The real hero of Deflategate isn’t Tom Brady, Tom Brady’s million dollar smile and billion dolllar suit when walking into court, Jeffrey Kessler, or Judge Berman — even if he sides with Team Good, not Team Goodell. The real hero of Deflategate is Malcolm Butler.
Lemme ask you a scary hypothetical: How much more would Deflategate hurt if The Seattle Seahawks had won the Super Bowl?
I can’t fathom the pain in that scenario, given how serious this ordeal already feels to all of us Boston sports fans. The rest of the country can’t understand why this is such a big deal to us, especially when everyone knows in their hearts that the Pats will be in the playoffs again with a pissed off Brady ripping his opponents to shreds. Even players like Darrelle Revis think that Brady should just take the punishment. But in New England, we can’t understand why the rest of the country doesn’t get why this is such a big deal. We can’t understand why our friends from other places are still saying things like, “But Brady destroyed his cell phone” or “11 out of 12 being deflated definitely means something” We respond with, “Brady just changed his cell phone from a Samsung Galaxy to an iPhone just like almost everyone else in America, and the idea that he destroyed his cell phone is pure NFL spin,” and we respond with “Haven’t you been following at all??? Chris Mortensen’s original report was deemed false and now he’s still in the process of burying his career by defending himself when there’s nothing to defend.” This feels personal to us, and we don’t get why the rest of America isn’t as knowledgeable of the facts as we are.
So that’s how serious this is for us… so imagine if it felt all the more daunting because the Patriots had just lost their third straight Super Bowl because of a final drive that involved a miraculous deep catch that never should happen.
For 9 seasons after the 2004 season, we were always thinking, “Damn, should have been ours, but whatever, they have a great chance next year.” By the time the 2010s rolled around, it was getting harder to think that. After Brady had gone down with a torn ACL and then the 2009 team was the least mentally tough Belichick Pats team ever, Brady was a 33 year old QB in 2010, and the team was full of scrubs that we all knew deep down couldn’t play NFL football like Jonathan Wilhite, Darius Butler, Jermaine Cunningham, and James Ihedigbo. Then Brady lit the world on fire in 2010 and the offense looked like it did in 2007, only to be upset by the lowly Jets in Foxboro. Two straight playoff losses in Foxboro when that had never happened before. Then 2011, the Giants… I wasn’t even mad over that one.. . it just hurt. It just hurt that it was the exact same team during the Pats’ chance for redemption. In 2012, the BB restructured Brady’s contract to save over $6 million in 2012 and push it later, which suggested that the team was going for it all in 2012. And it was all about to break right, until the Ravens upset the Patriots, who probably would have beaten the 49ers in the Super Bowl 2 weeks later, for the 3rd postseason loss in Foxboro in the last 6 January games played in the House That Brady Built. Then 2013: injuries were too much for a Pats team that was only a contender because of Grit and Balls, much like the 2012 Celtics team.
Then 2014 came around, and the Pats somehow stole the man who once called Bill Belichick a “jerk,” and Randy Moss a “Slouch,” the best cornerback in the league, because he wanted to win for less money. Brandon Browner also came along, and Gronk appeared to be healthy. Instantly, 2014 became The Patriots team that was supposed to win the Super Bowl — the team with the best chance since the 2007 team. And we all know about the rough start that had idiots proclaiming that Brady might be done, but the team righted the ship and looked like the Patriots that we were expecting in the Springtime. There was one major bump on the road to Arizona, the two 14 point deficits to Baltimore, but Brady and co. overcame them with a clutch playoff performance that reminded us of the Super Bowl years more than any game since then. On to the Valley of the Sun.
Brady led the team back from a 10 point deficit to give them the lead with 2:02 to go, but here came the Seahawks. Bill Belichick had coached this unheard of rookie perfectly, and Malcolm Butler deflected away a 33 yard pass from Jermaine Kearse. But then it fell into his hands because the football gods just don’t want Brady and Belichick to get another one. We were watching it all slip away. There were so many free agents upcoming — we knew the Pats were about to lose Revis, probably Vereen after his Super Bowl performance, maybe Ridley, maybe McCourty, and maybe Browner if his option wasn’t picked up (it wasn’t). This was the team that was supposed to do it, and it was being ripped away from our hearts yet again. On top of all that, the best coach ever wasn’t calling a timeout for some reason, essentially taking away the last hope for a Super Bowl 49 win from the best quarterback of all time, who could have had about 50 seconds and 1 timeout to get a field goal. Brady wasn’t getting the chance that he needed, and he may have never had a chance to win another Super Bowl again.
How scary is that picture? And when you put yourself in that mindset, how much would Deflategate have hurt with that Super Bowl loss as the backdrop? We would feel that yet another stupid, unfair outside force had ripped away the Pats’ chances at that coveted 4th ring. Maybe the worst commissioner of all time decided to take out the Pats for no reason.
See, now we think of Deflategate, even if Brady’s suspension is upheld, as a dumb and incredibly unfair hindrance to the season. It might cost the Pats the 1 seed to the Colts, but it’ll also make it easier for the Pats to be pissed off going to Indianapolis in January en route to Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco. I don’t think we could view it like that if Malcolm Butler hadn’t jumped the route. The hangover of that loss would have been devastating, and even if the Patriots are the most mentally tough team ever and way tougher than the fans are, some of that hangover easily could have affected the team too. Deflategate would have beaten them down a little bit as well and put more of a dent in their already dented confidence that the team could finally win a 4th. Now, it’s a rallying cry. Then, it would have been a mental obstacle.
Malcolm Butler is the real hero of Deflategate, because he picked off a ball that he had no right to pick off. Pete Carroll went after him the same way that Brady went after Tharold Simon all night, but the Pats’ depth CB delivered while the Seahawks’ depth CB got lit up like a Christmas tree. And yes, I know I’m oversimplifying a ton by saying that Butler was the hero when all 53 guys and all the coaches were a part of it, but the point of all this is that it came down to one play, and that one play dramatically altered the way we view the witch hunt that is Deflategate.