One of the more surreal moments of the New England Patriots’ “Deflategate” scandal came a few days after the AFC Championship Game, where the Pats had advanced to the Super Bowl after beating the Colts. In speaking to the media about whether his team had deflated its game balls to a pressure lower than allowed by NFL rules, coach Bill Belichick referred all questions to quarterback Tom Brady. He never defended him. It seemed odd considering how long the coach and player had been working together, and how much they had accomplished together.
After a four-month investigation in which the NFL brought in an outside legal firm and a scientific consulting outfit, and interviewed more than 60 people, it turns out the league pretty much agrees with Belichick. The league has determined “that it is more probable than not” that two Patriots employees altered the game balls before the AFC Championship Game. It is also “more probable than not” that Tom Brady was “at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.” Belichick, the Patriots ownership, and all other Patriots personnel were essentially cleared.
For fans who might have forgotten the specifics: During the first half of the AFC Championship Game, a 45–7 Pats victory, the Colts intercepted a Tom Brady pass, suspected that the ball was underinflated, and turned it over to the officials. Halftime tests concluded that all of the Patriots’ balls were underinflated. The balls, with the exception of the one the Colts intercepted, were reinflated and returned to play, but the controversy was quickly reported and the story dominated the news cycle for the two weeks between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl.
The surprisingly readable report is rich with details: It includes many texts between Jim McNally, a part-time Patriots employee whose title was “Officials Locker Room attendant” (and which gave him access to the game balls despite that not being part of his job description) and John Jastremski, the equipment assistant for the Patriots whose duties included preparing game balls to Tom Brady’s specifications each week.
One exchange, from Oct. 24, 2014 (apologies for the juvenile genital humor) implies that McNally is receiving compensation for deflating the balls.
Jastremski: I have a big needle for u this week
McNally: Better be surrounded by cash and newkicks....or its a rugby
McNally: Fuck tom
Jastremski: Maybe u will have some nice size 11s in ur locker
McNally: Tom must really be working your balls hard this week
There are no texts between Brady and either McNally or Jastremski, but the report mentions that Brady sat for an interview as part of the investigation but refused to turn over his text messages or emails that the committee requested.
The report also cites the testimony of NFL referee Walt Anderson, who conducted the pregame inspection of the game balls and who reported that the balls went missing before the officiating crew headed to the field:
It was the first time in Anderson’s nineteen years as an NFL official that he could not locate the game balls at the start of a game. Unknown to Anderson, and without Anderson’s permission or the permission of any other member of the officiating crew, McNally had taken the balls from the Officials Locker Room towards the playing field.
Video evidence showed that McNally had taken both sets of game balls—the Colts’ and the Patriots’—stopped in a bathroom for one minute, 40 seconds, and then took the balls to the field.
One question that is not answered is why game officials did not act sooner. The Colts had reported before the game their suspicion that the Patriots were using improperly inflated balls, and Anderson had noticed they were removed from the Officials Locker Room without permission.
The next question, of course, is what will happen to the Patriots. A suspension for Tom Brady seems likely. At the very least, his legacy is tarnished. And McNally and Jastremski are most certainly off his Christmas card list.