When non-Patriots fans shrug at #DeflateGate, the best response is this: Your team could be the next one in the crosshairs of an arbitrary, results-oriented NFL prosecution. One fan base doesn’t need to hear that.
Saints fans know how the NFL can, if it chooses, take a potentially widespread and longstanding cultural reality, focus narrowly on the team that was unfortunate enough to be caught doing it, and make an example out of the team irrespective of logic or common sense.
The recent remarks from ESPN’s Danny Kanell highlight the biggest problem with the entire Bountygate effort. Football players already have a clear incentive to sideline their opponents.
The incentive becomes even stronger when the opponent is a quarterback and when the prize is a trip to the Super Bowl. Thanks to Bountygate and the NFL’s newfound sensitivity to player health and safety (which was one of the main reasons Bountygate even happened), it’s now shocking to hear someone say what has always been presumed: If you can use physicality, within or even beyond the boundaries of the rules, to intimidate or incapacitate an opponent, you should.
Kanell realized that he needed to expressly limit his remarks to the intimidation aspect. Even that is provoking a strong reaction. Ten years ago, it wouldn’t have — even if he’d added in the notion of knocking Brady out of the game.
While it’s no longer kosher to say it out loud, football players (especially at the NFL level) know it. When chasing the ultimate prize, eliminating key members of the other team from the chase helps. Thanks to Bountygate and the concussion crisis, folks get squeamish when someone admits it. The mindset nevertheless lingers, mostly unspoken but undeniably present.
Which is why the entire premise of Bountygate was flawed. With the franchise’s first Super Bowl berth on the line, along with the increased playoff share and a shot at a ring, of course the Saints had every reason to bruise and batter Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, with legal or illegal hits. The Broncos have that same incentive as to Tom Brady. The Patriots have an equal incentive as to Peyton Manning.
The same applies for the Cardinals and Cam Newton, and the Panthers and Carson Palmer. Nearly four years after Bountygate, it rarely gets acknowledged. It’s still present, especially as quarterback play continues to become more and more important to a team’s overall success.