The New England Patriots don’t make it easy to be a casual fan of the franchise. On Sunday, uberhuman Tom Brady continued his life winning streak by discarding the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 and earning a spot in this year’s Super Bowl. It didn’t take long for the outermost coat of feel-good luster to be sanded off the Patriots’ latest triumph with a report by Indianapolis station WTHR that the NFL is investigating whether the Patriots used deflated footballs during Sunday’s home win, potentially making it easier for them to catch and throw in cold, rainy weather.
If this is a wormhole you’d like to dive into, here’s more on how game balls are managed and regulated in the NFL, via ESPN. If not, no hard feelings.
NFL rules stipulate that footballs must be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch and weigh between 14 and 15 ounces. Former NFL official Jim Daopoulos, in an interview with ESPN on Monday morning, explained the process in which footballs are managed. Two hours and 15 minutes before each game, officials inspect 12 footballs from each team and put a mark on them to indicate they meet the proper requirements and are good for usage. Then those footballs are given to the ball attendant. There also is a second set of six footballs, used specifically for the kicking game, that are marked appropriately and remain in the possession of officials at all times… The NFL's game operations manual states: "Once the balls have left the locker room, no one, including players, equipment managers, ball boys, and coaches, is allowed to alter the footballs in any way. If any individual alters the footballs, or if a non-approved ball is used in the game, the person responsible and, if appropriate, the head coach or other club personnel will be subject to discipline, including but not limited to, a fine of $25,000."
While Tom Brady threw for a suspiciously handsome 226 yards and three touchdowns with one interception on Sunday, it’s pretty much impossible to conjure a twitchy enough conspiracy theory to implicate the game ball in the 38-point demolition. The Patriots will therefore still be the AFC’s Super Bowl representative in Arizona, but could potentially be docked a draft pick for its game day shenanigans. And the Pats are not above shenanigans as the franchise was docked a first round pick in 2008 for videotaping opposing coaches’ signals.