When does the "everybody does it!" defense stand? When does it fall short? When is the integrity of the game expected to be considered important, and when can it be brushed aside in the spirit of competition?
DeflateGate is currently dormant because the season is over and no one cares about the issues when there's no reason to rage into the dying light. The Patriots secured their fourth Super Bowl victory and, just like that, people are worn out from overexposure; any and all discussion will be glossed over in favor of the conflict du jour.
Still, that doesn't stop people from taking pot shots at the Patriots- it just means no one cares how ludicrous the claims, or the fact that there's a common thread amongst those still making the headlines.
Jerry Rice is the latest football great to make his opinion known, and the latest to be cast aside as a fool. Rice declared the Patriots "cheats" because "when you have an edge up on your opponent...it's cheating." He has also admit to have used the banned substance "Stickum" to help him catch the football. He defended himself saying, "all players did it!" and threw in the "#equalplayingfield" for good measure.
Rice joins Tom Brady's idol, Joe Montana, in saying the Patriots are clearly at fault in this situation. 49ers safety Ronnie Lott chimed in saying the Patriots "stepped over the moral compass of the game and the moral integrity of the game," and that the whole scandal is "breaking the fabric of the integrity of the game." This coming from the dynasty of the 80s, who notoriously shut off sideline communications for their opponents in the playoffs.
Then there's Troy Aikman of the 90s Cowboys dynasty, who tried to claim that DeflateGate is a more egregious offense than BountyGate, a statement that clearly fails the smell test on so many levels. His defense on BountyGate is that it was "not anything different than what’s been said in any other locker room around the league."
Aikman's teammate and former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith posed the question, "If [the Patriots] can [start messing with the integrity of the game], what else can they do?" It's unfortunate coming from a franchise where an estimated 70% of 1970s linemen were using steroids or where the 1990s players used medicine for horses- but since that was the league norm at the time, it's not an issue.
It's not an advantage if everyone is doing it.
So when recent Hall of Fame inductee Charles Haley, who spent time on both the 49ers and the Cowboys, makes a wild claim about 12 Patriots footballs being deflated, facts be damned, and how that taints the Patriots legacy, everyone has the right to shake their head and disregard everything else he says.
The root of all of these players attempting to cry for the lack of integrity is their lack of self-reflection; they're looking at a portrait of themselves, instead of in the mirror. They're comparing themselves to the Patriots and they're seeing a legitimate claim to the best team in football history- so there has to be something, some flaw, to tear the Patriots down. By breaking the Patriots, their own legacies will be secured. They are Ozymandias, declaring kingship over a broken kingdom.
When Don Shula calls head coach Bill Belichick by the name "Belli-cheat", it's because Belichick is a legitimate threat to the title of best coach of all time. Belichick is the only other coach to come close to a perfect season. Shula, and the entire mythos surrounding the 1972 Dolphins, is based on the fact that they're the only perfect team. What happens when someone is able to challenge that distinction?
The Patriots are right to feel like they are in the center of the crosshairs, the object of disaffection, and the target of a witch hunt. The whole false outrage isn't about the legacy of the Patriots; it's about the legacy of those making the claims. It's coming from those of past dynasties that are afraid that the Patriots have lapped them in the all time rankings. It's coming from players who are so willing to overlook their own warts in order to point out the Patriots'.
So when more claims about DeflateGate come out, think about the context of those making the statements.
What does Jerry Rice, receiver on one of the greatest dynasties in the league and on the losing end of the Tuck Rule game, have to gain by overlooking his own short comings?
What does Jerome Bettis, who lost to the Patriots in the playoffs on three separate occasions where New England made the Super Bowl, get from his statements?
All of these players have their own legacies linked to how the Patriots are portrayed. They are willing to tear down the Patriots with speculation and lies because they believe it will improve their own standings.
In reality, they're burning their own legacies to the ground with baseless claims, as they look up to the Patriots and Belichick, playing the lyre in the flames.