"History is written by the victors." -- Famous saying
Maybe that's true with world wars and such, but not when it comes to something as important as the pounds per square inch of air pressure in a pigskin.
What does Tom Brady's future hold in the wake of this latest scandal? Let's consider the possible consequences with a little Reckless Shekulation:
The legacies of Tom Brady and the Pats will take a hit.
At times like this, people (who root for teams/players other than whoever's under fire) ascend Mt. Pious to demand "justice." In the case of the New England Patriots and their deflated footballs, the NFL handed down a four-game suspension to Tom Brady, fined New England $1 million and docked the team two draft picks -- including a first-round selection in 2016. Now, Tom Brady, the Pats and their fans are reflexively, hysterically (the team says Jim McNally referred to himself as the "deflator" because he was trying to lose weight?) attempting to combat the penalties and restore their honor.
How do I know? Barry Bonds is Major League Baseball's all-time home-run king, and Pete Rose is the all-time hit king -- and neither scandal-plagued player is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, a fact that allows those residents of Mt. Pious to bask in the glow of their self-righteousness. Even if Bonds and Rose were in the Hall, of course, it wouldn't erase the self-inflicted stink they carry ... no amount of industrial-strength soap or tomato-juice baths could do that. Not now, not in 100 years. The penalty for getting caught is intrinsic. It's like a face tattoo.
The New England Patriots have won four Lombardi Trophies this century. Tom Brady was the MVP in three of those Super Bowl wins. A century from now, though, our football-loving descendants won't compare Bill Belichick's Pats to Chuck Noll's Steelers, Jimmy Johnson's (and/or Tom Landry's) Cowboys or Bill Walsh's Niners as much as they'll mention New England in the same breath as the 1919 Chicago White Sox. Nearly a century after that team's scandalous activities were exposed, what is the former juggernaut's enduring legacy? What do you think of when you hear the similarly besmirched names of Jim Boeheim, SMU football or Paul Crewe?
The Wally Pipp-er becomes the Wally Pipp-ed.
Wally Pipp was Drew Bledsoe before Drew Bledsoe. More specifically, Pipp was the New York Yankees first baseman who -- roughly six years after members of the "Black Sox" conspired to throw the 1919 World Series, incidentally -- took a game off because of a headache and never got his gig back, thanks to his fill-in, all-time great Lou Gehrig. Three-quarters of a century later, Patriots quarterback Bledsoe sat down with a chest injury for what he likely figured would be just a few weeks. His backup, a second-year pro from Michigan named Tom Brady, figured differently.
Thirteen years after finishing that 2001 season atop the football mountain, Brady is set to involuntarily take some time away. In all likelihood, he's going to come back with a gigantic chip on his shoulder and a fire in his belly ... but it's certainly not a given. Or, at least, it shouldn't be viewed as one.
Listen, it's not like I'm saying Tom Brady has played his last NFL game. But it's not impossible to conceive of a scenario in which he's squeezed out in 2015 -- a scenario that makes a bit more sense when you consider a few factors. They say football is a game of inches, but with regard to Deflategate, it's become a game of pounds-per-square-inch. So let's assess a few items, pseudo-scientifically, point-by-point:
1) Garoppolo could be great: I know it's laughable to suggest a second-year pro -- sound familiar? -- from Eastern Illinois could even be in the same area code (508), talent-wise, as one of the best quarterbacks of the Super Bowl era. But we shouldn't forget that Jimmy Garoppolo was a second-round pick. By definition, then, he entered the league with a better pedigree than Brady had when he was drafted back in 2000. (You've heard Tom was a sixth-round pick, yes?)
2) Brady's troubling numbers: Last time we saw Brady on the field, he was playing hero in what might have been the defining quarter of his career, leading the Patriots back from a 10-point deficit against the generation's toughest D in the sport's biggest game ... and he did it with properly inflated footballs. But some of Brady's numbers over the past few seasons indicate regression.
