Monday, May 11, 2015
A Gate Worthy of Its Name
For 40 years, lazy journalists have tacked the suffix -gate onto every scandal imaginable.
Travelgate. Irangate. Spygate. The ever popular Nipplegate (or if you prefer, Wardrobe Malfunctiongate). Gate scandals have gone global, in Argentina, Korea, and Germany.
My personal favorite is Gategate, a mini-contretemps in England involving an actual gate.
But very few of these Scandalgates resemble the original Watergate scandal in any meaningful way. Until now. Deflategate is a delicious scandal*, not just because it rhymes but because in significant ways it follows the story line of the original Watergate scandal.
* full disclosure: it's also delicious because I enjoy watching Tom Brady and the Patriots suffer. I'm a Giants fan, and the two Giants-Pats Super Bowls, well, I don't want to say those days were happier than my Wedding Day and the birth of my kids, but well...and also, in the great Manning vs. Brady debate, I'm a Manning partisan. When the cameras showed a shades-inside Brady sauntering into the Mayweather-Pacquiao flight, fresh from his private jet from Kentucky Derby, I muttered at the TV, "Take off the sunglasses inside, you insufferable douc-"...Okay, it's possible I'm not totally objective on this story.
Here's how Deflategate is like Watergate:
The Cheating was Unnecessary
When the scandal first broke in January, Patriots fans rushed to Facebook and Twitter to say, "It's irrelevant - the Patriots beat the Colts 45-7!" Wrong answer. What's irrelevant is the score. Cheating is cheating, and whether or not you needed to is irrelevant.
Take, for example, oh I don't know, the original Watergate scandal. A group of low-level guys loosely affiliated with the Nixon campaign broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex in June 1972. 5 months later, Nixon won in a massive landslide reelection - 49 states to 1! He put a bigger whooping on George McGovern than the Pats put on the Colts.
I don't recall any of the Nixon Administration figures, grilled before the Senate, saying "Hey, it doesn't matter what happened - we won 49 states to 1, baby!"
The Cover-up was Worse - and Clumsier - than the Crime
Richard Nixon may not have invented 'the cover-up was worse than the crime', but he elevated it to an art form.
Tom Brady is no Richard Nixon. And unlike Tricky Dick, Shady Brady seems to have been in on this plan from the beginning.
But still, there are intriguing Watergate parallels. The missing texts are the missing tapes. The cover up included easily proven falsehoods like Brady claiming not to even know the equipment guy's name. And of course, there were the constant protestations of innocence even as investigators were finding more and more evidence.
It's All About the Legacy
Richard Nixon's reputation was pretty darn good before it all unraveled. His trip to China earlier in 1972 was a huge foreign policy achievement. He was on the verge of ending the Vietnam war. And was popular enough to win reelection on a scale no Bush, Clinton, or Obama could even imagine.
Then came Watergate, resignation, disgrace.
Tom Brady won't - and shouldn't - be forced to end his career like Richard Nixon. But in the end, what matters most about this scandal is that it tarnishes his legacy.
Tom Brady is in the GOAT* conversation. GOAT conversations aren't decided by blue-ribbon panels or by the leagues . They're not decided by sportswriters or broadcasters - though they play a role. They are not decided by stats geeks or league historians. There's no vote.
* Greatest of All Time
They are decided, if at all, by consensus. We, the Collective Sports Fan, talk. And we argue and we compare stats and titles. And we call sports radio. And sometimes, sometimes, we reach a consensus.
Wayne Gretzky. Michael Jordan. Jack Nicklaus. John Wooden. There is consensus that these are the GOATS in their field (though Bird and Magic and Tiger have their supporters. The Great One and The Wizard of Westwood stand alone).
When Tom Brady won his 4th Super Bowl, he took a long stride towards winning the NFL GOAT award. No player in history had combined Rings and Stats like Brady. It was going to be difficult for Peyton Manning fans to argue the guy with one ring (and all the passing records) was the GOAT. It was going to be hard for Joe Montana fans to argue the guy with 15,000 fewer yards and 150 fewer TDs (and the same amount of rings) was the GOAT.
Tom Brady had laid claim to arguably the greatest sports laurel available to the American athlete - the greatest football player ever.
And now? Well, everybody from New England will still vote for him. And there will be pockets of Brady supporters everywhere.
But the consensus is lost. With every pound per square inch the Patriots' equipment managers released from those balls, they released a bit of Tom Brady's claim to be the Greatest of All Time.
The break-in guys in Watergate were the plumbers; and the deflaters did their work in the bathroom.
Ryan Grigson is Deep Throat.*
* this is one of the interesting story lines that hasn't gotten enough attention. Colts GM Ryan Grigson sent an email to the NFL before the game, alerting them to the possibility of deflated footballs. Presumably this means this wasn't the first time Tom Shady sent his equipment boys into the bathroom to sit on footballs.
Will Roger Goodell play the role of Gerald Ford, and pardon Tom Brady?
Update: Apparently Not! 4 games, a million bucks, and 2 draft picks is no Ford pardon.
And finally, is Bill Simmons departure from ESPN the week of the Wells report a coincidence? Surely not...
This is just too much fun. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get back to crank-calling my Patriots fans friends. When they answer I just go "ppppppppppppsssssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhtttttttttt."