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01/22/2015

Deflategate

[Posted Wednesday AM]

Super Bowl Quiz: Easy ones. 1) Name the seven franchises to win consecutive Super Bowls. 2) Who is the last NFC coach to win back-to-back? Answers below.

NFL Bits and Bytes

Among the big stories during this interminable wait for the big game are whether Seattle d-backs Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman will be able to play effectively. Thomas suffered a dislocated shoulder and Sherman a sprained elbow on Sunday but both will no doubt be on the field against the Patriots.

--Anyone who first learned how to throw a football as a kid knows it is easier to throw a slightly deflated ball than a fully inflated one, let alone when wet. [Only Aaron Rodgers seems to disagree.]

So when word came out that the NFL was investigating the Patriots for using deflated footballs against the Colts, it kind of made sense. Not that the Pats had done it, but it was at least plausible.

After all the Patriots haven’t won a title since 2004 and Spygate erupted in 2007. That’s when the league found the Patriots illegally videotaped the Jets’ sideline defensive signals. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fined Bill Belichick $500,000 and the organization $250,000. Plus the Pats lost their first-round draft pick in 2008.

I mean some forget that this was a really big deal. They cheated.

Oh, Belichick made up some excuse that he thought the taping was legal as long as he didn’t use the information he picked up during that game, but the fact is a Patriots video assistant later sent the league tapes he had made of opponents’ signals that included the 2002 AFC Championship game in which the Pats beat the Steelers.

Goodell didn’t do anything further and destroyed the tapes.

This year you had Baltimore’s Jim Harbaugh bitch about the Pats’ using illegal substitutions during their divisional round playoff game. But the NFL said they were legit. [Gary Mihoces / USA TODAY Sports]

Mike Vaccaro / New York Post

“Look, I’m sure the NFL will get its most effective investigative people on this case (NOTE TO BOSS: Please use blue sarcasm font here. Thank you), and will see if there really were some lazily inflated footballs in play during that game. Surely, there will be a reasonable explanation for this (make the blue extra bright, please), and then we will all go back to over-analyzing the Super Bowl.

“But.

“But you do have to ask yourself once in a while: Why is it always the Patriots? More to the point: Why is it ONLY the Patriots? Why is it, when something or someone runs afoul of the way things are supposed to be done on the field – or, as is the case here, for now, when something allegedly runs contrary – do things always seem to emanate back to Foxborough?

“Look, the Patriots probably weren’t prosecuted nearly as much for Spygate as they should have been. Part of that may be because it was, let’s be fair, unseemly that it was one of their own – or at least an excommunicated former foot soldier, Eric Mangini – who turned them in. We are all honorary Corleones, after all. Nobody likes it when omerta is broken. Nobody likes a rat....

“But the Patriots paid a price.... There is, for instance, a sizeable faction of football fans who attach asterisks to at least one of the Pats’ Super Bowl wins, if not all of them. And since much of the nation beyond New England falls into that faction, it’s a sizeable asterisk. Also, there were karmic consequences, as anyone who rejoiced at the law-and-order Giants’ dual schoolings of the Pats will gleefully relate....

“But we believe it COULD have happened, because it’s the Pats.  Because it’s Bill Belichick. Because Spygate changed the conversation around them forever, fairly or not, and because what’s emerged is this melancholy, perpetual question: They’re so good as it is, why do they even need to dabble with the dark side? Why even put themselves in position for rebuke?

“Why? Because they don’t care. Because they aren’t bothered if it infuriates the rest of football that Belichick and Tom Brady are still passing up 45-7, exposing him to calamity. Because that is the Patriot Way, and that’s all they care about.

“They leave it to the rest of us to ponder the Patriot Way.”

True to form with Deflategate, when Tom Brady was asked about it Monday during a normal radio spot, he laughed it off. Bill Belichick said the first thing he heard of it was Monday morning.

The Patriots always slough these things off...except one time they were truly guilty.

And now we’ve learned that the league says 11 of 12 footballs used by New England were inflated significantly less than the NFL requires.

Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of communications said, “We are not commenting at this time.” Another league official, Troy Vincent, told the Associated Press late Tuesday “the investigation is currently underway and we’re still awaiting findings.” The NFL is expected to wrap things up perhaps Thursday. No word on what the penalties would be, if any.

However, one source told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen the league was “disappointed...angry... distraught” after spending considerable time on the findings earlier Tuesday.

No alteration of footballs is allowed once they are approved by the referee two hours and 15 minutes before kickoff. The balls are then handled during the game by personnel provided by the home team.

To be continued....

--In the post-mortems, Green Bay Coach Mike McCarthy certainly deserves the flack he has been taking, especially for his conservative play in the second half when he has the best quarterback in the game in Aaron Rodgers (who in turn is furious how things ended up).

Personally, I won’t second-guess him for the two early field goals at the Seattle goal line. But when McCarthy stayed with the running game, especially in the fourth quarter, that was beyond questionable.

And I do feel sorry for Packers tight end Brandon Bostick and his muff over the critical onsides kick when it was 19-14, Green Bay, with 2:09 to go. He was told to block but when the ball is hit right at you, what is he supposed to do? Unfortunately for Green Bay fans, he muffed it, and they’ll remember he did forever...passed down generation after generation after generation....

--So do you think LeGarrette Blount likes playing against Indianapolis in the playoffs?

Last year he rushed 24 times for 166 yards and four touchdowns.

Sunday it was 30-148-3.

--Andrew Luck is 0-4 against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Peyton Manning is 5-11 against Brady and the Pats – 4-8 while with the Colts.

