A Hoosier Mystery: Deflated Balls

Madonna attempting to perform with what we can only assume were hyper-inflated balls.

Madonna attempting to perform with what we can only assume were hyper-inflated balls.

Not since Madonna sank the New England Patriots with an all Gotham half-time performance in Super Bowl XLVI have the Patriots encountered so insidious an assertion than the airy contention arising from the Hoosier heartland: that the team has deflated balls.


From opening homage to Cleopatra to concluding descent into Hades, Madonna celebrated worldly power, control and wealth; or, in so many words, New York City. Such was Madonna’s intense veneration of Gotham that the New York Giants tapped its force and went on to defeat the Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in 2012. Unlike Boston, New York “possessed no church to overthrow, or traditional doctrines to root out, or centuries of history to disavow,” Henry Adams observed in his History of the United States (1891), and New York’s material orientation remained no less available to, and forceful for, the Giants two centuries later.

Madonna’s half-time performance expressed the counter opposite to the spiritual energy of Myra Kraft, the deceased wife of team owner Robert Kraft and gracious woman in the tradition of New England benefactors to whom the Patriots had dedicated their season. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was left little choice but to throw a Hail Mary pass that ultimately failed in the expiring seconds of the game.

Following the deflating denouement, Gisele Bundchen, star-quarterback Tom Brady’s wife and glamorous super model, evidently keenly sensitive to the energy Madonna’s half time performance animated on the field, through the stadium, and over broadcast airwaves and cable and satellite signals, commented on second-half receiver dissonance with failed receptions on key plays. Neither receiver is any longer a member of the organization, and one is indicted on allegations of murder.

By contrast, the Colts’ contention sows doubt and spawns dubiety about Patriot masculinity: the Patriots are placed in the unenviable position of recurrently reasserting they have perfectly fine balls. Like Sophocles’s Antigone, the Patriots now appear as Cleon, who diminishes his legitimacy with every successive assertion of his authority. “Tom, Bill and I have been together for 15 years. …I’ve never known them to lie to me,” Robert Kraft asserts. Ambient temperature and pounds-per-square-inch variations command the attention of Patriots Coach Bill Belichick and elite university professors. Tom Brady, the consummate proponent of team play, is compelled to draw attention to his feelings on sports radio.


We’ll be the judge of that Tom.

As the 3rd team in the last 25 years to have no fumbles at home, the Patriots exert unrivaled ball control. “The biggest difference between the Patriots and the other two teams who did it was that New England ran between 150 and 200 MORE plays this year than those teams did in the years they had zero home fumbles, making the Patriots stand alone in this unique statistic,” Sharp Football Analysis observes.

The irony is that any Patriot scheme to achieve competitive advantage through ball deflation resulted in an interception venting an accusation that “the ball feels funny,” so rich in double entendre, going to the highest levels of the National Football League in real time has disappeared in the ether. A league reeling from controversies and scandals ranging from concussion injuries and reported instances of spousal and child abuse can brook no irregularity no matter how airy.

Whadayamean I “feel funny?” It's none of your business how I feel.

Whadayamean I “feel funny?” Like HAHA funny?

So incisive and potentially disabling an accusation taps a long tradition of Hoosier wit. Indiana writers are great at spinning mysteries, celebrating local community and inveighing against perceived wrong doing. All the sharp practices Indiana writers like Will Cuppy chronicled in The New Yorker in the 30’s and 40’s, or Rex Stout, “the Falstaff of Detectives,” and A.B. Guthrie placed in detective and western fiction animate a mystery whether the Patriots, the consummate New England team, quick as Longfellow’s Minutemen in Paul Revere’s Ride, the embodiments of Emerson’s celebration of individual and team in Self-Reliance, are playing with regulation balls. It’s as if Edward Eggleston’s The Hoosier Schoolmaster: A Story of Backwoods Life in Indiana (1871), a rustic celebration of mid-19th Century Indiana in which the poor achieve wealth and the evil suffer punishment, has found fresh life challenging giants of American literature quite aside from an elite football team.

Instead of focusing on the Patriots and Seahawks as competitively superior organizations and players and Boston and Seattle as hubs of 21st Century innovation, a broadcast from Indianapolis, an unrivaled 20th Century technology transmitted from the heartland broadcast tower, airs a report that fills airwaves and news and sports commentary with mystery and chimera of deflated balls.

Author Hugh Carter Donahue comments on innovation and institutions and teaches American History at Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey.

©2015, all rights reserved, published with permission

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