PHOENIX — Wearing what easily could have passed as Smokey the Bear’s hat, Michael Bennett blamed the NFL for fanning the flames of its Super Bowl controversy du jour.
The Seattle Seahawks defensive end said Sunday that the league stood to benefit from ‘‘Deflategate,’’ the weeklong kerfuffle that began when the New England Patriots were found to have 11 of 12 balls underinflated for the AFC Championship Game.
‘‘I think it’s all propaganda, man,’’ Bennett, wearing what appeared to be the Arby’s logo atop his head, said after his team touched down in the Sonoran Desert for Super Bowl week. ‘‘Just to get a chance to blow the game up. It’s all inflating the game right now.’’
We’re at the point now where enough PSI jokes have been cracked — see ‘‘Luck, Andrew’’ — but Bennett later compared the inflation story line to the hype before a title fight.
‘‘The NFL, they got all their things going on, trying to get the viewer ratings up for people to watch the game,’’ he said. ‘‘For us, it’s just about the game.’’
Bennett’s story would be different had he chosen the Bears as a free agent last offseason. Bears tight end Martellus Bennett recruited his brother to join him in Chicago — the Bears and Seahawks were his two finalists — but he was talked into staying by teammate Richard Sherman and others.
He called the decision ‘‘very tough.’’ His loyalty to his brother is such that on Sunday, he refused to call the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski the best tight end in the league.
‘‘The Bears offered me way more money,’’ he said. ‘‘But it just came down to just being on the team. I knew we would be back in the situation if I came back — and look, I was right.’’
The Seahawks must know what the Patriots are going through, contrived controversy or not. Remember Sherman’s comments before last year’s Super Bowl? The Seahawks still seemed looser than the Denver Broncos all game week.
‘‘This year is a little bit different than last year,’’ quarterback Russell Wilson said, ‘‘because we’ve been here before.’’
The Patriots controversy, he said, has ‘‘nothing to do with anything.’’
Of course, Sherman — who said his elbow injury was fine (safety Earl Thomas also dismissed his shoulder injury) — didn’t shy from controversy Sunday. The All-Pro cornerback said the Patriots won’t be punished as long as team owner Robert Kraft and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ‘‘are taking pictures at their respective homes.’’ The two are friends.
‘‘Talk about conflict of interest,’’ he said.
Sherman said the Patriots’ reputation precedes them, an allusion to ‘‘Spygate’’ eight years ago, when they were found to be spying on the New York Jets.
‘‘I think perception is reality,’’ he said. ‘‘It is what it is. Their résumé speaks for itself. You talk about getting close to the line, this and that. I don’t really have a comment about that.
‘‘Their past is what their past is. Their present is what their present is. Will they be punished? Probably not.’’