--Russell Wilson is 10-0 against quarterbacks who have won the Super Bowl after beating Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The next best in history is Terry Bradshaw’s 11-3. Among active quarterbacks, Brady is second best (15-8).

In their only prior meeting in 2012, Wilson and the Seahawks defeated Brady and the Pats 24-23. [Michael Salfino / Wall Street Journal]

Of course Brady is attempting to join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as four-time Super Bowl-winning starting quarterbacks.

Two others of note, per Michael Salfino’s work, in terms of record against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks...Ben Roethlisberger (8-13) and Matthew Stafford (3-13). One more...Joe Flacco (12-21).

--Every casual football fan is wondering one thing these days. What was Doug Marrone thinking? Marrone went 15-17 in two seasons as head coach of the Bills, though a decent 9-7 last year, had a contract for another few seasons, but opted to exercise a clause that allowed him to leave with a guarantee he’d be paid $4 million in 2015 if there was an ownership change. There was...so he left.

Marrone thought he’d be in heavy demand for other openings, first and foremost the Jets, but then he proved to be a real unlikeable sort, at least in his interviews, especially with Jets owner Woody Johnson, and what did Doug Marrone end up with? 

Assistant head coach and offensive line coach for Jacksonville. Boy, that’s good, Doug.

Yes, he makes great money next season because it’s $4 million plus whatever Jacksonville is paying him, but he gave up an NFL coaching gig and it could be some time before he’s given another opportunity. And Buffalo has some talent...all they need is a quarterback. Enter Rex.

Anyway, Doug Marrone is firmly in the December file for “Idiot of the Year” consideration.

--Denver hired Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak to be their new head coach. It’s a natural fit, Kubiak having been the Broncos’ offensive coordinator from 1995 to 2005 before becoming the Texans’ head coach, and he has a close relationship with Denver chief John Elway.

Meanwhile, Atlanta is waiting on Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to finish up with the Seahawks.

--Tony Verna died. He was 81. This is one important figure in the history of the NFL and sports overall.

Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times

“It was the fourth quarter. Navy was beating Army, 21-7, on a grim early December day in Philadelphia.

“ ‘You’re going to do what?’ announcer Lindsey Nelson asked between commercials of the college football game.

“What CBS Director Tony Verna wanted to do was revolutionary – use a tape machine to replay a key touchdown by Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh.

“ ‘This is not live!’ Nelson would tell a nationwide audience after the commercial break. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again.’

“It was the moment instant replay was born in 1963, a television milestone that would forever change the way viewers watched sports.”

The machine Verna used was called an Ampex VTR-1000 and he had to get it from New York to Philadelphia. “Full of fragile vacuum tubes and the size of a small car, the tape machine survived the 90-mile trip to South Philadelphia, but engineers then had problems with the videotape itself.

“At $300 a roll, Verna was unable to get his hands on a new roll of 3M videotape, so he was forced to use a leftover tape with an old ‘I Love Lucy’ episode still on it. In fact, during tests earlier in the game, the rollbacks were showing flashes of Lucille Ball. Up to the pivotal replay, Verna wasn’t sure if he would get linebackers or a fluttering shot of Lucy herself.”

Verna was forever upset, though, that the network never gave him proper recognition for his invention, let alone make a dime off it.

“Money’s one thing, but they never said, ‘You did it.’ This wasn’t a mushroom that came out of the ground. There wasn’t a button you could hit. Someone had to come up with it.”

Verna had quite a career. He won five Emmys for his work directing Super Bowls and 12 Kentucky Derby telecasts.

College Basketball

AP Poll (Jan. 19)

1. Kentucky 17-0 (63 first-place votes)
2. Virginia 17-0 (2)
3. Gonzaga 18-1
4. Villanova 17-1...see below
5. Duke 15-2
6. Wisconsin 16-2...then destroyed No. 25 Iowa 82-50
7. Arizona 16-2
8. Notre Dame 17-2
9. Iowa State 13-3
10. Louisville 15-3
20. Northern Iowa 16-2
22. Dayton 15-2...then were upset by Davidson (13-4, 4-2) 77-60
24. Seton Hall 13-4

28. San Diego State...if you carried out the votes. Tuesday, the Aztecs blitzed Air Force 77-45 as they had easily their best shooting effort of the season, including 13 of 22 from downtown. So SDSU advances to 15-4, 5-1. For good reason I’m optimistic again. They do need to finish in the top three in the Mountain West, however, to ensure a bid and that is far from a lock. [Or win the conference tournament.]

So the poll is posted Monday afternoons and Monday night, I glanced at the Georgetown-Villanova score and it was 42-20 Hoyas at the half, Georgetown having hit 15 of 23 from the field, 65.2%. Sound a little familiar...like the reverse of a famous NCAA title game between the two? Anyway, Georgetown (13-5, 5-2) rolled, 78-58, and ‘Nova dropped to 17-2, 4-2.

NBA Fever...it’s Fannn-tastic...or maybe not

The Knicks didn’t get the memo on MLK Day to continue to “Lose for O-ka-for!” as they defeated the Anthony Davis-less Pelicans 99-92, thus breaking a 16-game losing streak and in doing so moving to 6-36.

Knicks 6-36
Timberwolves 7-33
76ers 8-33

Go New York, Go New York, Go New York, Go!

Meanwhile, I watched the entire Pistons-Hawks game Monday, won by Atlanta 93-82 for their 13th in a row, 27 of 29! The Hawks were far from good, but good enough to defeat an improving Pistons squad that features the twin rebounding machines...Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, who hauled down 20 and 18 boards, respectively. My man Jeff Teague didn’t have a good game at all, just 4 of 15 from the field, but he did have 7 assists and was a +13 on the court, while holding his counterpart, Brandon Jennings, to 1 of 10 shooting. Atlanta is just a likeable team. Get this, boys and girls, they actually pass the ball!!!

