You gotta have balls to play in the NFL

  In the past few days, we’ve learned more about balls than we ever wanted to know.

In the past few days, we’ve learned more about balls than we ever wanted to know.

Goodness, we’ve certainly learned a lot about balls these past few days.

We’ve learned that there are squishy balls and hard balls. We’ve learned that there are balls that are mysteriously underinflated and balls that are purposely overinflated in an attempt to sneak one by the refs.

We’ve learned who has possession of the balls. But what we haven’t learned is who might’ve touched the balls while those who have them weren’t looking.

Whoever it was, it wasn’t Bill Belly-check and Tommy Brady. We know it wasn’t them, because they told us so in a press conference that needn’t wait for a “SNL” parody. It was a “Saturday Night Live” skit unto itself, right down to the bad hairstyles (Belly-check) and even more egregious hats (Tommy).

In a world in which the NFL has been in deep denial of its three Ds – dementia, domestic violence and drugs – the continuing saga of the deflated balls that the New England Patriots used in its winning A.F.C. Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts seems a thin story line. Except for the fact that the story line keeps circling back to its deniers, suggests Tim Hasselbeck, a former NFL quarterback who was a Patriots’ ball boy during high school:

“The balls were evaluated at halftime and the only reason you do that is there is some concern,” Hasselbeck told The Times. “If the balls were O.K. before the game but not by halftime, and it was only New England’s balls that were suspect, then obviously something happened to the balls between the initial inspection and the second half….

“Unfortunately for New England, this is heading in a bad direction. There’s no reason why a ball boy would take air out of a football unless the quarterback wanted it that way.”

Pats’ defenders point to their team kicking butt in the second half of the game with the Colts when the balls were properly inflated as proof that their guys didn’t cheat. But that actually proves nothing, because the balls were clearly deflated at the start of the game, making them easier to grip, by Brady’s own admission, on a raw night when neither he nor anyone else could’ve ensured that his team would be dominating as it headed into halftime. See the problem? It’s not about what New England did in the third or fourth quarters. It’s about what NE might’ve been worried about in the first and second quarters.

The only thing that’s certain is this: Forget heart.

You gotta have balls to play in the NFL.