Deflategate has a Minnesota connection

Before the Patriots were implicated for deflating footballs in the AFC Championship, a warning was issued to all teams following a Vikings game in which footballs were heated against the rules.

In the wake of the Deflategate revelations implicating Tom Brady – is it possible to have a scandal without the situational suffix “-gate” attached to it? – a light is being shined on the manipulation of footballs on game day.

And a stray beam has tracked in on the Minnesota.

As part of the discussion over the Patriots altering game-used footballs, the Vikings and Panthers have been implicated in their own version of Deflategate.

At the Nov. 30 game between the Vikings and Panthers, both teams were accused of using available resources to do something about the cold footballs that were in play.

As the Vikings have made their transformation to their two-year residency at the University of Minnesota, many of the amenities typically available at outdoor NFL stadiums in cold-weather cities weren’t available at TCF Bank Stadium. Prior to the Vikings showing up, the stadium was literally mothballed in early- to mid-November and shut down for the winter. It was a nice, small stadium built not on the cheap, but not with the intention of holding NFL crowds or having the field amenities to accommodate December and, God willing, January football.

Those who attended the Vikings-Panthers game can attest that the temperature gauge said 12 degrees, but it wasn’t feeling 12 degrees. A FOX broadcast showed that game being played in minus-7 degree wind chill. A biting wind whipped throughout the day, and those sitting in the frozen seats will tell you it was ugly.

Powerful sideline bomb heaters that are known to Minnesotans, but unknown to those from warmer climates, were available on the sidelines. They pump out incredible heat and, according to league sources overseeing the game, were employed by at least one team (the Panthers), if not both. Both teams were warned about that practice during the game.

"You can’t do anything with the footballs in terms of any artificial, whether you’re heating them up, whether it’s a regular game ball or kicking ball, you can’t do anything to the football,” Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating said after that game. “So that was noticed during the game, both teams were made aware of it during the game and we will certainly remind the clubs as we get into more cold weather games that you can’t do anything with the football in terms of heating them up with those sideline heaters.”

You don’t have to be an investigator to figure out that the composition of the air inside a football is different when it is heated as opposed to when it air temperature in a 12-degree game.

A ball boy for the Panthers was seen on sideline video putting footballs into the blowing heat coming from the bomb heater on the sidelines of the game. The question then wasn’t why would he? It was why wouldn’t he?

As incidents arrive in the NFL that re-define what is technically cheating, the intentional deflation of footballs hasn’t been acid-tested until now. One can only imagine outdoor stadiums with heaters have been used to keep footballs warm in between offensive possessions during cold-weather games.

Is this now going to come under the corporate jackboot of NFL in the punitive stage of the precedent-setting case?

As they say in taverns with big jugs of sketchy-looking pickled eggs, “You betcha!”

If the NFL wants to stop such ball shenanigans from being done, the answer seems quite simple: take the Cosmo Kramer and hire ball men.

It’s only 32 employees for a 10-figure industry. Football comprising can be a moot point with 32 hires.

If one of them goes rogue, then you have a story. Until then, the NFL is leaving the compromising of game balls to adults referred to by the general public as ball boys.

Brady probably knew what was going on with a Patriots employee deflating game balls, according to Ted Wells’ report. Likely so did the Vikings. So did the Panthers. So did everyone who has ever played in cold-climate conditions. It took somebody getting busted to shine a light.

One can only imagine Bud Grant’s new Twitter following is asking him questions he had no idea was coming when the worm can was opened.

This is scandal easily resolved. Put the balls in control of the NFL. Then you have no biased ball boy/man to blame.

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