Benjamin Franklin supposedly observed that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Super Bowl XLIX is proof that God exists and roots for the Patriots.
We can now close the book on “Deflate-gate,” the non-scandal about the supposed under-inflation of the footballs used by the New England Patriots in their January 18 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. For we now know the cause of the reduced air pressure.
It was not Tom Brady. It was not Bill Belichick. It was not the anonymous locker room guy. It was not even Ben Affleck or Matt Damon or the many others who bravely stepped forward to take responsibility.
God sucked out about 2 pounds per square inch of air pressure from the footballs on the sidelines of the AFC Conference Championship Game, and exhaled that same divine breath a fortnight later into the ear of Seattle coach Pete Carroll, whispering: “Behold the defensive line. Thou can’t runneth over. Therefore, choose pass.”
That explains why the Seahawks, on the Patriot one-yard line with 30 seconds left to play and one time out left, called a pass play. And not just any pass play. A pass play up the middle during a goal-line stand, into an area more densely populated than Mumbai or Hong Kong — or Mumbai compressed tightly enough to fit into the center of Hong Kong. And he called the play when Marshawn Lynch, who had already rushed for 102 yards, four of them on the previous play, was available to take the ball one yard farther into the endzone. If not on that play, then on the next, or possibly the next after that.
Instead, the Seahawks passed, and Malcolm Butler, an undrafted rookie out of West Alabama, a school which had never previously sent a football player to the Super Bowl, jumped the route and intercepted the ball, and saved the Patriots.
Some might ask: Why would the Lord support New England? God is supposed to love all His children, and not play favorites. Sure, fine. But New England from its very birth has enjoyed a special connection to the Divine. In 1630, before the Puritans went ashore in what would become Boston, John Winthrop told them: “Wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us.” Winthrop may not have actually foreseen that Super Bowl XLIX would be the most watched program in U.S. television history, but he did understand that millions of primetime eyes would always be upon New England.
But doesn’t the notion of divine intervention conflict with the idea of free will, to say nothing of free safeties? If God participates, and if He, not mortals, controls the outcome, doesn’t that mean that there are no heroes and no goats in football? Doesn’t that mean that players are mere pawns?
These same questions have troubled theologians analyzing the flight of the Israelites out of Egypt. In the Book of Exodus, we read that God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” so that he would not let His people go. That suggests that God, not Pharaoh, was responsible for the enslavement imposed upon the Hebrews, and for the disaster that befell the Egyptian charioteers when they rode out to intercept them.
But an alternative view holds that “hardening” Pharaoh’s heart actually allowed him to exercise free will. Remember that Pharaoh was rocked by plague after plague. His confidence was shaken. By “hardening” his heart, God gave Pharaoh the resolve to resist the horror of the plagues, and to defy rather than capitulate to Moses. Thus fortified, Pharaoh could actually exercise free choice.
Something similar may have been at work on the sidelines when Pete Carroll made the fateful choice to pass. His team was less than a yard away from victory, and Marshawn Lynch was ready. A large contingent of Seahawk fans were chanting “Beast Mode! Beast Mode!” Carroll was under intense pressure to take the safe option.
But Pete Carroll is as constitutionally averse to playing it safe as Pharaoh was to letting his nation’s workforce depart. Just 30 minutes of playing time earlier, as the first half was winding down, the Seahawks, behind 14 – 7, were on the Patriots’ 11-yard line with six seconds left. The safe course would have been to kick a field goal: to take the sure 3 points and start the second half with possession. Instead, Carroll went for the end zone, and risked the danger of running out of time. The risk paid off. Wide receiver Chris Matthews made a beautiful catch on the left sideline, and the Seahawks ended the half tied with New England, and with momentum very much on their side.
So when God used the air from the deflated footballs to whisper into Carroll’s ear, He was not controlling the Seahawks coach. Rather, he was fortifying him. He was enabling Carroll to resist the “Beast Mode! Beast Mode!” chants, to defy conventional wisdom, and to exercise his free will. The outcome was not predestined.
But if God limited his role to enabling Pete Carroll to exercise his free will in Super Bowl XLIX, why would he have interfered in the AFC Championship game by deflating the balls? There too, the Divine intervention was more circumscribed than it might appear.
The NFL investigators have contacted the Columbia physics department for assistance on “matters relating to gas physics and environmental impacts on inflated football.” Scientific evidence is mounting that exonerates the Patriots. The evidence stems from what physicists call “the ideal gas law,” which holds that for an ideal gas in a container, the absolute pressure times the container volume is proportional to the number of gas molecules in the container times the absolute temperature. In other words, temperature drops cause gas pressure drops.
A graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University conducted an experiment which showed that the amount of deflation involved in moving a football from a room at 75 degrees to a room at 50 degrees (the temperature on the sidelines at the Colts game), and when the football is moistened to imitate the rainy weather of that day, the pressure reduction is close to 2 pounds per square inch, about the same deflation found by the NFL.
This demonstrates that the laws of physics, not the Lord, are responsible for the deflation of the footballs, just as Pete Carroll, not the Lord, called the pass play.
But He that whispered into Carroll’s ear also authored the laws of physics. The bond tying God to New England seems as strong as it was in 1630.
In the final analysis, Deflate-gate and the Carroll Call prove much and little at the same time. They prove that God exists, and that He roots for the Patriots. But they also show that God acts in mysterious ways, allowing free will and the laws of physics to accomplish His purposes.
These are profound enigmas, difficult for mortals, or even Tom Brady, to grasp.