact that the NFL currently is investigating whether the Patriots tampered with the footballs.”

True. And that somehow makes the whole thing any less ludicrous?

To take Deflategate as seriously as Florio seems to want even comedians to do, the general public would likely end up diverting attention from the other issues facing the NFL. He’s not the only one, of course.

I’m still not convinced that Deflategate wasn’t a welcome distraction for the NFL as it approached its grandest stage, Super Bowl week in Phoenix. Certainly, in the days leading up to the historic showdown between the Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, air pressure jokes trumped discussion of the league’s handling of other, far more serious issues.

In that aforementioned Goodell press conference, the NFL commissioner answered a handful of questions about the accusations levied at the Patriots in between planted softballs about the league’s “Play 60” fitness campaign and expansion. Only once, when Goodell was asked if he could envision any circumstances under which he would resign, were the words “domestic violence” uttered by him or his questioners.

Deflategate? More like “Deflectgate.”

Was the NFL all too eager to dive into Indy’s accusations, mere hours after the Patriots earned their trip to Super Bowl XLIX, perhaps with the inherent understanding that a scandal involving the AFC champs might deflect from the focus on one of the most turbulent off-field years in the league’s history?

In such a scenario, the Patriots are both Super Bowl champions and the pawn.

One year from now, we’ll likely look back on this time and ask ourselves whether the delicious irony of Brian Williams opening the NBC Evening News with the latest developments in Deflategate wasn’t just a hoax from the very beginning.

America’s appetite for the absurd is only so limited, which may be why Bob Kravitz, who broke the story, felt compelled to offer his lame “mea culpa” earlier this week in order to keep people talking. As for Florio, he seems to want even comedians to treat the farce with seriousness.

We were had. Shame on Letterman for not going along with the plan.

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