Just listen to those crickets. A conspicuous hush is emanating from the NFL office on the subject of those soft footballs the New York Giants retrieved from the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. Where was the outrage, the treating of ball-inflation and pounds-per-square-inch as more serious than a hijacking? Compare the screams of scandal NFL executives emitted toward Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to this smothered, pillow-over-the-face reaction.
It’s a guilty silence, and it leaves NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell beached and exposed. Goodell has always struggled with the demands of speech, but his wordlessness in this instance has nothing to do with competence but rather dishonesty. Any serious examination of those footballs from the Giants-Steelers game might well show that Goodell owes the Patriots and Brady an apology and material recompense. Which is exactly why the league is shutting the matter down and shutting it down now.
When the Giants tested air pressure on two footballs they captured against the Steelers and reported them to be below the permissible range of 12.5 PSI, league officials should have leaped into action. They should have told Steelers officials, “You’re in big f------ trouble” and then leaked erroneous amateur-hour data that poisoned the public understanding. They should have triggered a massive multimillion-dollar investigation, complete with footnoted junk science, that tarred a future Hall of Famer and resulted in fines, a forfeited draft pick and a four-game suspension. They should have invoked the words “scheme” and “tamper” and “cheating” and “competitive integrity,” even compared the offense to “performance-enhancing drugs.”
Instead? Nothing. NFL execs were neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed by the report of soft footballs. They weren’t whelmed at all. Instead there was this throbbing stillness. Followed by an attempt at denial and misdirection. After Jay Glazer of Fox Sports broke the news that the Giants had gone to the league with measurements showing loss of air pressure, the NFL replied with a stiff-necked yet ducking statement: “The officiating game ball procedures were followed and there were no chain of command issues. All footballs were in compliance and no formal complaint was filed by the Giants with our office.”
Ahhhhh. No “formal” complaint. As opposed to that by-the-book complaint lodged against the Patriots during the 2015 AFC championship game, when Indianapolis Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson stuck his head into the NFL suite and bawled, “We’re playing with a small ball.” Which set off the most infamously ludicrous investigation in league history.
The league would have you think there is nothing to see here, that they never received PSI data from the Giants that might be exculpatory for the Patriots. Move along, folks. But Giants Coach Ben McAdoo blew the cover story when he admitted Sunday night that the Giants had in fact tested two balls and found them soft. “I don’t know, the PSIs were a little low, so they checked them, and they just let me know they checked them,” he said. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio came along with a sourced report that one ball had measured 11.4 and another 11.8. Glazer reaffirmed that the Giants indeed “alerted” the league about the balls.
Now, there are two things to take from this. The first is obvious. You don’t need a legion of scientists and lawyers to know what anyone with a car knows: Cold weather causes air pressure to drop in footballs, the same as it does in your tires. The only people who don’t know that are hermetically sealed in Park Avenue offices and only travel by soft shoe and NFL limo. If Steelers footballs were underinflated, the most likely explanation is not that someone deflated them by hand but that the game was played in temperatures in the low 40s, with a wind chill of 28. Just as natural deflation is the most likely explanation for what happened in the AFC title game, when the Patriots’ balls measured an average of 11.3 in wet, even colder weather.
The second point is less obvious: Somebody from the New York Giants stuck a needle into two footballs during a game last week to measure them. Which tells you that the NFL’s ball-security procedures are not being followed, even now.
But the NFL doesn’t want to get into that. If it admits it received info from the Giants about low PSI, then it has to admit that maybe weather affected the inflation of footballs in other games, too.
It has to admit that league officials lacked command of seventh-grade science and that Goodell raced to judgment. It has to admit that a few whiffs of PSI aren’t a game-altering factor, much less worth serious penalties. It has to admit that Goodell is not willing to pursue Dan Rooney and Ben Roethlisberger over the air in a couple of footballs with the same energy.
It has to admit that Deflategate was not a fair process but just a ginned-up excuse to punish the Patriots in order to satisfy owner envy and internal politics. It has to admit that it has been covering up PSI data in order to save the last rags of Goodell’s shredded reputation. It has to admit that the NFL under this commissioner has zero credibility left.