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Monday, January 30, 2017

Trickery and Inflation

This Sunday the Super Bowl will be played in Houston, Texas. We know the competitors—the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. By game time, we will know almost everything one would care to know about the players and coaches and history of these teams. But not quite.

The missing pieces are the ones that might very well determine the outcome of the game. They collectively become the components driving the strategy that will be unique for this contest. Both teams will likely innovate and offer surprises we have not seen from them before.

In football, this often comes in the form trickery. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick speculated the Falcons will try to incorporate something a bit different in this game—something the Pats will have trouble adjusting to. Perhaps a new wrinkle on a play they've previously used but that’s “dressed up differently.”

But it’s New England that has the true history of trickery. Some have called it cheating. Or at least “scandal.” The most recent involved Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the amount of air inflated in the footballs he was using in a game.

Last winter, Stephen Smith of CBS News wrote about this and other Patriot incidents over the years. Along with the most recent, “Deflate-Gate,” there was “Deception-Gate”—in which Baltimore Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh accused New England of using an “illegal type” of formation.

There was “Tuck-Gate”—from the 2002 game with the Oakland Raiders. The Patriots were losing to the Raiders when, late in the game, the Raiders’ cornerback Charles Woodson sacked Tom Brady. Tom fumbled the ball. The Raiders recovered. But officials huddled and invoked an obscure “tuck rule,” which determined that Brady’s arm was moving forward. Thus, no fumble, but rather an incomplete pass.

One all fans can remember is “Snowplow-Gate.” This one dates back to December of 1982 and a cold, snowy day in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots are playing the Miami Dolphins. Snow is falling. Neither team has scored in the first three quarters. Suddenly, the stadium snowplow operator comes onto the field and clears a spot on the field for the Patriots’ kicker. Up goes the game-winning field goal in the final quarter! Later, the Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula referred to the incident as the “most unfair act” ever in the history of the NFL.

There’s more. “Spy-Gate.” As the Patriots’ successes mounted in the 2000s, the team was accused of “espionage”! Apparently, they were caught videotaping signals in a 2007 game with the New York Jets. It was later determined that New England had illegally videotaped opponents from 2002 to 2007 and they were fined $250,000. Their coach, Bill Belichick, was fined $500,000!

Depending on your loyalties—and your perception of sportsmanship and fairness—the Patriots are either on mission from the Dark Side or simply push hard against the rules of engagement. It’s like that in business, too. Some companies play it tight and by the rules and others push the ethical envelope. (Witness the legal battles between Apple and Samsung in recent years.)

Oddly, the Bible has a story that includes spying and lying for “the good guys”! It’s recorded in Joshua, Chapter 2. Spies are sent out by Joshua to “see the land, especially Jericho.” It was in that city that we find a woman named Rahab who hides the spies from her own people—and then lies about it to save the spies! It resulted in her own family being rescued when the city was destroyed. (Joshua 6)

One should be careful here. The Scriptures of God do not endorse acts of lying, deceitfulness, and manipulation for selfish gain. A Godly purpose was being served.

But people of faith ARE encouraged to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, ESV) For more on this, I recommend reading, Shrewd: Daring to Live the Startling Command of Jesus, by Rick Lawrence.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy the Super Bowl this Sunday. Expect trickery. Deception. Brain twisting decisions.

And most likely, a lot of over-inflated egos.

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Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.  

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