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'Deflate-Gate' Is 'Sour Grapes' Or Serious Business, Depending Who You Ask


OK, we're going to try to keep the puns to a minimum, but we couldn't resist this one. The controversy has blown up in the NFL over deflated footballs. Late last night ESPN reported 11 of the 12 footballs available for use by the New England Patriots' offense for last weekend's AFC Championship game were under-inflated, and this could make it easier for the quarterback and receivers to throw and catch, especially in bad weather. It was raining heavily Sunday when the Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 to qualify for the Super Bowl. But what's being called deflate-gate has prompted questions about whether New England cheated. Here are some opinions from Boston.

TONY FIGUREIDO: Sour grapes, that's all it is.

RYAN BURNS: I don't want to believe it, but I mean, they've cheated before so it's definitely possible.

MARK CONOLLY: That, to me, is just ridiculous. I think there's people that are jealous of the Patriots success. People don't want to see you on top too long.

CORNISH: That's Tony Figureido, Ryan Burns and Mark Conolly earlier in Boston today. Joining me now is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

And Tom, give us the latest news.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: We are waiting for the NFL to finish its investigation, Audie. No details yet from the League, which leaves more questions than answers, including were the balls purposefully deflated, and if so, by whom? Now, "ProFootball Talk" reports today that the NFL has determined the balls were properly checked by the officials before the game and found to be properly pumped, meaning if something shady happened, it was after that.

CORNISH: Now, sports media and social media are going bonkers with talk about this. What's the big deal?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter). Good question. It does seem a bit extreme, doesn't it, a firestorm over flat footballs? But, this is a big deal to a lot of people who still look to sport as one of the last institutions in our society where you can find virtue and honesty - although so much bad has happened in sport to seriously challenge that ideal. But, you know, you contrast this alleged dishonesty with the raw moment of the other game Sunday, when Seattle staged that miracle comeback prompting quarterback Russell Wilson to cry openly. You know, in the fans' minds that was real. That's why we turn to sports and pay billions to watch it, not to hear stories of deceit.

CORNISH: Now, if a current NFL investigation shows the Patriots did purposely under-inflate the balls, will people be able to say that New England cheated its way into the Super Bowl?

GOLDMAN: I know you may disagree with this, Audie, but no. The Patriots dominated Indianapolis in all facets of the game, as they've done the past few games against the Colts. And a former NFL official was quoted as saying he'd be surprised after the balls were found to be under-inflated at half time if they weren't pumped back up for the second half, like they're supposed to be.

And in that second half, New England quarterback Tom Brady was 12 for 14, passing for 131 yards. He had two touchdown passes and the Patriots outscored Indianapolis 28-0. Those are very good stats with, we assume, properly inflated footballs. But the story certainly doesn't help New England's reputation. Those who hate the Patriots - and there are many - already think the team cheats, after the 2007 spy-gate scandal when the team and head coach Bill Belichick were punished for illegally videotaping an opponent's defensive signals during a game. And if the current investigation shows shenanigans again by the Patriots, that just further taints what has been really the closest thing to a dynasty in the last 10 to 15 years in the NFL.

CORNISH: That's NPR's sports correspondent, Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.