Consider the noble ballboy. The ballboy is employed by the New England Patriots, and he believes deeply in the franchise. He works as many hours as it takes, with no complaints, during the season. He does whatever he is asked. He reveres Bill Belichick, and fears him. Everyone fears Bill, a little or a lot.
Before every game, Tom Brady carefully examines every football, and manipulates them to his liking. Most quarterbacks scuff footballs, scrub away the shine, make it feel right. Tom makes sure the footballs are perfect for him. He was one of the quarterbacks who campaigned for the right to handle footballs before games, along with another detail-oriented maniac, Peyton Manning.
Tom, like, Bill, believes in details. Tom wants the footballs at precisely 12.5 PSI, the minimum amount, no more, no less. Perfect. Tom is an icon. This is very important.
But you, the loyal ballboy — equipment manager, really — think you can do better. You heard Tom say he likes softer footballs once. You deflate the balls to 10.5 PSI after they have been inspected by the officials. Bill does not know. Tom does not know. You know it’s cheating. Maybe they’ll be mad. But you believe this is the right thing to do. Fortune favours the bold.
Except apparently the NFL was tipped off beforehand. For some reason they let the first half of the AFC championship game get played anyway before inspecting the balls. But the Patriots win. You are happy.
And then the next thing you know Bill and Tom are forced to speak to the media about it. And the strange thing is, people believe Bill, but not Tom.
“I didn’t alter the ball in any way,” said Tom. “When I pick those balls out, at that point to me they’re perfect. I don’t want anyone touching the balls after that. I don’t want anyone rubbing them, putting any air in them, taking any air out. To me those balls are perfect and that’s what I expect when I show up on the field. That happened obviously on Sunday night.”
You note that Tom did not get the memo from Bill that when talking about this stuff, say footballs instead of balls, and fewer people will be able to giggle about it.
But how strange, you think: Tom didn’t notice a difference between a 12.5 PSI ball and a 10.5 one, despite it being about 15 per cent less inflated.
“Once I approve the ball, like I said, that’s the ball that I expect out there on the field,” said Tom. “It wasn’t even a thought, inkling of a concern of mine that they were any different. I just assumed that they were exactly the same: first half, second half.”
Sure, you think, that makes sense. This is probably how a basketball player would react with a ball that was 15 per cent less inflated, right? Tom is then asked if he is comfortable saying that nobody on the Patriots did anything wrong. You hold your breath.
“I’m very comfortable saying that nobody did it, as far as I know,” said Tom. “I don’t know everything.”
Sure, it sounds like a safe lie. Many ex-quarterbacks, from Mark Brunell to Sage Rosenfels, say they could tell immediately if a football was different. Oh no! How will Tom escape this?
Luckily, the media in New England is on the case.
Q: This has raised a lot of uncomfortable conversations for people around this country who view you as their idol. The question they’re asking themselves is, “What’s up with our hero?” Can you answer right now, is Tom Brady a cheater?
A: I don’t believe so.
You, the loyal ballboy, feel terrible. Poor Tom, up there for about 30 minutes, which is about three hours in Patriots media time. Sure, it looked like he was dissembling, lying, speaking lawyer talk, even trying to deflect the questions a week and a half before what will be the most-watched television broadcast in American history. “This isn’t ISIS. No one is dying. We will get through this,” said Tom, sagely, providing some heroic perspective. It’s not years of encouraging brain trauma, either, you think. Or PEDs. Or painkiller abuse. Or Ray Rice.
Still, you feel bad. Gosh, Bill had to admit that sometimes a single detail will escape his legendary gaze.
“I can tell you that in my entire coaching career I have never talked to any player, staff member about football air pressure,” said Bill in the morning, looking more uncomfortable than usual, probably due to the talking. “That is not a subject that I have ever brought up.”
He then pointed the press at Tom, and Tom stood up there and didn’t convince almost anyone, the poor guy. You think that people will just assume that this is a way to escape institutional responsibility, to avoid more forfeited draft picks, more fines. Nobody will believe that a noble ballboy decided to materially change the most important piece of equipment for the most important player before an important game without that franchise quarterback approving, or even noticing. Luckily, the NFL hasn’t even called Tom, four days into its investigation. The Super Bowl will go off without a hitch.
After that, you think, nobody will flip, not in Bill’s organization. Nobody will give you up. You will never tell anybody, and nobody would believe you if you tried.