Sports

John McGrath: Tom Brady’s bunch learns when you break a rule, you pay the price

Tom Brady got what he deserved.

He broke a rule, refused to cooperate with the investigation that erased any reasonable doubt about his complicity in breaking the rule, then doubled down on his mistake by feigning innocence. This is another way of saying one of the most envied men in America lied through his perfectly shaped white teeth.

And while the penalty the NFL announced Tuesday appears to be an absurd overreaction — a four-game suspension for the quarterback, forfeiture of first and fourth-round draft choices for the New England Patriots plus fines — it’s difficult to deny he cheated, and chose to be dishonest when his cheating was exposed.

Brady brought all this on himself, but he was done no favors by Don Yee, the agent he employs for, among other things, crisis management. Yee’s advice to Brady should have been simple: Admit you broke a rule, show appropriate contrition, and then go to work on informing the public about how the rule you broke is a ridiculous, outdated rule at odds with the evolution of the modern NFL.

Some history: The forward pass wasn’t permitted in college games until 1906, 13 years before the birth of organized pro football. At first, most coaches saw the pass as a novelty posing risks far more substantial than its benefits. An incomplete pass translated into a 15-yard penalty. An incomplete pass that wasn’t touched by a defender translated into a turnover.

As those draconian measures gradually were eased over time, the ball took a different shape: Once resembling something carried in a rugby scrum, footballs were redesigned into prolate spheroids that are easier to throw.

The NFL, which does nothing better than understand its market, realized fans enjoy games with 28-27 final scores featuring 500 combined passing yards more than they enjoy games with 6-3 final scores featuring 100 combined passing yards, so rules were further liberalized to favor offenses.

Television ratings skyrocketed. Advertisers love healthy television ratings, the NFL loves advertisers, and it was inevitable that when Brady and Peyton Manning asked the league’s competition committee to consider still another rule change, in 2006, the league capitulated to two of its most accomplished quarterbacks.

Instead of using a standard football for both teams on game days, Brady and Manning wanted to use a ball with which they were familiar. The NFL’s response to the request was “uh, whatever.”

Permitting star quarterbacks to throw footballs tailor-made for an optimum grip: Gee, what could go wrong?

What went wrong, of course, was Brady’s belief his optimum grip is achieved with footballs that don’t conform to league rules requiring a minimum of 12.5 pounds of pressure per square inch.

You don’t have to be a scientist to understand why Brady prefers to throw a deflated football. Some of us who practiced dunking through 7-foot high rims as kids — thank you, unsuspecting neighbor across the street, for not putting a fence in front of your driveway — couldn’t have dunked the ball unless it was deflated.

Since 1906, every football rule regarding passing has been softened and sweetened to encourage, well, more passing. Aside from defensive ends who decry how quarterbacks are pampered, and cornerbacks and safeties frustrated by seemingly arbitrary flags dropped for pass interference, and salty linebackers just sort of mad at the world in general, rule changes implemented to favor the offense have been embraced.

Fans dig the long ball, but also appreciate the successfully executed bubble screen and intermediate fade route. Fans are why the NFL morphed into a passing-fancy league. Throwing the ball on, say, a third-down-and-two once was thought to be crazy. These days, third-and-2 often finds a quarterback taking a shotgun snap out of an empty backfield.

Football fans spoke, the NFL listened, and rules were adjusted.

So why is there a rule prohibiting Brady, or any other quarterback, from using a football to his liking? What is sacred about putting the minimum inflation of a ball at 12.5 pounds of pressure per square inch?

If rules were sacred, footballs would be shaped as orbs, an incomplete pass would count as a 15-yard penalty, and the NFL is a semi-pro league with the cult popularity of a local rock band destined to remain a local rock band.

Brady broke a rule, and rather than own up to breaking the rule, he took a defiantly smug stance that forever will haunt him. The consequences of taking that stance turned out to be harsh to the point of unfair, but I’m not buying any nonsense of Tom Brady as victim.

His participation in a “scandal” is more like a lesson: You violate the a rule, you pay a price. And when you deny violating the rule, you lose the chance to explain how the rule represents the essence of backward-thinking stupidity.

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