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Originally published January 21, 2015 at 8:32 PM | Page modified January 22, 2015 at 5:56 PM

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No lack of hot air about underinflated footballs

Whether Patriots did or did not intentionally deflate footballs, they are guilty because of past transgressions and could use it as motivation against Seahawks, who are disinterested in controversy.


Seattle Times columnist

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Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse channeled his inner Allen Iverson on Wednesday when he received a series of questions about deflated footballs, which incongruously has become the hottest topic in America.

“This is so funny we are talking about footballs,’’ Kearse said, in the same incredulous tone Iverson once reserved for ruminations about practice. “We are not talking about the game, we are talking about footballs; not the game but the balls. ... so see what I’m saying?’’

Loud and clear. But like it or not, the burgeoning scandal involving the Patriots and their underinflated footballs – predictably dubbed “Deflate-Gate” – is exploding into prominence. And since the Seahawks happen to be playing New England in a little football game in 11 days, well, they’re dragged into it, too.

For the record, no one knows for sure yet whether the Patriots are culpable, as suspicious as the 11 of 12 floppy balls alleged to have been confiscated by the NFL from the AFC title game appear to be. They deserve the presumption of innocence while the investigation – CSI taking on PSI, or something like that — continues.

But considering the track record of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who was caught dead to rights in the SpyGate scandal of 2007, well, let’s just say this has the ring of plausibility. To err is human; to let air out just seems so Patriots. They’ve lost much of the benefit of the doubt, and have no one to blame but themselves.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. The Patriots romped to a 45-7 win over Indianapolis; they’d have prevailed if they had used Nerf balls or a shot put.

Yet it’s a situation rife with schadenfreude, considering the disdain with which Belichick is held by many. And it’s a situation that’s bringing out the junior-high kid still lurking in all of us, giggling at puns involving “balls.”

But this is not about going rogue in one game, or an easy laugh; it’s an integrity issue, and goodness knows, the NFL hasn’t fared well with those this season. Commissioner Roger Goodell, who tripped all over himself handling the Ray Rice incident, now has himself a major headache heading into the league’s showcase event.

How Goodell handles this case will be closely scrutinized, particularly in light of the fact that Patriots owner Robert Kraft is one of his closest allies. Some have already called for Belichick to be suspended from the Super Bowl if it’s shown he had something to do with deflating the balls. ESPN’s Michael Wilbon even called for the Patriots to be booted out of the game if that’s the case.

The latter won’t happen, and the former seems highly unlikely, as Richard Sherman recognized on Wednesday.

Asked if he had ever noticed any suspicious footballs after an interception, Sherman replied, “I have to go back to my collection and check them now. Have to see if there are pounds missing.

“No, I’ve never heard of that. I’m not sure if anything will come of it, honestly, if it’s true or if it’s not true. It didn’t have much effect on the game, if any. If it did, whatever. If it’s against the rules, it’s against the rules. It’s not going to have any effect on this game. No one’s going to get suspended, nothing’s going to happen. They’re going to play this game.”

Any penalties against New England will likely be financial and/or the loss of draft picks, as was the case when the Patriots were found guilty of illegally filming the defensive signals of Jets defensive coaches during a Sept. 9, 2007 game.

If anything, the furor might bring the Patriots together in the sort of “us against the world” mentality that Belichick covets. His teams are known for being great under pressure. How they do with under-pressured footballs is another question (sorry, can’t help myself).

Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison was quoted Wednesday by ESPN’s Jackie McMullan as saying, “I can tell you this is the last thing Seattle needs. Those guys in that New England locker room are pumped. After all the hard work they’ve put in, after all they’ve accomplished, after all they’ve done, to have people doubt them?

“They’re taking that stuff personally. They’re fired up. Add the fact Seattle was favored in the Super Bowl, and look out.’’

The Seahawks know all about taking perceived slights and using them as fuel. And their coach, Pete Carroll, has some of his own skeletons. This past August, Goodell ruled that Seattle had to forfeit two days of on-field minicamp practices this coming offseason and fined the Seahawks $300,000 for excessive physical contact during minicamp.

They had a similar infraction in 2012. And Carroll’s USC team, of course, had violations under his watch that resulted in the NCAA stripping the Trojans of their 2004 national title.

But this particular incident seems so brazen and so unnecessary that, if true, you have to wonder what particular psychology (or perhaps pathology) is at play. Does it mean that Belichick simply can’t help himself? Or would this really fall on Tom Brady, as John Madden told the Sports Xchange on Wednesday? (Russell Wilson, not surprisingly, brushed off questions about deflated footballs, saying only, “Just as long as they have laces, I’m good to go.”)

At any rate, it’s a juicy sidebar to a main event that hardly needs added intrigue. I mean, I just wrote this many words about footballs.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146

or lstone@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @StoneLarry



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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives his take on the local and national sports scene.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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