MLB...all about Scherzer

Barry Svrluga and Adam Kilgore / Washington Post

“When the weekend began, the Washington Nationals could have argued that they boasted the best group of starting pitchers in baseball. Stephen Strasburg is an electrifying No. 1 draft pick; Jordan Zimmermann a Clydesdale-type who closed last regular season by throwing a no-hitter; Gio Gonzalez a smiling lefty who once won 21 games; Doug Fister a groundball-inducing machine and Tanner Roark an unheralded prospect who impressively won 15 games as a rookie.

“But by the time Monday morning dawned, the Nationals had improved that sterling bunch in a way that changed the landscapes of both baseball and the Washington sports scene, agreeing to a seven-year, $210 million contract with free agent pitcher Max Scherzer....

“Scherzer thus becomes the newest star in Washington, where expectations are propped up in offseason after offseason, only to be followed by disappointment in often painful fashion for more than two decades. The city’s last major championship came when the Redskins won the Super Bowl following the 1991 football season, and there have been countless debacles since – spread across all sports – culminating in a particularly chaotic and disheartening 4-12 season for the Redskins that concluded last month....

“(One) reason Scherzer seemed unlikely to land in Washington until Sunday was because Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo...is reluctant to dole out lengthy contracts for pitchers...

“Of the 14 nine-figure contracts that were granted to pitchers before this winter, many ended with broken-down players unable to pitch up to their massive salaries. Only three such pitchers have won World Series titles while playing under such a contract: CC Sabathia, who did so in the first year of his contract with the New York Yankees but made only eight starts last year and now has chronic knee problems; San Francisco’s Barry Ziro, who had been bumped from the starting rotation because of poor performance in 2010 and went 63-80 over the course of his deal; and Zito’s teammate Matt Cain, who won under such a deal in 2010 and 2012 but was hurt and unable to pitch when the Giants took the championship last October.”

Scherzer is just the fourth pitcher age 30 or older to sign a deal worth at least $100 million.

Washington already had the second-lowest ERA for a starting staff in baseball last season, 3.34. Their 3.04 overall ERA was the best in the game.

Look at the potential rotation. All five posted ERAs of 3.57 or lower and four of them were in the top 20 in all of baseball in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Scherzer 3.15 ERA 252 (Ks) 63 (BBs)
Zimmermann 2.66 182-29
Strasburg 3.14 242-43
Fister 2.41 98-24
Gonzalez 3.57 162-56

Tanner Roark, at least as of today, will mostly likely be used in the pen to fill the slot of the departed Tyler Clippard.

Meanwhile, Jordan Zimmermann becomes a free agent after the 2015 season so it’s highly unlikely the Nats will be signing him. Little progress was made this offseason on an extension.

Zimmermann’s average over the past three seasons is 32 starts, 15 wins, and a 2.96 ERA. That’s a $100,000,000+ deal. It’s still possible Washington could deal him, even during the season. There could be a key injury on offense, for example. 

What’s interesting is that, as the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes put it, the Nationals are essentially choosing “the 30-year-old Scherzer over the 28-year-old Zimmermann now, or a 31-year-old Scherzer over a 29-year-old Zimmermann by season’s end.”

And a remark on Scherzer and the experience of Doug Fister. Fister threw to a 3.51 ERA as a full-time starter in Detroit in 2012 and 2013, but in his first season in Washington he lowered it to 2.41, going 16-6. It’s easy to expect a similar performance from Scherzer.

Now as the Washington Post reports, the Nats do stand to lose not just Zimmermann, but shortstop Ian Desmond, center fielder Denard Span and Doug Fister to free agency next offseason, but Washington apparently has as good a corps of minor league pitching prospects as anyone.

--As for the details of Scherzer’s contract, it’s $210 million not over seven years, but really over 14, including a $50 million signing bonus. So think of it as $15 million a year over 14 years.

[It also needs to be noted for the record that Scherzer won his bet on himself, with agent Scott Boras’ help, having turned down a final seven-year, $160 contract offer from the Tigers last year; the first offer being seven and $144 million. Scherzer rolled the dice and won.]

College Football

--So Joe Paterno now has 409 wins, with 111 having been restored by the NCAA, and Bobby Bowden is second at 377.

But now Bowden wants 12 he lost due to an academic scandal to be restored as well. This is a little different situation though. While I can’t stand when wins are taken away because everyone knows who actually won the game, some of the FSU players may not have been eligible had they not received test answers in a music appreciation class.

--Paul P., SMU alum who is smarting over the investigation swirling around the hoops team after a desultory season in football, notes that when it comes to SMU’s football schedule for 2015, they open at home vs. Baylor and then two weeks later play TCU.

“So in December 2015 when the College Football Playoff selection committee again shuts out TCU due to strength of schedule, it will be the end of this rivalry. Too bad because of the....”

I need to stop here. It doesn’t really have that much to do with football, you see, and the International Web Site Association is beginning to crack down on such talk. 

Stuff

--Lindsey Vonn, after tying Annemarie Moser-Proell’s 35-year-old record of 62 World Cup wins on Sunday, got the record-breaking No. 63 in a Super-G at Cortina, Italy on Monday. Boyfriend Tiger Woods flew in for the historic race.

