(Photo courtesy of New England Patriots)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
So now what? What does the NFL do with Tom Brady, and how significantly will his legacy be damaged?
Answer: The legacy takes a bigger hit than Brady.
After winning his fourth Super Bowl by leading New England to a fourth-quarter comeback over defending champion Seattle, Brady was hailed by some as the greatest quarterback ever. If nothing else, he was on most experts' Mt. Rushmore of quarterbacks, right alongside … or ahead … of San Francisco’s Joe Montana.
But when we asked Hall-of-Famer Charles Haley to compare the two on a Talk of Fame Network broadcast, he stopped us – saying there was no comparison. Montana was the only choice.
“Joe didn’t have to cheat,” said Haley. “I’ve lost all respect for Brady. When your integrity is challenged in the game of football, to me, all his Super Bowls are tainted.”
Nobody knows that, of course, including Haley. But Wednesday’s report reinforces that opinion in the eyes of skeptics. With the Patriots penalized for the 2007 “Spygate” and Wells’ report suggesting Brady was complicit in underinflating footballs in the 2014 playoffs, a jaded public will associate the franchise with cheating – whether owner Bob Kraft admits it or not.
No, the Wells report didn’t reveal anything conclusive. And while it suggested … and that’s the key word here … that Brady and the Patriots look guilty, it couched its findings in lawyer-speak – saying it’s “more probable than not” the Patriots are guilty and “more probable than not” that Brady was “generally aware” of what happened.
Excuse me … what?
They’re either guilty, or they’re not. Brady either knew, or he did not. And because nothing conclusive was determined, my guess is that Brady is penalized with a substantial fine, not a suspension.
Look, let’s be honest here. Tom Brady is one of the faces of the NFL, as well as one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game. The NFL is not interested in tearing down one of its most accomplished players when it has nothing definitive as evidence.
But that’s where Brady’s image takes a hit. The report says that Brady did not completely cooperate with the investigation, refusing to turn over emails, text messages and other electronic communications requested by Wells … and that’s not good, people. I mean, if you have nothing to hide, then why hide it?
Maybe that’s why Kraft three months ago was so sure the league wouldn’t find “definitive proof” the Patriots … and his quarterback … did anything wrong. And the league didn’t. But it told us it believes he broke the rules when he said he did not.
“Yeah, so what?” some say. “Others do it.” Well, A) I’m not sure others do, and B) it doesn’t matter if they do or not. One guy got caught. And that guy must suffer the consequences. And that impact will be felt by Brady’s legacy, with “Spygate” and “Deflategate” included in every story written about his NFL career.
Brady escaped generally unscathed in “Spygate,” but “DeflateGate” is different. Unlike the 2007 incident where coach Bill Belichick was punished, this time it’s Brady who’s front and center in an investigation that involved the under-inflation of 11 of 12 balls used in the 2014 AFC championship game vs. Indianapolis.
“I feel like I have always played within the rules,” Brady said earlier this year. “I would never break the rules.”
Well, Ted Wells just said he thinks he did. Yeah, I know, he’s not certain. But he thinks it’s “more probable than not” that he did.
So does this episode affect Brady’s chances of entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame? No, it does not. Does it change his reputation as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time? Please. But will it change the way he's viewed by the public? Absolutely. Look, maybe this becomes nothing more than a footnote 10 years from now, but the fact is: It does tarnish Tom Brady’s All-American image.
"It doesn't matter," said Fox Sports' John Czarnecki, one of 46 Hall-of-Fame selectors I contacted. "Quarterbacks have been tinkering with the footballs throughout history. And the NFL is partly to blame because of its continued emphasis on passing offenses and increased scoring. In fact, all quarterbacks should be allowed to play with footballs they are comfortable with and (that) don't fall out of their hands."
Said another selector: “This makes no difference on my opinion of Tom Brady as a no-brainer Hall of Famer. For me, the commotion hyped as ‘Deflategate’ does impact my consideration of a Hall-of-Fame prospect, however. It is yet another unnecessary and over-hyped airing of meaningless dirty laundry – complete with measured leaks to specific media – in some misguided attempt to show that this NFL administration is cleaning up a dirty game.”
Maybe. But it linked Tom Brady to wrongdoing, and while that won’t affect his career or his accomplishments, it will affect the public’s perception of him – and that will affect his legacy.