Piling On

Late hits and piling on are infractions on the field, but that does not pertain to a tiny controversy that could thwart the NFL’s most-hated coach and his team, the New England Patriots. “Deflate Gate,” as it is touted in the media, shows how a little resentment and jealousy can explode, given some downtime in news coverage. Everyone is piling on this week.

I’ve noticed that the Patriots’ opponents, the Indianapolis Colts, have had little to say about the issue of deflating footballs to your advantage, but the Baltimore Ravens are all over it. It is no secret that the Ravens hate the Patriots and Coach Bill Belichick, in particular.

Belichick is a schemer, no doubt, and he could be guilty of conspiracy to deflate, but he also tested the rules on substituting in-eligible receivers in the AFC playoffs agains the Ravens and was vindicated by the League. Coach John Harbaugh hated that, because he didn’t think of it first.  He hated being shown up by Belichick, because he also is schemer and a schemer hates to be out-schemed.

Belichick stays up late diagnosing the weaknesses of his opponents, so his strategies are customized in a way that arouses ire. The Patriots are no better than one-third of the teams in the NFL, but they are built to adapt to every team and every game. They rush to the line of scrimmage and force mistakes, like too many men on the field.  They rotate eligible and ineligible receivers until your head spins, and you get the wrong match-ups on the field. They spread you out on the field, and then run it up the middle. Of course this is more than a little irritating. It feels unfair, but it is no more than strategy.

Deflating footballs is clearly not a legal strategy, so willful violation of that rule should be punished. But clearly the outcry against the Patriots is the upsurge of a buried vendetta. Because the Patriots have a “record” (previous offense known as “Spygate) they are vulnerable to accusations, but the accusations are fueled by something more than a call for justice. Wiser pundits say this could be widespread practice and the NFL has not paid enough attention to enforcing its rule.

But the harried opponents, except for the classy Indianapolis Colts, are seizing the moment to zing Belichick and the Patriots as they have been zinged before on the field. And of course, the media has a gift of controversy during the most irrelevant week of the football season and probably every other season. Thus, the piling on, the quest for the fumble, and the filling of the internet vacuum with a story with a rhyming name: “Deflate Gate.”

Off the field, piling on has no limits, but it deserves mention anyway. “Piling on! The team was already down. Fifteen days of leaving the subject alone.”

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