It might interest fans of the Denver Broncos to know – or perhaps recall – that in January of 1998, three Broncos offensive linemen were fined for rubbing Vaseline on their arms during their victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. Brian Habib, Gary Zimmerman and Mark Schlereth were each dinged $5,000 by the league for using a “foreign substance, which can make it harder for defenders to get a grip.”
As the story goes, then-head coach Mike Shanahan somehow got the league to drop the same fines against fellow linemen Tony Jones and Tom Nalen, both of whom also allegedly rubbed Vaseline on their arms for the game. Shanahan petitioned that the use of Vaseline was merely a way to stay warm in the bitter cold of Kansas City that day.
“Any time you use a foreign substance, it’s subject to a fine. The question is whether Vaseline is considered a foreign substance when it’s very cold weather… whether it’s excessive,” Shanahan explained to the press later on. “It’s quite common in the NFL. I know I use it for every cold game; I know I always have. But I don’t play, so I don’t get fined.”
And we all know how the story ends, too. The Broncos went on to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers a week later, and then topped the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII to earn the franchise’s first-ever world championship. Zimmerman became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Schlereth has become a national celebrity and a helluva green chili maker. And all of them – every member of that ’97-98 offensive line – are revered in Denver as if they’re family; they are the heroes who helped the city win its most-coveted trophy, the grunt men that propelled Terrell Davis to becoming a Super Bowl MVP, a league MVP and one of just four (at the time) running backs to ever reach 2,000 rushing yards in a season.
Interestingly enough, that same Broncos team was also fined $950,000 and a third-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft for circumventing the salary cap from 1996 to 1998.
In Denver, most of that – all of that – has been conveniently swept under the rug. Banners still hang high. Legacies are intact. And the Broncos are the gold standard, locally and beyond.
Yet, we’d love nothing more than to see Tom Brady burned at the stake for his recent transgressions.
Yesterday, it was announced that Brady will be suspended for the first four games of the 2015 NFL season for his involvement in “DeflateGate” – the most recent black eye on the league and a term that’s become every bit as annoying as any other scandal ending in the clichéd, and oh-so-clever “gate” suffix.
“That’s not enough!” we cried.
“Strip them of their titles!” we lobbied.
“Brady shouldn’t be allowed into the Hall of Fame! He’s the Barry Bonds of pro football!” we pled.
Please. Give me a break.
It’s fine to hate Tom Brady – every good Broncos fan should – but let’s not get carried away. The man and his team are really no different than those ’97 Broncos.
Brady gained a competitive advantage in cold weather (sort of). He was the best quarterback on the field and the Patriots were the better team on that chilly day in New England (undoubtedly). And Brady, like the Broncos, didn’t get caught until long after the final gun had sounded. How obvious of an advantage could he – or they – have gained? The officials who spotted the ball on every single play never noticed once.
The three Broncos fined for Vaseline Gate (oops, that just slipped) lost a total of $15,000 to $21,629.14 in “today’s money” according to the inflation calculator on westegg.com. Brady will miss out on approximately $2 million of salary.
For whatever part they played in the deflating of footballs, the Patriots organization has been fined $1 million, a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth rounder in 2017. For their accounting miscues in the ‘90s, the Broncos were fined one third-round pick and just shy of $1 million in 2004 – eight years after fooling the NFL’s salary cap police. That’s like scolding a dog who pees on the carpet three days after the fact.
Did Brady cheat? Probably. That’s what the Wells Report concluded. Did the Broncos cheat back then? Probably. But what a pittance to pay for back-to-back Super Bowls!
So, to suggest Brady is the newest Lance Armstrong, Richard Nixon or Charles Ponzi, especially in Denver, Colo., is pretty ridiculous. Brady and the Broncos is no apples-to-oranges comparison – maybe oranges-to-clementines, if you’re really picky.
Is deflating a football two pounds per square inch further than the league requirement (your car’s front tires could be so lucky) any worse than a plain, old-fashion dirty hit, tear-away jerseys or the use of stickum? Jerry Rice claimed to use stickum all the time and nobody’s lining up to strip him of his Super Bowl wins or his unofficial title of “Greatest of All-Time.” The modern gloves worn by Odell Beckham Jr. are stickier than anything cooked up in the ‘80s; and, hey, by the way, have you seen that catch? Would it really shock you if news came out that Peyton Manning also preferred slightly deflated footballs in cold weather? How would that narrative go over?
Two wrongs never make a right, but cheating in sports is as old as, well, sports. If the cheating isn’t caught during the actual game, some folks even call it “gamesmanship.”
So, let’s hop off that high horse and ease up on our good buddy Tom Brady. Any orange-blooded Broncos fan would have traded places with a Chowderhead from Boston the very moment Russell Wilson threw the pick.
And if they tell you otherwise, they’re lying.