Full Press Patriots – Sunday Gazette
But I digress.
Love him or hate him, Brady will undeniably go down as one of — if not the — best quarterbacks to ever play the game. He went from a 6th round draft pick that every team in the league passed on — repeatedly — to holding a whopping 54 NFL records, including more Super Bowl starts, more Super Bowl MVP awards, and more Super Bowl championships than any player in league history only player in NFL history.
And he’s not done yet.
Brady’s legacy is the stuff of legends. But for some, his legacy will be forever tarnished by the debacle that became known as Deflategate. Ugh.
Deflategate was a joke. It might have even been a funny one if the NFL hadn’t spent 544 days and more than $5 million trying to take down the G.O.A.T. — over an equipment violation that its own experts can’t say with any certainty even occurred, and that the NFL has not appeared to care much about for any other team, or at any time before or since the 2014 AFC Championship Game.
Show of hands — how many of you knew that the NFL cared about the air pressure (PSI) in footballs prior to January 2015? I’m guessing not many.
The NFL was looking for a violation — not to prevent one.
League officials were admittedly unaware that changes in temperature and atmospheric conditions will impact the PSI of a football. Thus, it never occurred to the NFL that science — and not some nefarious scheme to tamper with footballs — would account for changes in the PSI of a football as the game goes on.
Game balls are measured by officials before the start of each game and are required to be between 12.5 and 13.5 PSI. But the PSI of a football had never been measured after the start of a game — until the 2014 AFC Championship.
Before the AFC Championship Game, the PSI of each team’s game balls was measured in a temperature-controlled locker room. At that time, the PSI of the Patriots’ footballs was at or near 12.5 PSI. But it was cold and wet during the game and — after the footballs were exposed to those conditions for approximately 90 minutes — halftime measurements (not surprisingly) reflected a decrease in PSI.
That was all the “proof” the NFL needed — and just like that, Deflategate was born.
I. The NFL Knew the PSI of Game Balls Would be an Issue Before the Game and Did Nothing to Prevent It
The NFL was prepared to “catch” the Patriots — so to speak — before the game even started. For example, the Colts organization emailed the NFL prior to the game to express concerns regarding the air pressure of the Patriots’ footballs, including an observation that “it would be great if someone could be able to check the air in the game balls as the game goes on so that [the Patriots] don’t get an illegal advantage.” https://wellsreportcontext.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/wells_report_full1.pdf
The NFL responded and assured the Colts that Mike Kensil — then Vice President of Football Operations — would attend the game and speak to officials about the Colts’ concerns. The Colts’ email was also forwarded to the Director of Game Operations and senior members of the NFL Officiating Department. Members of the Officiating Department then decided to raise the issue with Walt Anderson, who had been assigned to lead the officiating crew for the AFC Championship.
Nobody discussed the matter with the Patriots.
Prior to the game, and consistent with NFL rules, Anderson measured the game balls for each team and recalled that the Patriots’ and Colts’ footballs were set at or near 12.5 and 13.0 PSI, respectively. Anderson did not record any measurement, nor was he instructed to, despite the concerns that had been raised.
Notwithstanding the lack of any written record, NFL investigators determined Anderson’s recollection to be credible.
Anderson also told investigators that he generally uses one of two gauges to measure the footballs — referred to as the “Logo Gauge” and “Non-Logo Gauge” — and recalled using the Logo Gauge to complete his pre-game measurements. But NFL investigators did not deem this recollection credible and, instead, concluded that Anderson must have been wrong on this point — because Anderson’s recollection didn’t fit the rest of the NFL’s narrative. (More on that later.)
II. The NFL Began Investigating the Patriots Before the Game Was Over
During the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game, Colts player D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a pass from Brady (leading to the only points the Colts would score that game).
Jackson gave the ball to a Colts staff member for safekeeping — he, of course, wanted to keep the ball as a memento (it’s not often that one intercepts Tom Brady!).
But the ball was passed (no pun intended) to various other members of the Colts staff until one of them decided that the ball felt a bit “deflated.” The Colts measured the ball using one of their own gauges (a violation of NFL rules in and of itself) and reported the Patriots to NFL officials upon finding that the ball’s PSI was less than 12.5.
The league decided to measure the PSI of both teams’ footballs during halftime, though it is not clear whether that decision was made before or after reports about the intercepted football.
All of the game balls were collected and brought to the officials’ locker room. The Patriots’ footballs were measured first, meaning the Colts’ footballs had time to warm up.
Two officials, using two different gauges (the Non-Logo Gauge and Logo Gauge), measured each of the Patriots’ footballs and never got the same result:
Ball 1: 11.5 (Non-Logo Gauge); 11.8 (Logo Gauge)
Ball 2: 10.85 (Non-Logo Gauge); 11.2 (Logo Gauge)
Ball 3: 11.15 (Non-Logo Gauge); 11.5 (Logo Gauge)
Ball 4: 10.7 (Non-Logo Gauge); 11 (Logo Gauge)
Ball 5: 11.1 (Non-Logo Gauge); 11.45 (Logo Gauge)
Ball 6: 11.6 (Non-Logo Gauge); 11.95 (Logo Gauge)
Ball 7: 11.85 (Non-Logo Gauge); 12.3 (Logo Gauge)
Ball 8: 11.1 (Non-Logo Gauge); 11.55 (Logo Gauge)
Ball 9: 10.95 (Non-Logo Gauge); 11.35 (Logo Gauge)
Ball 10: 10.5 (Non-Logo Gauge); 10.9 (Logo Gauge)
Ball 11: 10.9 (Non-Logo Gauge); 11.35 (Logo Gauge)
None of these measurements were shared with the Patriots prior to the release of the NFL’s investigative report.
