LARRY RYAN: Sport left deflated in a toilet

Sometime in the future, when professional sport has been closed down altogether, people will probably look back at the time America’s finest legal minds produced a rebuttal website on behalf of the New England Patriots that contained these sentences:

“The report does not address whether one minute and 40 is consistent with the time it takes a gentleman to relieve himself, wash his hands, and leave. In fact it is.”

I’d imagine they will agree, more or less unanimously, that this was when they knew the arse had been torn out of things.

They will be able to picture a pin-striped legal eagle, billing a grand an hour, standing around in a ‘john’, a couple of paralegals holding the stopwatch and clipboard, while a young buck with his eye on making partner one day — you’re seeing Cruise in The Firm — goes about his business at the urinals.

“Great work, you guys. Mitch, grab some water and we’ll catch up again in an hour.”

They will remember other vignettes, from this extraordinary saga. They mightn’t recall all the detail in criminal attorney Ted Wells’s aforementioned report on ‘Deflategate’, which included the finding that a Patriots employee carried a bag of game balls into a bathroom at Gillette Stadium before last season’s AFC Championship game and stayed there for 100 seconds, “an amount of time sufficient to deflate 13 footballs using a needle.”

But as Ted defended his report to the media, it will be hard not to forget his casual admission that yeah, the cost of this investigation will certainly run into the millions.

In fairness to Ted, people will look back on the tireless work his team have done piecing together supposedly incriminating text messages between Patriots staff. They will admire his dreamer’s ambition in asking for Tom Brady’s phone too, for a nose around.

They might look back, as well, at the four lads arrested for chaining themselves together in a sit-in at the NFL offices in New York, insisting they were prepared “to die for Tom Brady”.

And there will be a special place in everyone’s hearts for the folk who have, at the time of writing, raised $15,802 to pay the $1 million fine levied on the Patriots, an organisation worth $2.6 billion.

Sport left deflated in a toilet

As we sit there one day, frustrated, in our dystopian world without sport, and remember all of this, we will know, deep down, it was the time a dangerous thing happened. It was the moment we wondered to ourselves, maybe for the very first time; if people weren’t taking the game a bit too seriously.

And with that, a thread unravelled.

But we are not in that place yet, of course. Without the benefit of distance, people are still arguing about justice. We should dwell, for a moment, with the persecuted Pats faithful, convinced a raging, jealous conspiracy has taken down their hero.

An ESPN documentary concluded this week that our intrepid friend Sepp Blatter is afraid to set foot in America these days, lest his arrival trigger an FBI investigation into ‘issues’ surrounding the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Disappointing, if true. He’s not the Sepp we thought we knew if he wouldn’t back himself against the Bureau.

It’s not as though it’s the NFL on his case. You could understand men like Sepp becoming a little alarmed at some of the language being bandied about at the NFL, as it got to grips with Deflategate.

Delivering his guilty verdict, Ted Wells decided that “in all probability” somebody from the Pats let air out of footballs. He further ruled that Brady was “at least generally aware” of the chicanery and failed to “cooperate fully and candidly with the investigation”.

Those wouldn’t be Sepp’s kind of odds, in any investigation.

In these parts, we are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to assessing if justice has been done, in this case, since not cooperating fully and candidly would appear to be our default position when it comes to investigations.

And it’s hard to see any conviction based on general awareness of wrongdoing surviving a CAC appeal.

So we could be excused for feeling Tom has been a little hard done by on this one. So instead of getting too excited about it, maybe we ask the bigger philosophical questions, and try to apply some shade in that Venn intersection between cheating and gaining an advantage.

And we might file Tom’s alleged misdemeanour away with a smile alongside Babs’ dry ball, the Cummins sliotar in Sully’s shorts, the odd dive in the box, the last-ditch foul when you take one for the team.

But then, when we look back one day, from the dystopian world, we might realise the moment we began thinking like that was the moment a different thread unravelled.

Buffon proof money can’t buy poise

Sport left deflated in a toilet

While we have professional sport, we must cherish it. And on Wednesday, there was beautiful rebuttal of the easy arguments that vast shovels of cash inevitably corrupt and cheapen.

The standout shot of an enthralling Bernabeu semi-final: masterful Gigi Buffon lost in rapture at the end. Still the most expensive keeper in the world, 14 years after Juventus handed over €50m for him, he has spilled as much honour on the shirt as anyone who only did it for the pride of the parish.

Sure, there was amble evidence, on the opposing side, that money can compile assets easier than build bonds.

Though the man at the other end of the field can be excused. A year ago, in these pages, Donal Og Cusack wrote a wonderful, brothers-in-arms, lament for Iker Casillas’ fading powers. “Most of what he did was weighted down by doubt. The timing was gone.” Iker looks to be still in that uneasy place where he still chases that youthful invulnerability, looking a touch desperate as he does.

Maybe the low points Buffon reached with depression girded him for the time when the odd mistake came along. And they have come, along with the criticism, in recent years.

But Buffon has often spoken about the two phases in a goalkeeper’s life, the time, under 30, when “it’s about your physicality, your agility.” Then the age when experience kicks in, when you know, somehow, what’s needed in the important games, the downside being you can't always reach that place.

“The two ages can be just as important,” Buffon has always insisted, which makes it look, at least, as if he carries any doubt lightly, is not chasing old standards. Poise money can't buy. 

Heroes & Villains

Sport left deflated in a toilet

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN:

Martin O'Neill: Never mind criticism, the man deserves a patience award for maintaining some facade of diplomacy with this delicate waiting game for Jack.

Apres Match: Emerged triumphantly from sabbatical to preview tomorrow's FAI Junior Cup final.

Cúl Heroes: High time the GAA got in on that Match Attax action.

HELL IN A HANDCART:

Álvaro Morata: Chose the moment of a Champions League semi-final winner to elevate the respectful non-celebration to death-in-the-family levels of moroseness. 

Eamo: "Gareth Bale, 80 million, James Rodriguez, not a player. Isco, not a player. That's three. Nothing." Put your house on the trio making the 2016 Ballon d'Or shortlist.


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