But after a photo emerged of Tiger missing a front tooth, Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg claimed a rogue cameraman had knocked it out in the crush at the finish line of Vonn’s race. I’m thinking, yeah, I guess that is possible, but his mouth would have been a bloody mess and he wouldn’t have been able to return to the scene that quickly.

The Associated Press then said Woods wasn’t hit by anyone at any time during the day. Race organizers said Tiger had requested extra security and a snowmobile to exit the finish area.

--Golfer Robert Allenby said a homeless woman who described finding him bloodied on a Honolulu street corner, not the park miles away he has been describing when he was allegedly beaten and robbed, had to have been paid off by the media to change the story. Allenby insists you only have to see his injuries to know he’s telling the truth, that he was beaten and thrown out a car after being robbed.

Having spent some time in Honolulu, including in bars (cough cough) that weren’t exactly hot spots, I know there are some rough characters there.    Like everywhere else in the world, you always have to keep your guard up.

I’m going with Allenby’s story, that he was robbed and beaten, but that he has some details wrong.

A piece in the New York Daily News on Wednesday, however, says that some sources affiliated with the PGA Tour are skeptical. At the same time, Honolulu police say that are reviewing charges made on Allenby’s credit card.

But then Allenby’s claim the FBI was in on the investigation is apparently false, though Allenby being an Australian, that could have been an innocent mistake when he claimed they were.

--In the next few weeks we’re going to see the return of Dustin Johnson, either at Torrey Pines or Pebble Beach.

Johnson, you’ll recall, was suspended by the PGA Tour for a positive drug test last summer that Golf.com said was a result of cocaine.

In an interview with SI.com the other day, Johnson denied he has a cocaine problem and said he didn’t go into rehab but rather has surrounded himself with some new people, including a life coach, to better handle the pressures of the Tour.

“I did not have a problem,” talking specifically about cocaine. “It’s just something I’m not going to get into. I have issues. But that’s not the issue.”

One issue is he’s engaged to Wayne Gretzky’s daughter, Paulina, and the couple are expecting a child soon. Wayne has not been a happy camper when it comes to Dustin’s partying ways.

Johnson admitted he needed to learn to deal with stress.

“My way of getting rid of it was drinking or partying,” he told SI. “Yeah, that might work for that day or the next week, but eventually everything keeps piling up.”

He also said he cut some people out of his inner circle who were obviously bad influences.

I always liked the guy. It would be fun to see him play well and contend in, and win, a major. That would be a great human interest story. 

Heck, he’s about to become a daddy, too. 

--I ridiculed the selection of Boston as the U.S. nominee for the 2024 Olympics and it seems Bostonians are far from fired up as well. Then on Tuesday, Mayor Martin Walsh said he wouldn’t oppose voters’ trying to secure a public referendum on the project, which clearly endangers the city’s chances. Just Jan. 9, Walsh had told reporters there would be no such vote.

A new poll Tuesday showed only 51% of Boston-area residents support the Games, with 33% opposed; 75% of respondents wanting a referendum.

The significance of the poll is that in 2004, when New York was being considered, 67% of voters supported that bid, compared with 25% against. When Chicago was picked as America’s choice for 2016, the split was 64-28.

--The Australian Open is underway but as I write, no early upsets to speak of. Some of the non-Aussie players are upset at how parochial the crowds are, while Britain’s Andy Murray laughed it off: “It was a fun atmosphere to play today. Even if not everyone was supporting me.” Murray defeated Australia’s Marinko Matosevic.

--College Hockey Poll (Jan. 19)

1. Minnesota State
2. North Dakota
3. Boston University
4. Harvard
5. Massachusetts-Lowell
15. Colgate

But special kudos to George R.’s St. Lawrence Saints, who hit the road last Friday and Saturday and emerged with 3-2 and 5-1 wins over Dartmouth and Harvard, respectively. Alas, the rest of the season hasn’t been quite as fruitful.

--I doubt I’ll be seeing the movie “Blackhat,” but I’ve read some positive reviews, particularly on how it gets some of the security issues, including hacking, right. 

In fact, when the film was screened to a roomful of cybersecurity experts in Los Angeles last week, they all “agreed it was the most accurate depiction of hacking they’d seen in a film,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times’ Tracey Lien, who interviewed security expert Kevin Mahaffey.

--We note the passing of Don Harron, 90. Who was Don Harron? He was the Canadian actor who played Charlie Farquharson on the TV show “Hee Haw.”

Harron had introduced the Farquharson character – a country bumpkin from rural Ontario – on a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. television revue in 1952, and then played the character on “Hee Haw” from 1969 to 1986.

He also appeared on a variety of other television shows such as “The F.B.I.” and “Mission Impossible.”

Top 3 songs for the week 1/23/61: #1 “Wonderland By Night” (Bert Kaempfert and his orchestra) #2 “Exodus” (Ferrante and Teicher) #3 “Calcutta” (Lawrence Welk and his orchestra...wunnerful wunnerful...)...and...#4 “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (The Shirelles) #5 “Angel Baby” (Rosie and The Originals) #6 “Are You Lonesome To-night?” (Elvis Presley) #7 “Shop Around” (The Miracles) #8 “Calendar Girl” (Neil Sedaka) #9 “Rubber Ball” (Bobby Vee) #10 “Corinna, Corinna” (Ray Peterson)

Super Bowl Quiz Answers: 1) Seven to win consecutive Super Bowls...Green Bay, Miami, Pittsburgh (twice), San Francisco, Dallas, Denver and New England. 2) Jimmy Johnson is the last NFC coach to go back-to-back with the Cowboys in 1992 and ’93. [Courtesy of Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times]

Next Bar Chat, Monday.


