New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said he was “as surprised as anybody,” echoing Coach Bill Belichick, to learn of DeflateGate, the controversy over whether the team used underinflated footballs to advance to Super Bowl XLIX, on Monday morning and told a packed media room that “I didn’t alter the ball in any way.”
Brady made no prepared remarks, preferring to take questions for about 30 minutes instead. He detailed his game-day preparations, saying that he selects the balls he wants to be approved by game officials, the ones that must meet specifications. “I have a process I go through…when I pick those balls out. To me they’re perfect.”
In the late-afternoon press conference carried live by CNN, Fox and MSNBC, Brady claimed to have no idea how or why the footballs failed to measure up to the 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch specified in the rule book. “I think there’s a lot of people who have more information than me,” he said. “I have questions, too.”
The bottom line, from Brady? “I have no knowledge of anything. I have no knowledge of any wrongdoing. I’m very comfortable saying that. I’m very comfortable saying that nobody did — as far as I know. I don’t know everything. I also understand that I was in the locker room preparing for a game. I don’t know what happened over the course of the process with the footballs. I was preparing for my own job.”
There have been calls for punishment for Brady, Belichick and the Patriots, but, Brady said, “I felt like we won the game fair and square.”
Brady elaborated that he doesn’t squeeze a football to see if it’s underinflated. He made the distinction that he grips the football and doesn’t squeeze it. He stood by a comment last fall that he likes a football inflated on the low side of the margins, to about 12.5 PSI. Ultimately, he said he had no idea what the chain of custody of the footballs was, focusing instead on the game. “I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t know what happened. I have no explanation for it. I don’t know what happened between the time I touched it — and Monday morning.”
Earlier in the day, Belichick put the ball in Brady’s court. “I can tell you that in my entire coaching career, I have never talked to any player, staff member, about football air pressure,” Belichick said in a morning press conference, adding that he has never touched a game ball. “Tom’s personal preferences on his footballs are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide.”
So, it would appear, Belichick hands off to Brady, who hands off to an unnamed equipment person. “I wish I could give you more answers or the answers you’re looking for,” he said, “but I can’t.”
That wasn’t going over well with everyone. “That sound you hear is someone in the equipment room getting thrown under the bus,” former quarterback and ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck tweeted, “and it will ruin his life.”
Mark Brunell, a former NFL quarterback and now an ESPN analyst did not find Brady believable. “I did not believe what Tom had to say. Those balls were deflated. Somebody had to do it and I don’t believe there’s an equipment manager in the NFL who, on his own initiative, would deflate a ball without the starting quarterback’s approval. … I started 151 games. There wasn’t one game ball I didn’t put my hands on. There is a protocol. There is a process.”
Brady was peppered with a barrage of questions and took them coolly. He was asked why he reacted flippantly Monday, laughing and calling the allegation “ridiculous” in a radio interview. “I was very shocked to hear it,” he answered, “[I thought] it was more sour grapes than anything.” While the integrity of the game is important, he added, “This isn’t ISIS … no one’s dying.”
The quarterback, who has watched his team go through SpyGate and now this, he said he feels that there’s no reason to question his credibility, even if his explanation sounds dubious.
“Everybody has an opinion. Everybody has the right to believe whatever they want,” Brady said. “I don’t ever cast judgment on someone’s belief system and I don’t — if that’s what they feel like they want to do, I don’t have a problem with that. I think part of being in his position and putting yourself in a spot like this is being open for criticism. I think that’s very much part of being a professional athlete. You know, we can only express to you what our side is and how we approach it.”
With no clear answers from Belichick or Brady, DeflateGate rages on — on to Phoenix and Super Bowl XLIX. Prepare for a week in which everyone decides whether to believe something else Brady said.
“I wouldn’t do anything to break the rules.”