Deflate Yo Ballz, Son

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It’s never the dirty hit from a lumbering defensive lineman or an oil slick of pine tar that wins the game, cheap heat moves like that always cost you.

It’s the well placed eye gouge when the referee is looking the other way or the delicate (alleged[?]) deflation of nearly a dozen footballs by a team with a penchant for bending the rules to their breaking point (and worrying about the consequences later) that stand out as perfect act of cheating (at least until they get caught.) But the fervor over #DeflateGate -- from Mark Brunell nearly crying on national television to Ravens defensive ends calling the allegation as bad as PEDs, and without even starting in on the American obsession with attaching the suffix “-gate” to every controversy -- is anything but perfect.

This is largely a function of the way we, as a sporting culture, interact with cheating. And North American wrestling companies, not surprisingly, show us a bit of ourselves without even realizing it: Their continued use of the tired formula of “referee distracted by Distraction W, allowing Wrestler X to hit Wrestler Y with Object Z (usually in, coincidentally, the "balls" as it were)”* as a way to end matches has forced both announcers and fans alike to treat the more subtle, artistic parts of cheating -- the aforementioned eye gouges, the pulled tights, the leverage pins -- with the same broad brush strokes. 

This bludgeon of a trope, like steroids has been part of major push by those in charge to simplify thing, but has mostly just meant that those more subtle parts of cheating -- the kind that could charitably be called “gamesmanship”  -- have been lumped in with the big picture ideas of cheating. As sports fans, we have become so trained to look for cheating on a grand scale (because of steroids and, more directly, the 24-hour news cycle) that we’ve lost all perspective on the kind of cheating that “matters”. Or even why we try to prohibit certain things in the first place.

Which is to say, we live in a world where the Packers’** Aaron Rodgers publicly admits to testing the boundaries of the very same rule -- just on the opposite of the PSI spectrum, because his hands are apparently the size of Andre the Giant’s. And where another Super Bowl-winning QB (Tampa’s Brad Johnson) made claims several years ago that he paid (read: bribed) those with access $7500 to have the 100 balls used in Super Bowl XXXVII against the Raiders deflated before kickoff.

So getting mad at the Patriots for this same indiscretion -- especially in a game they won by 38 points -- feels more like nailing Al Capone for tax fraud than finding out that Richard Nixon hired people to break into a hotel to spy on his opponents. At least #DeflateGate reinforced another valuable lesson for people who like a little more entertainment in their sport: sometimes, even the best acts need to be reestablished.

The Patriots have been the NFL’s top heels for over a decade, a role that they’ve filled masterfully thanks to Belichick’s role as Bobby Heenan to Brady’s Nick Bockwinkel. But Spygate was a long time ago, and “stealing signs” during a game is a hard sell to fans as despicable. In a sick way the Patriots needed this. They needed to remind the football world that they were not only good but also filled with the wicked desperation that drives people to the well of questionable advantages.

What makes it at least the slight bit odd, however, is the role Tom Brady plays in all of this. While he’s never been the kind of “Aw, shucks” football playing automaton that Peyton Manning is (was?), he’s long held the title Captain Handsome of the All-American boys brigade. But like 15-time WWE champion John Cena -- who has stood for hustle, loyalty, and respect, for what’s felt like a decade, despite seemingly not being clear on what that means anymore -- over the past year, Brady had felt listless for much of the season, especially in the time before his fledgling offensive line began to gel after a shellacking in Kansas City. Both seemed to believe in qualities that certainly sound admirable, but the kind of admirable that gets you the A+ in gym class.

As has been the case with the Massachusetts-born Cena, who most fans believe either needs to “turn heel” or do something stupendously kind, selfless, and heroic to remind people why he’s a once in a lifetime babyface (aside from the fact that he sells t-shirts to children,) Brady needed to reclaim an identity. And much like Cena’s current program with the Authority seem designed to make him look good at some point -- while, in the interim he looks like the same smiling, undefined wrestler he’s been for years -- Brady needed to look like something other than just “precision-jawed”. The dueling banjos heel promos masquerading as press conferences that he and Bill Belichick had with the feigned befuddlement of “Who’s ever heard of somebody doing that?” as their overriding theme gave him that opportunity.

But for those who say Deflategate is “ruining the Superbowl,” pshaw! There is still more than a week left for America to remember it has a sacred cow to worship. The genuine fear around the country that cheaters might prosper in the big game demonstrates that mainstream sports fans, unlike wrestling fans, often lack the self-awareness to understand when there’s a really hot angle going on. If only wrestling promoters, who have the power to contrive such things, could take a page from the Patriot playbook and remind people just who they’re messing with.

***

*Which is essentially the equivalent of Tom Brady jumping onto the field during a defensive series, running through both lines, and punching Andrew Luck in the genitals just as he’s about to snap the ball. Such actions might lead a certain type of person (us) to ask a particular question: So what if the referee didn’t see it in the heat of the moment – it was on national TV, and he punched a man in the genitals! But we digress.

**Who, coincidentally, would have played the Patriots this week if not the Daniel Bryan-esque comeback by Seattle last Sunday.

Dave Gibb is a writer, wrestling blogger, sports fan and occasional decent human being who tweets @DaveWritesJunk and writes about wrestling at 500onWrestling.

Nick Bond is an Editor of Some Kind at The Classical. He tweets using his third-person self -appointed nickname from high school because he lacks the ability to process shame.

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