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Bar Chat

01/22/2015

Deflategate

[Posted Wednesday AM]

Super Bowl Quiz: Easy ones. 1) Name the seven franchises to win consecutive Super Bowls. 2) Who is the last NFC coach to win back-to-back? Answers below.

NFL Bits and Bytes

Among the big stories during this interminable wait for the big game are whether Seattle d-backs Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman will be able to play effectively. Thomas suffered a dislocated shoulder and Sherman a sprained elbow on Sunday but both will no doubt be on the field against the Patriots.

--Anyone who first learned how to throw a football as a kid knows it is easier to throw a slightly deflated ball than a fully inflated one, let alone when wet. [Only Aaron Rodgers seems to disagree.]

So when word came out that the NFL was investigating the Patriots for using deflated footballs against the Colts, it kind of made sense. Not that the Pats had done it, but it was at least plausible.

After all the Patriots haven’t won a title since 2004 and Spygate erupted in 2007. That’s when the league found the Patriots illegally videotaped the Jets’ sideline defensive signals. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fined Bill Belichick $500,000 and the organization $250,000. Plus the Pats lost their first-round draft pick in 2008.

I mean some forget that this was a really big deal. They cheated.

Oh, Belichick made up some excuse that he thought the taping was legal as long as he didn’t use the information he picked up during that game, but the fact is a Patriots video assistant later sent the league tapes he had made of opponents’ signals that included the 2002 AFC Championship game in which the Pats beat the Steelers.

Goodell didn’t do anything further and destroyed the tapes.

This year you had Baltimore’s Jim Harbaugh bitch about the Pats’ using illegal substitutions during their divisional round playoff game. But the NFL said they were legit. [Gary Mihoces / USA TODAY Sports]

Mike Vaccaro / New York Post

“Look, I’m sure the NFL will get its most effective investigative people on this case (NOTE TO BOSS: Please use blue sarcasm font here. Thank you), and will see if there really were some lazily inflated footballs in play during that game. Surely, there will be a reasonable explanation for this (make the blue extra bright, please), and then we will all go back to over-analyzing the Super Bowl.

“But.

“But you do have to ask yourself once in a while: Why is it always the Patriots? More to the point: Why is it ONLY the Patriots? Why is it, when something or someone runs afoul of the way things are supposed to be done on the field – or, as is the case here, for now, when something allegedly runs contrary – do things always seem to emanate back to Foxborough?

“Look, the Patriots probably weren’t prosecuted nearly as much for Spygate as they should have been. Part of that may be because it was, let’s be fair, unseemly that it was one of their own – or at least an excommunicated former foot soldier, Eric Mangini – who turned them in. We are all honorary Corleones, after all. Nobody likes it when omerta is broken. Nobody likes a rat....

“But the Patriots paid a price.... There is, for instance, a sizeable faction of football fans who attach asterisks to at least one of the Pats’ Super Bowl wins, if not all of them. And since much of the nation beyond New England falls into that faction, it’s a sizeable asterisk. Also, there were karmic consequences, as anyone who rejoiced at the law-and-order Giants’ dual schoolings of the Pats will gleefully relate....

“But we believe it COULD have happened, because it’s the Pats.  Because it’s Bill Belichick. Because Spygate changed the conversation around them forever, fairly or not, and because what’s emerged is this melancholy, perpetual question: They’re so good as it is, why do they even need to dabble with the dark side? Why even put themselves in position for rebuke?

“Why? Because they don’t care. Because they aren’t bothered if it infuriates the rest of football that Belichick and Tom Brady are still passing up 45-7, exposing him to calamity. Because that is the Patriot Way, and that’s all they care about.

“They leave it to the rest of us to ponder the Patriot Way.”

True to form with Deflategate, when Tom Brady was asked about it Monday during a normal radio spot, he laughed it off. Bill Belichick said the first thing he heard of it was Monday morning.

The Patriots always slough these things off...except one time they were truly guilty.

And now we’ve learned that the league says 11 of 12 footballs used by New England were inflated significantly less than the NFL requires.

Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of communications said, “We are not commenting at this time.” Another league official, Troy Vincent, told the Associated Press late Tuesday “the investigation is currently underway and we’re still awaiting findings.” The NFL is expected to wrap things up perhaps Thursday. No word on what the penalties would be, if any.

However, one source told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen the league was “disappointed...angry... distraught” after spending considerable time on the findings earlier Tuesday.

No alteration of footballs is allowed once they are approved by the referee two hours and 15 minutes before kickoff. The balls are then handled during the game by personnel provided by the home team.

To be continued....

--In the post-mortems, Green Bay Coach Mike McCarthy certainly deserves the flack he has been taking, especially for his conservative play in the second half when he has the best quarterback in the game in Aaron Rodgers (who in turn is furious how things ended up).

Personally, I won’t second-guess him for the two early field goals at the Seattle goal line. But when McCarthy stayed with the running game, especially in the fourth quarter, that was beyond questionable.

And I do feel sorry for Packers tight end Brandon Bostick and his muff over the critical onsides kick when it was 19-14, Green Bay, with 2:09 to go. He was told to block but when the ball is hit right at you, what is he supposed to do? Unfortunately for Green Bay fans, he muffed it, and they’ll remember he did forever...passed down generation after generation after generation....

--So do you think LeGarrette Blount likes playing against Indianapolis in the playoffs?

Last year he rushed 24 times for 166 yards and four touchdowns.

Sunday it was 30-148-3.

--Andrew Luck is 0-4 against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Peyton Manning is 5-11 against Brady and the Pats – 4-8 while with the Colts.

