PRESTON: 'Deflategate' not about who snitched, it's about who cheated


Deflategate isn't really about underinflated footballs.

It's about "Spygate," opposing assistant coach phones that mysteriously stop working and oversaturated fields. It's about NFL teams going to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., having to hold their hands over their back pockets to make sure no one steals their wallets.

And maybe most of all, "Deflategate" is about the arrogant New England Patriots and their cocky owner, head coach and Golden Boy quarterback snubbing their noses at the rest of the league for years.

That's the point, not who lied and who didn't or some alleged conspiracy between the Indianapolis Colts and Ravens to take down the Patriots. "Deflategate" isn't about who snitched, it's about who cheated.

It's about the Patriots.

If quarterback Tom Brady had simply said he liked his footballs with a little less air, but didn't know the rules, NFL officials probably would have fined him $25,000 and "Deflategate" would be over.

Instead, Brady has denied any participation in deflating balls in the AFC championship game against the Colts and is headed to court to face the NFL. Few in the league are crying for the Patriots or Brady.

But now we're treating this like Benghazi, as if the Ravens had their own coverup. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was adamant again Wednesday in his team's denial that the Ravens had tipped off the Colts about Patriots game balls, and said the only conversations between his team and the Colts were about kicking balls and a special teams play.

Ravens put on defensive: Harbaugh acknowledged for the first time that a team consultant had contacted the Colts about kicking balls. That was new.

But how about letting this situation play out where either the league or Brady reach a settlement, or a final verdict is reached in court?

The Ravens were put on the defensive Wednesday because some will call them sore losers, and Harbaugh's integrity is being challenged.

It's naive to think that any head coach or manager doesn't lie. It's part of the job description. They lie about injuries or to cover up for a player who isn't playing well. They won't say they were forced to hire an assistant when they were, or when they resigned under pressure.

But after watching and interviewing Harbaugh at a news conference after practice Thursday, it didn't look or sound like he was trying to cover up what happened or was in cahoots with the Colts. He was confident but not cocky. He didn't mince or stumble over words, and repeatedly asked for more questions about "Deflategate."

That must be unprecedented for an NFL head coach. So was hanging around after the news conference, letting everyone know he wasn't hiding. Either Harbaugh was telling the truth or he deserved an Oscar.

Most importantly, he was consistent in terms of talking about kicking balls as opposed to those used by Brady. If there is evidence that he was lying or was involved in tipping off the NFL, please show some evidence.

I'm waiting ...

And waiting ...

Credibility talk premature: All this talk about the Ravens having a credibility problem again is premature. That might have been true in the Ray Rice domestic abuse case, but I'm not sure that distrust is warranted here. Assistants and head coaches trade information all the time, so it isn't unusual for Ravens special teams coach Jerry Rosburg to call Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, a former Ravens assistant, to warn him about a trick play.

In fact, it would have been newsworthy if they didn't talk.

It happens all the time in the NFL. It happens in major college football or in high school or even in the youth leagues. It's part of preparation. It's called gaining an edge.

It's easy to get lost in "Deflategate." The NFL has made this a mess because they took so long in rendering a decision about something that happened in January.

The league finally slapped the Patriots with a fine and took away draft picks, and Brady is facing a four-game suspension. With testimony and hundreds of pages of documents released, most of the mud slinging is probably over.

But "Deflategate" has turned into Watergate, where the cover up is greater than the crime.

Unfortunately for New England, a lot of fellow players and owners are tired of the Patriots. Every team has a home field advantage, but for years the Patriots have taken it to another level. When you go to Foxborough, you expect to get hosed by coach Bill Belichick or the officials.

So, it really makes no difference who turned the Patriots in. It's about making them accountable.