As Malcolm Butler timed his cut perfectly to pick off Russell Wilson’s would-be Super Bowl game-winning pass, it was a challenge to imagine whose angst was most unbearable.
Was it coach Pete Carroll, who called the “worst play in Super Bowl history,” according to just about everyone?
Or Marshawn Lynch, the “Beast Mode” running back who had just gained three yards on the previous play and needed just one more touch to secure the title and MVP status?
How about Wilson, the wunderkind quarterback, who was on the brink of dethroning Tom Brady and the evil Pats in a most remarkable comeback?
There is another distinct candidate — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
After all, in a year riddled with despicable behavior on and off the field, the season ended with the league’s sleaziest franchise taking home the Lombardi Trophy as the best in the league.
And now, with football focus turned away from the field until August, Goodell has to deal with the mess that the game has become.
The world champion Patriots are only part of the problem, but they are a very good place to start in the league’s introspection.
Two-plus weeks removed from the bizarre deflate-gate melodrama, the NFL super-sleuths have yet to finding the smoking gun — er, football — that explains the conspicuous loss of air pressure in each of New England’s AFC Championship Game footballs. Efforts to explain away any suspected subterfuge — courtesy of the mad scientist Bill Belichick himself — have been laughable.
In the law, there is a concept called res ipsa loquitur, which means in Latin “the thing speaks for itself.” In layman’s terms, it simply means “duh!”
A patient goes into surgery and ends up with a sponge remaining inside. The patient doesn’t have to explain how it got there to prove he has been harmed. Res ipsa loquitur. The surgeon is responsible because how else did it happen? Duh.
So it is with the Patriots. Do we really need to know how and when the air was let out? Of course not. All that matters is that it happened when the footballs were under New England’s control. Duh.
Goodell should act now and forcefully. Suspensions, fines, loss of draft picks — all should be on the table. If who did what is such a mystery, squarely address the Patriots organization with punishment.
That is just the beginning of the league’s public image problems.
The NFL has taken a black eye from a barrage of high-profile domestic violence cases this season. Ray Rice may be the most publicized villain, but there are too many others.
To his credit, Goodell is at least attempting to deal straight on with the macho tough guy persona that elevates pro athletes to god-like status and perpetuates the objectification of women.
Even a toned-downed, PG-version of Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime show celebrated talent and orchestration over ogling. (By the way, am I the only one surprised to be praising Ms. Perry? I may not always appreciate the music, but that was a good show.)
Still, the league has systemic issues that are not easily resolved, issues that frequently stem from young (and old) men being entrusted with large amounts of cash and weapons of self-destruction.
Even in staid Indianapolis, the ripples of extreme conduct are felt too often.
D’Qwell Jackson’s alleged assault this week of a pizza delivery driver is the fifth significant criminal action by a member of the Colts’ organization since last March.
Two players with DUIs, Josh McNary’s rape charge and owner Jim Irsay’s driving while impaired conviction dotted 2014.
That is simply a reflection of what goes on in every NFL town, where the police blotter is frequently blotted with pro names.
Add to that ongoing issues with a very real concussion liability problem and Goodell has a paradox on his hands. The most popular and profitable sport in the nation has some serious cracks in its foundation.
As the offseason unfolds, the NFL is anything but secure in its standing — wildly popular, but at times dysfunctional.
The season may be over, but it is time for those who oversee the sport to get to work.