--Russell Wilson is 10-0 against quarterbacks who have won the Super Bowl after beating Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The next best in history is Terry Bradshaw’s 11-3. Among active quarterbacks, Brady is second best (15-8).

In their only prior meeting in 2012, Wilson and the Seahawks defeated Brady and the Pats 24-23. [Michael Salfino / Wall Street Journal]

Of course Brady is attempting to join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as four-time Super Bowl-winning starting quarterbacks.

Two others of note, per Michael Salfino’s work, in terms of record against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks...Ben Roethlisberger (8-13) and Matthew Stafford (3-13). One more...Joe Flacco (12-21).

--Every casual football fan is wondering one thing these days. What was Doug Marrone thinking? Marrone went 15-17 in two seasons as head coach of the Bills, though a decent 9-7 last year, had a contract for another few seasons, but opted to exercise a clause that allowed him to leave with a guarantee he’d be paid $4 million in 2015 if there was an ownership change. There was...so he left.

Marrone thought he’d be in heavy demand for other openings, first and foremost the Jets, but then he proved to be a real unlikeable sort, at least in his interviews, especially with Jets owner Woody Johnson, and what did Doug Marrone end up with? 

Assistant head coach and offensive line coach for Jacksonville. Boy, that’s good, Doug.

Yes, he makes great money next season because it’s $4 million plus whatever Jacksonville is paying him, but he gave up an NFL coaching gig and it could be some time before he’s given another opportunity. And Buffalo has some talent...all they need is a quarterback. Enter Rex.

Anyway, Doug Marrone is firmly in the December file for “Idiot of the Year” consideration.

--Denver hired Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak to be their new head coach. It’s a natural fit, Kubiak having been the Broncos’ offensive coordinator from 1995 to 2005 before becoming the Texans’ head coach, and he has a close relationship with Denver chief John Elway.

Meanwhile, Atlanta is waiting on Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to finish up with the Seahawks.

--Tony Verna died. He was 81. This is one important figure in the history of the NFL and sports overall.

Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times

“It was the fourth quarter. Navy was beating Army, 21-7, on a grim early December day in Philadelphia.

“ ‘You’re going to do what?’ announcer Lindsey Nelson asked between commercials of the college football game.

“What CBS Director Tony Verna wanted to do was revolutionary – use a tape machine to replay a key touchdown by Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh.

“ ‘This is not live!’ Nelson would tell a nationwide audience after the commercial break. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again.’

“It was the moment instant replay was born in 1963, a television milestone that would forever change the way viewers watched sports.”

The machine Verna used was called an Ampex VTR-1000 and he had to get it from New York to Philadelphia. “Full of fragile vacuum tubes and the size of a small car, the tape machine survived the 90-mile trip to South Philadelphia, but engineers then had problems with the videotape itself.

“At $300 a roll, Verna was unable to get his hands on a new roll of 3M videotape, so he was forced to use a leftover tape with an old ‘I Love Lucy’ episode still on it. In fact, during tests earlier in the game, the rollbacks were showing flashes of Lucille Ball. Up to the pivotal replay, Verna wasn’t sure if he would get linebackers or a fluttering shot of Lucy herself.”

Verna was forever upset, though, that the network never gave him proper recognition for his invention, let alone make a dime off it.

“Money’s one thing, but they never said, ‘You did it.’ This wasn’t a mushroom that came out of the ground. There wasn’t a button you could hit. Someone had to come up with it.”

Verna had quite a career. He won five Emmys for his work directing Super Bowls and 12 Kentucky Derby telecasts.

College Basketball

AP Poll (Jan. 19)

1. Kentucky 17-0 (63 first-place votes)
2. Virginia 17-0 (2)
3. Gonzaga 18-1
4. Villanova 17-1...see below
5. Duke 15-2
6. Wisconsin 16-2...then destroyed No. 25 Iowa 82-50
7. Arizona 16-2
8. Notre Dame 17-2
9. Iowa State 13-3
10. Louisville 15-3
20. Northern Iowa 16-2
22. Dayton 15-2...then were upset by Davidson (13-4, 4-2) 77-60
24. Seton Hall 13-4

28. San Diego State...if you carried out the votes. Tuesday, the Aztecs blitzed Air Force 77-45 as they had easily their best shooting effort of the season, including 13 of 22 from downtown. So SDSU advances to 15-4, 5-1. For good reason I’m optimistic again. They do need to finish in the top three in the Mountain West, however, to ensure a bid and that is far from a lock. [Or win the conference tournament.]

So the poll is posted Monday afternoons and Monday night, I glanced at the Georgetown-Villanova score and it was 42-20 Hoyas at the half, Georgetown having hit 15 of 23 from the field, 65.2%. Sound a little familiar...like the reverse of a famous NCAA title game between the two? Anyway, Georgetown (13-5, 5-2) rolled, 78-58, and ‘Nova dropped to 17-2, 4-2.

NBA Fever...it’s Fannn-tastic...or maybe not

The Knicks didn’t get the memo on MLK Day to continue to “Lose for O-ka-for!” as they defeated the Anthony Davis-less Pelicans 99-92, thus breaking a 16-game losing streak and in doing so moving to 6-36.

Knicks 6-36
Timberwolves 7-33
76ers 8-33

Go New York, Go New York, Go New York, Go!

Meanwhile, I watched the entire Pistons-Hawks game Monday, won by Atlanta 93-82 for their 13th in a row, 27 of 29! The Hawks were far from good, but good enough to defeat an improving Pistons squad that features the twin rebounding machines...Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, who hauled down 20 and 18 boards, respectively. My man Jeff Teague didn’t have a good game at all, just 4 of 15 from the field, but he did have 7 assists and was a +13 on the court, while holding his counterpart, Brandon Jennings, to 1 of 10 shooting. Atlanta is just a likeable team. Get this, boys and girls, they actually pass the ball!!!

