Deflategate – of waistlines, frown lines and men

Tom Brady taking the field against the Denver Broncos, Dec. 18, 2011. Photograph by Jeffrey Beall.

Tom Brady taking the field against the Denver Broncos, Dec. 18, 2011. Photograph by Jeffrey Beall.

Deflategate gets curiouser and curiouser and curiouser. Now the New England Patriots would have you believe that it wasn’t about deflated balls but inflated bladders and waistlines

In an attempt to seize control of the narrative, the Pats now contend that the time equipment manager Jim McNally spent in the bathroom before the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts wasn’t about emptying balls of their air but emptying his bladder. And his “Deflator” nickname referred to his trying to lose weight.

You know that when men start talking about their waistlines and their bladders it’s a sure sign they’re desperate.

I think, in the end, however, that we shall discover that this is less a story about waistlines than frown lines and perhaps being a step slower and seeing the young guns who idolize you making their way up the ranks, standing across the field where you once were.

Tom Brady has it all except for one thing – youth. Turning 38 on Aug. 3, he’s actually a middle-aged man. (The life expectancy for an American man is 76.4 years. What’s two times 38? Oh.)

So time is not on his side. Time is the great enemy of a culture that worships youth in part because it fears death.

And time weighs particularly heavily in the NFL – or Not For Long, as some wags call it. It was a theme of Mark Leibovich’s New York Times Magazine valentine to Brady, which nonetheless cast this shadow:

“I put the ‘ending badly’ question to Brady’s actual father. Unburdened by diplomacy or loyalty to anyone but his son, the original Tom Brady did not hesitate. ‘It will end badly,’ he said. ‘It does end badly. And I know that because I know what Tommy wants to do. He wants to play till he’s 70.” He noted the drafting of (backup Jimmy) Garoppolo and said the Patriots smartly didn’t want to be ‘caught with their pants down,’ as the Colts were when Peyton Manning was injured a few years ago. ‘It’s a cold business,’ the senior Brady said. ‘And for as much as you want it to be familial, it isn’t.’”

Now Roger Goodell, the commish who’s made such a muddle of things all year, is set to hear Brady’s appeal. If it’s denied, Garoppolo, the 23-year-old cast in Brady’s image, will play the first four games of the regular season with Brady set to return, perhaps not so ironically, against the Colts and Andrew Luck, the man who succeeded Peyton Manning.

Just as Colin Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith on the San Francisco 49ears. And Aaron Rodgers succeeded Brett Favre on the Green Bay Packers. And Steve Young succeeded Joe Montana on the Niners. No one’s indispensable.

Maybe Garoppolo will be good and ultimately stay. Perhaps Brady’s “sentence” will be reduced. Deflategate is a farce, everyone says, small potatoes in the life-and-death struggle of the world.

Except that it’s also about cheating and reputation. When viewed that way, it’s no small matter, after all.