Over the past two seasons, Brady has averaged 6.99 yards per attempt -- 25th in the NFL among quarterbacks to attempt 300 passes or more over that span. Some notable names above him on the list include Mark Sanchez (7.83), Ryan Fitzpatrick (7.46), Josh McCown (7.32) and Kirk Cousins (7.14). Insignificant? In the three seasons prior (from 2010 to 2012) Brady averaged 8.02 yards per attempt, third in the NFL, behind only Aaron Rodgers (8.41) and Robert Griffin III (8.14).
Brady's also been losing accuracy on deep passes. In 2010, he completed 35.6 percent of pass attempts of 20 yards or more -- and that number has dropped every year since, bottoming out at 25 percent in 2014. Of the 23 quarterbacks to attempt 50-plus throws of at least 20 yards downfield, only Derek Carr (24.2 percent) had a worse completion percentage than Brady last season. Meanwhile, one of Brady's contemporaries (Peyton Manning completed 45.1 percent) ranked as the second-most accurate (see the table below).
Pats fans will scoff at the stats, and maybe they're justified in doing so. After all, the success Brady had in January and early February trump some random numbers -- which, it could be fairly suggested, were cherry-picked for the sake of making a point. But going into what will be his age-38 season, Brady is probably lucid enough to see his near-future in the persons of Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant. A chip on the shoulder gets tougher to carry when those old-man injuries inevitably start piling up.
3) No roster spot is ironclad:Brady is a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer. But that hardly guarantees he can't be replaced by his backup. Not unlike Gehrig, a lot of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks started their careers when the incumbent sat down for what was supposed to be a short spell. What if Brady's suspension is fully upheld and Garoppolo goes 4-0 to start the season -- while throwing for 350 yards and four touchdowns per game? Probably nothing happens. Probably. But if Joe Montana can be replaced (albeit by another future Hall of Famer), so can Brady.
4) Belichick has a history:This isn't Brady's unilateral decision. As you may have noticed, the team's head coach has made some unorthodox personnel calls over the years. There are no sacred cows in Foxborough. Belichick let Willie McGinest and Wes Welker walk away. He released Vince Wilfork and Adam Vinatieri. He traded Logan Mankins, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel and Deion Branch. And most relevant to Brady, Belichick has shown he's willing to leave a highly paid, highly productive QB on the bench. Remember the aforementioned 2001 season? Bledsoe relieved the mildly-injured Brady in the AFC title game and led the team to victory. Belichick nonetheless started Brady in the ensuing Super Bowl. (It worked.) Bottom line is, there's precedent.
5) The AFC East is going to look a lot different than its previous recent, softer incarnations: While New England lost some key pieces on defense, the Dolphins, Bills and Jets have spent the last few months loading up on that side of the ball. One thing that remains the same: Former Jets coach and current Bills head man Rex Ryan -- who's shown at least an occasional ability to be Coaching Kryptonite to the New England offense -- will still get two cracks at the Pats, and with more defensive talent than he's ever had before. Perhaps Brady has some Kenny Rogers in him; with everyone else in the AFC East holding better hands, maybe he'll fold it up and walk away.
The Tom Brady era comes to a premature end?
Remember last September, when Gronk was playing at less than 100 percent? The once-powerful Patriots offense looked, well, positively deflated, and most of Football America attempted to bury Brady alive. Like Beatrix Kiddo, he refused with extreme prejudice, just as he and his team did back in 2007, on the heels of the Spygate scandal. Now he's facing another battle against a widespread perception -- that he needs a deflated football to succeed. Maybe this time, he'll ultimately decide it's just not worth the trouble.
Just because Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali and Wayne Gretzky refused to go out when they were at or near the height of their powers doesn't mean Brady has to follow their lead. Just because Peyton and Kobe appear willing to bang their heads against the wall to prove something to themselves and/or the world doesn't mean Brady has to. Yes, Brady still seems to be in fight mode, given that he appealed his suspension Thursday. But maybe in the next few months he'll come to see the virtue of riding off into the sunset -- or jumping off a cliff into the blue sea -- instead of engaging in an unwinnable war.