Not so long ago, we came to praise the New England Patriots.
Now, it's time to bury them.
Deflategate and a brazen disregard for the truth should be more than enough for the NFL to order Bill Belichick to stay at home on Super Bowl Sunday. If the Patriots' coach wants to wear his hoodie during the biggest game of the season, he can break it out while watching the telecast from his couch.
Seriously, this should be an easy one for the NFL, though the league's response on everything from concussions to Ray Rice leaves plenty of doubt that the suits in New York will do the right thing.
Here's what we've learned from various reports: 11 of the 12 footballs the Patriots used on offense in the AFC championship game were significantly deflated.
That could have made them easier for quarterback Tom Brady to handle on a cold, windy day. Brady threw three touchdown passes and the Patriots won the game in a rout, 45-7. Then, when the shenanigans were discovered, Belichick — a control freak who has never left even the smallest detail to chance — ludicrously claimed he had no idea what happened.
As a repeat offender from Spygate, Belichick should be banned from the Super Bowl.
To make sure he really gets the point, bench him for the first four games of next season and put him on permanent probation, leaving no doubt that he's got two strikes against him and the next one would get him thrown out of the league for good. For good measure, take away a couple of first-round picks.
A week ago, we wrote that the Patriots should be celebrated for their amazing run under Belichick, despite his general unpleasantness and skirting of the rules.
After all, no franchise in the era of salary caps and free agency has come close to their streak of 14 straight winning seasons, 12 playoff appearances, three Super Bowl titles and nine appearances in the conference championship game.
Now, some of that success could seem tainted, even dirty.
Belichick certainly didn't help his cause with a news conference Thursday, where he spent 8 1-2 minutes trying to convince everyone he didn't know a thing about the rules and procedures for game balls, then refused to give a meaningful answer to 14 questions — all concerning Deflategate — that were thrown his way over the next 3 minutes.
"I have told you everything I know," Belichick kept repeating, over and over again.
Belichick began his prepared remarks sounding a lot like Sgt. Schultz from the old TV sitcom, "Hogan's Heroes." You know, the bumbling German prison guard who turned a blind eye to inmates coming and going as they pleased, always insisting, "I know nothing. Nothing!"
As Belichick regaled us with his little tale, the only thing missing was Col. Hogan popping up from a tunnel under the podium.
"I learned more about this process in the last three days than I knew or talked about in last 40 years coaching in this league," Belichick insisted. "I had no knowledge of the various steps involved in the game balls and the process that we went through, what happened between when they were prepared and went to the officials, and went into the game."
We kept watching this sham, but only to see if his nose started growing.
"In my entire coaching career, I have never talked to any player or staff member about football air pressure," Belichick said, somehow managing to keep a straight face. "That is not a subject I have ever brought up."
Now, if you believe that, we'd love to give you membership to the "Bill Belichick School of Charm and Integrity."
As often happens when someone is trying to pull off a scam, the story gets a bit convoluted. For Belichick, that happened when he talked about the balls that the Patriots use in practice. Apparently, he cares A LOT about how those are prepared.
"I'm sure that any current or past player of mine will tell you the balls we practice with are as bad as they can be," he said. "Wet. Sticky. Cold. Slippery. However bad we can make 'em, I make 'em. Anytime players complain about the quality of the balls, I make them worse, and that stops the complaining."
But on game day, we're expected to believe, he doesn't pay a lick of attention to the state of the football.
Brady followed Belichick to the podium and issued the same blanket denial, though his remarks were peppered with plenty of "what, me worry?" grins, like a suspect in the interrogation room who wants you to know he did it — and knows you know he did it — but figures there's no way to pin the crime on him.
Everyone wants to know: Why would the Patriots feel the need to cheat when they were playing at home and, judging by the score, clearly had the superior team?
Not to put these on the same level of historical significance, but it's a reminder of the early 1970s, when President Richard Nixon's henchmen launched a totally unnecessary operation that became known as Watergate, not long before Nixon cruised to victory in one of the greatest U.S. presidential election routs.
The ensuing cover-up was worse than the crime and wound up costing Nixon the presidency.
This one should cost Belichick his spot on the Super Bowl sideline.