MLB...all about Scherzer

Barry Svrluga and Adam Kilgore / Washington Post

“When the weekend began, the Washington Nationals could have argued that they boasted the best group of starting pitchers in baseball. Stephen Strasburg is an electrifying No. 1 draft pick; Jordan Zimmermann a Clydesdale-type who closed last regular season by throwing a no-hitter; Gio Gonzalez a smiling lefty who once won 21 games; Doug Fister a groundball-inducing machine and Tanner Roark an unheralded prospect who impressively won 15 games as a rookie.

“But by the time Monday morning dawned, the Nationals had improved that sterling bunch in a way that changed the landscapes of both baseball and the Washington sports scene, agreeing to a seven-year, $210 million contract with free agent pitcher Max Scherzer....

“Scherzer thus becomes the newest star in Washington, where expectations are propped up in offseason after offseason, only to be followed by disappointment in often painful fashion for more than two decades. The city’s last major championship came when the Redskins won the Super Bowl following the 1991 football season, and there have been countless debacles since – spread across all sports – culminating in a particularly chaotic and disheartening 4-12 season for the Redskins that concluded last month....

“(One) reason Scherzer seemed unlikely to land in Washington until Sunday was because Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo...is reluctant to dole out lengthy contracts for pitchers...

“Of the 14 nine-figure contracts that were granted to pitchers before this winter, many ended with broken-down players unable to pitch up to their massive salaries. Only three such pitchers have won World Series titles while playing under such a contract: CC Sabathia, who did so in the first year of his contract with the New York Yankees but made only eight starts last year and now has chronic knee problems; San Francisco’s Barry Ziro, who had been bumped from the starting rotation because of poor performance in 2010 and went 63-80 over the course of his deal; and Zito’s teammate Matt Cain, who won under such a deal in 2010 and 2012 but was hurt and unable to pitch when the Giants took the championship last October.”

Scherzer is just the fourth pitcher age 30 or older to sign a deal worth at least $100 million.

Washington already had the second-lowest ERA for a starting staff in baseball last season, 3.34. Their 3.04 overall ERA was the best in the game.

Look at the potential rotation. All five posted ERAs of 3.57 or lower and four of them were in the top 20 in all of baseball in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Scherzer 3.15 ERA 252 (Ks) 63 (BBs)
Zimmermann 2.66 182-29
Strasburg 3.14 242-43
Fister 2.41 98-24
Gonzalez 3.57 162-56

Tanner Roark, at least as of today, will mostly likely be used in the pen to fill the slot of the departed Tyler Clippard.

Meanwhile, Jordan Zimmermann becomes a free agent after the 2015 season so it’s highly unlikely the Nats will be signing him. Little progress was made this offseason on an extension.

Zimmermann’s average over the past three seasons is 32 starts, 15 wins, and a 2.96 ERA. That’s a $100,000,000+ deal. It’s still possible Washington could deal him, even during the season. There could be a key injury on offense, for example. 

What’s interesting is that, as the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes put it, the Nationals are essentially choosing “the 30-year-old Scherzer over the 28-year-old Zimmermann now, or a 31-year-old Scherzer over a 29-year-old Zimmermann by season’s end.”

And a remark on Scherzer and the experience of Doug Fister. Fister threw to a 3.51 ERA as a full-time starter in Detroit in 2012 and 2013, but in his first season in Washington he lowered it to 2.41, going 16-6. It’s easy to expect a similar performance from Scherzer.

Now as the Washington Post reports, the Nats do stand to lose not just Zimmermann, but shortstop Ian Desmond, center fielder Denard Span and Doug Fister to free agency next offseason, but Washington apparently has as good a corps of minor league pitching prospects as anyone.

--As for the details of Scherzer’s contract, it’s $210 million not over seven years, but really over 14, including a $50 million signing bonus. So think of it as $15 million a year over 14 years.

[It also needs to be noted for the record that Scherzer won his bet on himself, with agent Scott Boras’ help, having turned down a final seven-year, $160 contract offer from the Tigers last year; the first offer being seven and $144 million. Scherzer rolled the dice and won.]

College Football

--So Joe Paterno now has 409 wins, with 111 having been restored by the NCAA, and Bobby Bowden is second at 377.

But now Bowden wants 12 he lost due to an academic scandal to be restored as well. This is a little different situation though. While I can’t stand when wins are taken away because everyone knows who actually won the game, some of the FSU players may not have been eligible had they not received test answers in a music appreciation class.

--Paul P., SMU alum who is smarting over the investigation swirling around the hoops team after a desultory season in football, notes that when it comes to SMU’s football schedule for 2015, they open at home vs. Baylor and then two weeks later play TCU.

“So in December 2015 when the College Football Playoff selection committee again shuts out TCU due to strength of schedule, it will be the end of this rivalry. Too bad because of the....”

I need to stop here. It doesn’t really have that much to do with football, you see, and the International Web Site Association is beginning to crack down on such talk. 

Stuff

--Lindsey Vonn, after tying Annemarie Moser-Proell’s 35-year-old record of 62 World Cup wins on Sunday, got the record-breaking No. 63 in a Super-G at Cortina, Italy on Monday. Boyfriend Tiger Woods flew in for the historic race.

