For the first time since 2001, someone other than Tom Brady will enter Patriots training camp as the clear-cut starting quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo will take the reins under the center for the team’s first four regular-season games, since Brady’s suspension for his role in “Deflategate” was ultimately upheld.
Deflategate has become a commonplace term for sports fans alike, a joking euphemism for a frustrating tale of futility that dominated sports media for 18 months. We don’t even use quotation marks for it anymore. Deflategate lasted a year and a half, but it could have been drastically cut short if the band of brothers in Foxboro had swallowed their pride and admitted to the allegations, true or false.
When Tom Brady stepped up to the podium at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2015, he had a choice that was purely his. He could either fess up to deflating footballs during the AFC Championship Game against the Colts, or he could take the route that has been disappointingly adopted by the Patriots organization: deny, deny, deny.
Brady declared himself innocent of any wrongdoing, but we’ll never know for sure if that was his intention from the start. When I think of the motley crew that sat in Foxboro discussing the next move that week, the first person that comes to mind is Robert Kraft.
When Robert Kraft bought the New England Patriots in 1994, the team was essentially the opposite of what it is now. They were coming off a 5-11 season in ’93, they played in the worst stadium in the league, and 25 years of unreliable ownership had almost forced the team to hop town and move to St. Louis.
Kraft was taking on a rather large challenge–but he had money. In 1968, at just 27 years of age, he acquired the entire Rand-Whitney group via a leveraged buyout. Several years later, he founded International Forest Products, which became a high-octane exporter that served as the main catalyst for Kraft’s fortune. He was, and is, a personality. He shook hands with the players after games, with his wife, Myra, giving the entire 53-man team a kiss on the cheek after each game. With Kraft’s ownership, the team turned it around quickly. The Pats made the playoffs four times from 1994-98, and ultimately won three Super Bowls in four years once the new century came around. Foxboro Stadium was finally bulldozed to the ground in 2002 to make room for Gillette, and by 2010, acres of retail engulfed the stadium (it’s hard to even see the stadium behind Victoria’s Secret and Bed Bath & Beyond).
It’s not the most orthodox use of land, but nothing represents Kraft’s financial power better. Ultimately, however, that financial power turned to an ugly inflation of ego that left Pats fans wincing, reminding some of the Terry Glenn mishap of 1996. As a Massachusetts native, it feels like all I hear about is how no other team gets dumped on by the NFL executives on Park Avenue. That’s probably true, but it’s about more than just the “they hate us ’cause they ain’t us” mantra that can be likened to a broken record in New England.
You see, none of the other 31 owners are more power-hungry than Kraft. When Brady couldn’t get his footing against the owners, Kraft awkwardly stepped in because he felt his sculpted image entitled him to doing so. It wasn’t unlike a father telling a bully to stop picking on his boy. But this wasn’t little Johnny having trouble at Pre-K. This was arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history with an issue that he could have worked out on his own. Before the incident, Brady had never been individually penalized by the NFL. After fifteen seasons, that’s a somewhat impressive accomplishment. Surely he could have found some way of compromising with Goodell in New York, and that would have been made a lot easier if he had just decided to fess up last January. Goodell would love nothing more than to pick on Kraft because he knows Kraft will fall for the bait. Kraft will flex his muscles into oblivion if that’s what it takes to maintain his tough-guy image.
Unfortunately, Kraft stepped over the line. He went all in, and dragged a multi-billion dollar organization through the mud for 18 months until the case finally met its bitter end. That was his doing. We heard the endless talk of how the integrity of the game would be compromised if Brady was not reprimanded. Well, if the first four games of the 2016 season is any indication, the integrity of Robert Kraft has been compromised without doubt. If Kraft’s a Kenny Rogers fan, he ought to listen to these four lines real close:
“You ‘gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away, know when to run,
You never count your money when you’re sitting at the table,
There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.”
First photo courtesy of The Wrap
Second photo courtesy of USA Today