Thursday’s decision by U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman to vacate a four-game suspension imposed on New England Patriots All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady by the National Football League was welcome news for many eastern Maine football fans.
The 40-page ruling said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed out “his own brand of industrial justice” and pointed out a handful of legal deficiencies in the league’s handling of the situation. That included providing no notice of potential penalties and withholding a key witness, among others.
Many eastern Maine Patriots fans were pleased with Thursday’s development.
“I’m pretty surprised,” said University of Maine head football coach Jack Cosgrove. “I’m a Patriots fan, so I’m happy about it.”
Foxcroft Academy football coach Danny White wondered whether the Patriots were looking for a competitive advantage, a ball that was easier to grip and throw, or if they did intentionally try to break the rules.
“Nobody knows how long it had been going on, nobody knows how many other guys like the ball a little softer,” White said.
“I truly believe that there was never any intent to jeopardize the integrity of the game. It was just that they were a little too soft that night and somebody called them on it,” he added.
UMaine senior cornerback Sherrod Baltimore of Washington, D.C., grew up an avid Redskins fan. He believes recent history indicates the Patriots probably were up to no good.
“Come on, bro. It’s just the Patriots. It’s fishy about them. It’s always them,” Baltimore said before praising the efforts of Brady’s legal team. “I’m just tired of it. Let’s play [football].”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the utmost respect for Brady.
“I love Tom Brady. I think he’s the best quarterback ever, and I’m glad to say that because he’s my generation, and I get to experience that,” Baltimore said.
Maine fans agreed with the judge’s position, that the NFL and Goodell meted out punishment beyond the framework of rules established by the league.
“I love the Patriots and Tom Brady, but I certainly think there were a lot of holes in the NFL’s approach,” said Husson University head coach Gabby Price.
Houlton High School football coach Brian Reynolds said he believes many teams manipulate ball pressure and that Brady most likely knew about it. The issue that appears to have irked the NFL was that Brady destroyed a cellphone that might have contained text messages to team employees who were in charge of handling game balls.
“It was an unprecedented suspension,” Reynolds said. “It seemed like due process never really happened. They couldn’t really get him on hard evidence.”
“There were a lot of what-ifs and well maybes and possibly he knew something but he may not have known everything,” concurred veteran official Ralph Damren of Old Town.
Alan Kochis of Brewer, a longtime football official who is the secretary-assigner for the Bangor chapter of the Maine Association of Football Officials, thought the investigation was much ado about nothing and the penalty excessive.
“I thought the whole thing was blown out of proportion to begin with, and I’m not even a Patriots fan,” he said. “I”m a Packers fan, but I thought the four games were a little bit much.”
UMaine junior quarterback Dan Collins is a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan. He respects Brady the player but was a little surprised about the ruling.
“I thought they would suspend him just because the balls were deflated, which everyone knew,” he said. “They had to figure out if it was his fault or not.”
Damren said that the inflation of footballs definitely can be affected by temperature changes.
“When it gets down to 20 degrees I’ve had busses roll in from two-hour trips in high school and you’ll squeeze a football and pull out a gauge, and it’s down to 8 pounds per square inch,” he said. “The coach will swear up and down that they pumped them up before they left the school.”
Given that, and the fact the Patriots dominated the Indianapolis Colts with properly inflated footballs in the second half of the AFC playoff game during which the inflation issue was discovered, many New England fans thought the issue was, well, overblown.
The NFL announced Thursday that it plans to appeal Berman’s decision. Regardless of the final outcome, the Patriots already have paid a hefty price for the scandal that has consumed the last 7½ months.
“The NFL already has gotten [Patriots owner] Robert Kraft’s million dollars [via a fine], so the price of [Gillette] razors will go up a little bit, and the Patriots lost a couple of draft picks, so there was a penalty paid,” Damren concluded.
Rich Kimball has spent countless hours discussing the “Deflategate” scandal on his “Downtown” afternoon show on WZON radio (620 AM). He didn’t hold back when asked for his reaction to Thursday’s news.
“The Brady decision is a victory for common sense,” Kimball said. “The NFL is the most corrupt, mismanaged league in all of pro sports, which is saying something.
“I still think Brady and his boys were bending the rules a little bit, but for a league that tolerates anything just short of murder, it was ludicrous to bring the hammer down on Brady.”
BDN sports reporter Ernie Clark contributed to this report.