And D’Qwell Jackson never got his ball back.
III. The NFL’s “Preliminary Findings” of Tampering Spawn a Biased Investigation
The NFL insists that it made “no prejudgments” regarding whether anyone tampered with the Patriots’ footballs. But not everyone in the NFL front office got that message.
Mike Kensil, then VP of Football Operations for the NFL “walked up to Patriots equipment manager Dave Schoenfeld on the sideline after halftime and said, ‘we weighed the balls. You are in big f — — — trouble.’” https://nesn.com/2016/04/mike-kensil-reported-deflategate-instigator-removed-from-nfl-football-ops/
Kensil’s statement, and the false information leaked to the press shortly thereafter, set the stage for the following months.
The NFL announced its investigation on January 19, 2015 (the day after the game) based on its “preliminary findings” that the Patriots’ footballs “may have been tampered with.” By then, Brady and the Patriots had already been judged guilty by the NFL and in the court public opinion. The NFL had to hope its investigation would prove it.
Enter Ted Wells and the now infamous “Wells Report.”
The experts Wells hired tried to recreate the atmospheric and temperature conditions that “most likely” existed during the AFC Championship, to determine the likely impact those conditions would have had on the PSI of the footballs. This was the first time the NFL ever considered that environmental factors would make a difference.
As described above, Wells’ experts assumed that lead referee Walt Anderson was correct about his pre-game PSI measurements and that the Patriots’. and Colts’ footballs measured at or near 12.5 and 13.0 PSI. respectively. But the experts assumed that Anderson was incorrect when he recalled using the Logo Gauge to measure the balls, and instead assumed that he must have used the Non-Logo Gauge.
The difference between the two is significant.
If Anderson was correct and he used the Logo Gauge for his pre-game measurements, it means that the drop in PSI for the Patriots’ footballs — as measured using the same Logo Gauge — could be explained by science.
According to the Ideal Gas Law, the Patriots’ footballs should have measured between 11.32 and 11.52 PSI at the end of the first half.
As measured by the Logo Gauge, the average PSI of the Patriots’ footballs measured at halftime was 11.48. In other words, the Patriots’ footballs measured exactly where they should have been. End of story.
But that didn’t fit the narrative.
So, instead, Wells and his experts assumed that Anderson must have used the Non-Logo Gauge — despite his recollection to the contrary. Based on that assumption, halftime measurements using the same gauge reflected a more substantial drop in PSI than could be explained by science. And if science wasn’t the answer, the argument goes, someone on the team must have tampered with the footballs.
Ultimately, after five months and interviews with 66 people (some more than once), Wells concluded it was “more probable than not” that someone on the Patriots staff intentionally deflated the footballs and that it was also “more probable than not” that Brady was “at least generally aware” of it.
The Wells Report gave the NFL the ammunition it needed. The league stripped the Patriots of two draft picks, fined the team $1 million, and suspended Brady for four games.
IV. Brady and the Patriots Get the Last Laugh
Brady appealed the NFL’s disciplinary ruling and Roger Goodell appointed himself the arbitrator. Not surprisingly, he upheld the league’s decision.
And then the NFL made a federal case out of it. Literally.
Immediately after Roger Goodell decided that the league’s disciplinary action was appropriate, the NFL filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to confirm Goodell’s arbitration ruling. Brady and the NFLPA asked the Court to vacate it.
Judge Richard Berman agreed with Brady and the NFLPA and vacated the NFL’s ruling based on several legal deficiencies — including a lack of fundamental fairness to Brady throughout the proceedings. The Court ruled that Goodell essentially “dispense[d] his own brand of industrial justice” and that the NFL had never before sought to punish a player for “general awareness of misconduct by others.” https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2331545-judge-richard-m-bermans-decision-on-tom-brady.html
The NFL appealed Judge Berman’s ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Second Circuit ruled in favor of the league, holding that the matter was controlled by the language of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and NFL Players Association. The CBA gives the Commissioner broad authority to determine what constitutes “conduct detrimental” to the league and determine discipline — “however good, bad, or ugly” the arbitrator’s (Commissioner’s) assessment may be. https://www.sdnyblog.com/files/2016/04/15-2801_complete_opn.pdf
Ultimately, Brady chose not to continue the fight and served his suspension during the first four weeks of the 2016 season.
In hindsight, Goodell did Brady, the Patriots, and their fans a favor — he gave our aging quarterback an extra four weeks of rest, while fueling the fire that would propel Brady and the Patriots to another Super Bowl win.
Brady and the Patriots got the last laugh. Together, they won three Super Bowl titles in the time since Deflategate began, making Brady the only player to win six titles in NFL history. Even apart, Brady and the Patriots are still going strong — and show no signs of stopping.
Deflategate may linger. But it’s Brady and the Patriots that come out ahead.
–Monica Davies is a Contributing Writer for Full Press Coverage Patriots, consultant, attorney, and football enthusiast. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
—This story was also published via Medium.com on October 2, 2020.