It seems the more information that comes to light, the more questions arise about DeflateGate, the increasingly confusing NFL scandal pertaining to under-inflated footballs used by the New England Patriots. Is Tom Brady really innocent? His social media presence made him seem so squeaky clean! Or what about Bill Belichick? How could he possibly have no idea how 11 of the team’s 12 game-day footballs came to be under-inflated by two pounds of air per square inch? This is a story about air in footballs, yet it is as seemingly mysterious as “Serial,” the viral podcast that meticulously dissected a first-degree murder case. Although the subjects are vastly different, the main questions that run through your mind are the same: What exactly is going on here and who is responsible?
Under league rules, NFL footballs must be inflated with 12.5-13.5 pounds of air per square inch. The footballs in question were measured to be under-inflated by 2 PSI, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. This matters because, presumably, a slightly softer football is easier to grip. But does this grip really give the throwing team an advantage? It sure can, according to those who’ve played.
“If (the ball) is deflated a little bit, it gives you in tough weather more ability to grip the football,” NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino told the Huffington Post on Wednesday. He was quick to add, however, that he doesn’t think Brady would intentionally deflate the balls.
But really, though? Each team gets to present 12 balls to the officials for testing 2 hours and 15 minutes before kickoff. These sets of footballs are the ones each team uses during its offensive drives. (This is why the Colts’ footballs, which were found to be properly inflated, did not provide an equal advantage.) Once the footballs have all been approved they go back to the team. This window of time presumably leaves an opportunity to fiddle with the pressure. But it seems unfathomable that an equipment manager would go rogue and adjust the air pressure without the quarterback knowing it, which brings the story to Brady. He must be involved, right?
Maybe not. Brady roundly denied any knowledge of what could’ve happened to make the footballs deflate during a Thursday press conference.
“I have no knowledge of anything. I have no knowledge of any wrongdoing. I’m very comfortable saying that,” Brady said, adding, “I think there’s a lot of people who have more information than me. I have questions, too.”
Yikes! Brady has questions, too? Good grief. It might seem natural to turn to the coach, but just hours before Belichick denied he had any knowledge of what had happened. He claimed he “never touched a game ball,” and instead told reporters at the press conference that only Brady could “talk about in detail” his “preferences on footballs.”
Oh no! That brings us back to where we were, which raised the eyebrows of several ex-players, including Mark Brunell, who much like the public, have found something a bit suspect with the Pats’ total lack of knowledge on this.
“I did not believe what Tom had to say,” Brunell said Thursday on ESPN. “Those balls were deflated, someone had to do it,” he added.
But is that true? What about the equipment the officials used for initially testing the footballs. Was it different than the equipment used to measure the Colts’ footballs? If so, could it have been faulty?
Or what about the weather? Maybe the room the Patriots’s footballs were initially filled and tested in was much warmer than usual, so when the footballs were later batted around outside, where temperatures hovered around 50 degrees, the air constricted, causing the pressure inside the footballs to drop. That’s a possibility, isn’t it? Sort of.
For the ball to lose two whole pounds of pressure, the room in which they were filled and tested would’ve had to have been around 150 degrees, considering that it takes a 10-degree drop in temperature for the ball to lose just 0.2 PSI, according to Accuweather meteorologist Bernie Rayno. He eventually ruled, “I have Mother Nature’s back on this — she’s innocent.”
So, who’s guilty? What’s the cause?
While we ponder that, we should also think about the myriad questions revolving around how the DeflateGate investigation got started in the first place? It wasn’t the referees. Did the heads-up to test the Pats’ footballs come from D’Qwell Johnson, the Colts player who intercepted the football that would eventually lead to the investigation? He told NFL Media on Thursday that the ball felt fine to him and that he brought it to the sidelines because he wanted to keep it as a souvenir.
“I wouldn’t know how that could even be an advantage or a disadvantage,” Jackson said. “I definitely wouldn’t be able to tell if one ball had less pressure than another.”
To test that aspect, The Washington Post filled up two NFL replica balls, one with the proper amount of air, the other with 2 PSI less. We were all able to tell the difference, but concluded that had they not been presented side-by-side, we’d have had no clue. (Then again, we’re also not NFL football players…)
What we know is that the Patriots’ use of softer footballs wasn’t obvious, yet somehow those footballs would come to be tested at halftime. The NFL has not said who gave them the head’s up, only noting in a statement on Friday that it began “based on information that suggested that the game balls used by the New England Patriots were not properly inflated to levels required.”
So, where did that information come from? FOX Sports NFL Insider Jay Glazer reports it was the Baltimore Ravens who tipped the NFL off.
“According to Glazer, the NFL was already planning to inspect the balls at halftime, despite D’Qwell Jackson’s interception originally being reported as the cause,” the Fox Sports report states.
The Ravens reportedly had a problem with the kicking balls when they faced the New England Patriots earlier this month in the playoffs. The kicking balls, however, are controlled by neutral officials and not fine-tuned to meet any kicker’s preferences, so that would seem like an unrelated matter altogether. But Ravens Coach John Harbaugh neither confirmed nor denied the report. He did say, however, that the NFL has been in contact the team.
“I know the NFL is doing an investigation and they called some of our people about it,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys answered — as far as I know, I don’t know exactly what the conversations were — they answered honestly.”
No doubt the NFL would prefer to put an end to DeflateGate soon to limit the shadow it could cast over the upcoming Super Bowl on Feb. 1. One possible outcome is that the Patriots are blamed regardless of Belichick’s and Brady’s denials and one or both are fined, with an additional loss of draft picks. The team was similarly punished over its involvement in a different scandal known as “SpyGate” in 2007.
That would be a conclusion, but it might not be the full truth. Luckily, unlike “Serial,” the consequences of not getting the whole truth on DeflateGate are a lot less dire.