It’s a topic the NFL wishes would go away, but as the league and the New England Patriots prepare for Super Bowl XLIX Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium, controversy continues to swirl around Deflategate.
It all began in the second quarter of the Patriots resounding 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship two weeks ago. Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a pass from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and ran to the sideline to save the ball as a souvenir. He passed it off to a member of the Colts’ equipment staff, who reportedly alerted head coach Chuck Pagano that the ball appeared to be under-inflated.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson contacted NFL director of football operations Mike Kensil at halftime, and the league then tested the game balls. Per league rules, each team is required to provide 12 balls.
The next day it was revealed that 11 of the Patriots 12 balls were inflated to less than the league regulated weight and pressure per square inch. A regulation NFL ball is supposed to be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch and weight 14 to 15 ounces.
Instead the Patriots’ balls were two PSI below the league’s minimum.
From there a significant groundswell of vitriol engulfed the league and the Patriots, specifically head coach Bill Belichick and Brady.
With the 2007 Spygate scandal still a looming black cloud over the three-time Super Bowl-winning coach, Belichick held two press conferences in a four day span, first stating that he knew nothing about the ball weight and did not instruct anyone else affiliated with the team to tamper with them.
Many took Belichick’s first presser as a passing-of-the-buck to Brady, but the two-time MVP vehemently denied any knowledge of the under-inflated balls and said he didn’t ask anyone to mess with them. Brady said he breaks the balls in before a game, but his process never went any further.
Belichick held a second press conference, stating the Patriots did a thorough investigation and tried to break down some of the science behind how the balls wound up under-inflated. At one point, however, Belichick became frustrated with reporters and now-famously said: “I’m not a scientist.”
On Monday, FOX Sports reported the league was looking into a Patriots locker room attendant and was studying video of him entering a bathroom inside the team’s home Gillette Stadium with the balls in question. The video reportedly shows the attendant entering the bathroom and leaving 90 seconds later.
As the NFL continued its investigation, which revealed the league measured the balls at halftime of the AFC title game, Brady wound up taking most of the heat. Several former and famous quarterbacks supported Brady, like Hall of Famer Dan Marino, but many questioned and blamed Brady, including four-time champion and NFL legend Joe Montana.
Backing up his coach and quarterback, Patriots owner Robert Kraft demanded an apology from the NFL if its investigation found no wrongdoing.
In the week and a half since, reports emerged that questioned the story’s origin and whether the Patriots did anything wrong.
Jackson, tabbed as the player who first noticed the Patriots game balls felt odd, told the Indianapolis Star he had no idea how he came to be at the center of Deflategate.
A report from the New York Times released Thursday discussed a study by a Carnegie Mellon graduate student about how the Patriots assertion the balls were deflated during the game due to weather conditions could be validy.
Furthermore, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino revealed Thursday the league did not test the balls before the AFC title game. It’s standard practice for referees to inspect the balls some two hours before the game starts, but they do not measure the PSI or weight of each ball.
Now all eyes will be on Brady and the Patriots, as well as the balls used in Sunday’s critical matchup against the defending champion Seattle Seahawks. Brady’s level of play, and feel and pressure of the game balls will no doubt be scrutinized by the league, referees and the more than 100 million viewers watching around the country.
It’s a weighty, detailed filled story that’s run a deep course right up until kickoff. And any real answers or truth behind Deflategate probably won’t see light until well after New England and Seattle decide the Super Bowl.