(ESPN) The NFL has zeroed in on a New England Patriots locker room attendant who allegedly took the AFC Championship Game balls from the officials' locker room to another area on the way to the field, Fox Sports reported, citing sources.
According to Fox Sports, the league has interviewed him and has video.
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So let's review.
1) The most controlling and successful coach in the modern history of the NFL pays no attention to the equipment, and would never hurt the integrity of the game by cheating. In this way, as opposed to other ways.
2) A tremendously cerebral and exacting QB, with a competitive nature that seems to grow more dramatic each year (especially with cameras on him), won't notice when the feel of the football changes, assuming this wasn't something he was, in fact, OK with.
3) A franchise that has cheated before, and gotten a slap on the wrist for it (at least in comparison to, say, the Saints), would never cheat again. Especially with the same ownership and management.
4) The team has a rate of fumble recovery and prevention that borders on statistical impossibility, and hasn't been matched by any other team. They're just better coached and luckier, because God loves them, or something. Has nothing to do with game equipment that's easier for their offensive players to handle, as opposed to what the opposition is playing with.
5) After a week or Story Not Going Away and Patriot personnel engaging in bizarre and damaging press appearances over the issue... mostly because, well, the fact that the damn balls were tampered with is beyond reproach...
6) The entire thing can be boiled down to a single locker room attendant. Presumably acting alone, without ever meeting anyone of substance in the Patriot organization. (Or the CIA, or the Mafia, or the Cubans. We're through the looking glass here, people.)
Now, I get that people are tired of hearing about this. I get that it's a hard burden of proof that ball inflation would have been enough of a factor to swing any event in the AFC so that any other team in 2015 goes to Glendale.
But that's really not the point, and hasn't been all along.
The point is that the dirtiest franchise in the game... has been caught again, and will wind up scapegoating some nobody, paying some fine, and proceeding as if nothing has changed.
Also, the Bill Cosby Rule is in effect here, folks. Which is to say that when you catch the scumbag doing the scumbag thing, you can pretty much assume this isn't the one and only time it occurred. (And, well, the fumble rates are kind of a smoking gun, right?)
Anyway, back to the real problem with the entire imbroglio.
New England was caught, and won't be punished in any meaningful way. There's no feasible way to do anything before the game. What will be done after the game will be the firing of some scapegoat attendant.
After all, they are the Patriots, on the short list of NFL Preferred Franchises, lauded by every media organization and telecast on the planet.
What do the facts matter, in the face of all that?
And how dumb are the rest of us, really, to keep watching a league that's run this way?