But after a photo emerged of Tiger missing a front tooth, Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg claimed a rogue cameraman had knocked it out in the crush at the finish line of Vonn’s race. I’m thinking, yeah, I guess that is possible, but his mouth would have been a bloody mess and he wouldn’t have been able to return to the scene that quickly.

The Associated Press then said Woods wasn’t hit by anyone at any time during the day. Race organizers said Tiger had requested extra security and a snowmobile to exit the finish area.

--Golfer Robert Allenby said a homeless woman who described finding him bloodied on a Honolulu street corner, not the park miles away he has been describing when he was allegedly beaten and robbed, had to have been paid off by the media to change the story. Allenby insists you only have to see his injuries to know he’s telling the truth, that he was beaten and thrown out a car after being robbed.

Having spent some time in Honolulu, including in bars (cough cough) that weren’t exactly hot spots, I know there are some rough characters there.    Like everywhere else in the world, you always have to keep your guard up.

I’m going with Allenby’s story, that he was robbed and beaten, but that he has some details wrong.

A piece in the New York Daily News on Wednesday, however, says that some sources affiliated with the PGA Tour are skeptical. At the same time, Honolulu police say that are reviewing charges made on Allenby’s credit card.

But then Allenby’s claim the FBI was in on the investigation is apparently false, though Allenby being an Australian, that could have been an innocent mistake when he claimed they were.

--In the next few weeks we’re going to see the return of Dustin Johnson, either at Torrey Pines or Pebble Beach.

Johnson, you’ll recall, was suspended by the PGA Tour for a positive drug test last summer that Golf.com said was a result of cocaine.

In an interview with SI.com the other day, Johnson denied he has a cocaine problem and said he didn’t go into rehab but rather has surrounded himself with some new people, including a life coach, to better handle the pressures of the Tour.

“I did not have a problem,” talking specifically about cocaine. “It’s just something I’m not going to get into. I have issues. But that’s not the issue.”

One issue is he’s engaged to Wayne Gretzky’s daughter, Paulina, and the couple are expecting a child soon. Wayne has not been a happy camper when it comes to Dustin’s partying ways.

Johnson admitted he needed to learn to deal with stress.

“My way of getting rid of it was drinking or partying,” he told SI. “Yeah, that might work for that day or the next week, but eventually everything keeps piling up.”

He also said he cut some people out of his inner circle who were obviously bad influences.

I always liked the guy. It would be fun to see him play well and contend in, and win, a major. That would be a great human interest story. 

Heck, he’s about to become a daddy, too. 

--I ridiculed the selection of Boston as the U.S. nominee for the 2024 Olympics and it seems Bostonians are far from fired up as well. Then on Tuesday, Mayor Martin Walsh said he wouldn’t oppose voters’ trying to secure a public referendum on the project, which clearly endangers the city’s chances. Just Jan. 9, Walsh had told reporters there would be no such vote.

A new poll Tuesday showed only 51% of Boston-area residents support the Games, with 33% opposed; 75% of respondents wanting a referendum.

The significance of the poll is that in 2004, when New York was being considered, 67% of voters supported that bid, compared with 25% against. When Chicago was picked as America’s choice for 2016, the split was 64-28.

--The Australian Open is underway but as I write, no early upsets to speak of. Some of the non-Aussie players are upset at how parochial the crowds are, while Britain’s Andy Murray laughed it off: “It was a fun atmosphere to play today. Even if not everyone was supporting me.” Murray defeated Australia’s Marinko Matosevic.

--College Hockey Poll (Jan. 19)

1. Minnesota State
2. North Dakota
3. Boston University
4. Harvard
5. Massachusetts-Lowell
15. Colgate

But special kudos to George R.’s St. Lawrence Saints, who hit the road last Friday and Saturday and emerged with 3-2 and 5-1 wins over Dartmouth and Harvard, respectively. Alas, the rest of the season hasn’t been quite as fruitful.

--I doubt I’ll be seeing the movie “Blackhat,” but I’ve read some positive reviews, particularly on how it gets some of the security issues, including hacking, right. 

In fact, when the film was screened to a roomful of cybersecurity experts in Los Angeles last week, they all “agreed it was the most accurate depiction of hacking they’d seen in a film,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times’ Tracey Lien, who interviewed security expert Kevin Mahaffey.

--We note the passing of Don Harron, 90. Who was Don Harron? He was the Canadian actor who played Charlie Farquharson on the TV show “Hee Haw.”

Harron had introduced the Farquharson character – a country bumpkin from rural Ontario – on a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. television revue in 1952, and then played the character on “Hee Haw” from 1969 to 1986.

He also appeared on a variety of other television shows such as “The F.B.I.” and “Mission Impossible.”

Top 3 songs for the week 1/23/61: #1 “Wonderland By Night” (Bert Kaempfert and his orchestra) #2 “Exodus” (Ferrante and Teicher) #3 “Calcutta” (Lawrence Welk and his orchestra...wunnerful wunnerful...)...and...#4 “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (The Shirelles) #5 “Angel Baby” (Rosie and The Originals) #6 “Are You Lonesome To-night?” (Elvis Presley) #7 “Shop Around” (The Miracles) #8 “Calendar Girl” (Neil Sedaka) #9 “Rubber Ball” (Bobby Vee) #10 “Corinna, Corinna” (Ray Peterson)

Super Bowl Quiz Answers: 1) Seven to win consecutive Super Bowls...Green Bay, Miami, Pittsburgh (twice), San Francisco, Dallas, Denver and New England. 2) Jimmy Johnson is the last NFC coach to go back-to-back with the Cowboys in 1992 and ’93. [Courtesy of Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times]

Next Bar Chat, Monday.