I think it is safe to say that most fans of the NFL despise the Patriots for their unmatched superiority over the past two decades. They are like the New York Yankees of football, always good every year, always have the best players in the league, and it seems like their dynasties are never-ending. It is frustrating to watch a team be successful year after year and after a while, you learn to root against them simply because you are tired of seeing them win. However, one thing that will really grind your gears is when a team like this allegedly cheats to help them win a playoff game. In 2014, there was a major controversy in the NFL regarding the New England Patriots and their star quarterback Tom Brady ordering the deliberate deflation of footballs used in the Patriots blowout victory against the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. The official rules of the NFL require footballs to be inflated to a gauge pressure between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch when measured by referees. However, the rules do not specify the temperature at which these measurements should be made. As a result, the Patriots most likely inflated the balls to the minimum pressure requirement, but the temperature they used made it drop below as the gases inside cooled to a colder temperature on the playing field.
Prior to 2006, it was the responsibility of the home team to provide the footballs for the game. However, in 2006, the rules were altered so that each team was allowed to use their own footballs while on offense, and the only time teams would handle a football used by the other team would be turnovers. The two players behind the encouragement of the rule change were Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and their justification for the change was that quarterbacks should be able to choose which footballs they want to use. However, this rule change held each team accountable for inflating the footballs to the required pressures, which created the opportunity to bend the rules a bit.
The investigation originated in the 2014 AFC playoff game when Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted Tom Brady and handed the ball to the Colts equipment manager to keep as a souvenir. After Jackson’s interception, the Colts notified NFL Gameday Operations that they understood there was an issue with the inflation level of a Patriots football. At halftime during the game, NFL officials inspected the footballs and stated that one football was measured to be two pounds per square inch below the minimum requirement, while others were just a few ticks below the minimum. It was subsequently revealed that NFL official Clete Blakeman measured five of the eleven balls were below 11.0 pounds, which is a full two pounds below the claimed original inflation target.
On January 23, the NFL hired Manhattan attorney Ted Wells to get to the bottom of the whole Deflategate situation. After several months of waiting for its release, the NFL finally published a 243-page investigative report regarding the deflation of footballs used in the AFC Championship game. The investigation concluded that it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots equipment personnel were deliberately getting around the rules and that Brady most likely was aware of what was occurring. The report focuses on the communications and actions of locker-room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski. The report concludes that these two members of the Patriots staff more than likely deliberately released air from the game balls after they were tested by the officials. In several texts between McNally and Jastremski, the two mentions and joke about inflation and deflation of footballs and consistently use Brady as a reference point. Furthermore, McNally referred to himself as “the deflator” in a text message to Jastremski back in 2014. There is also video surveillance of the Patriots locker room attendant taking game balls into the restroom for approximately 90 seconds. This video evidence supports the conclusions from the reports that it is more than likely that the footballs were deliberately deflated. Lastly, the report relied on the scientific analysis performed by the Exponent consulting company and supported by Dr. Marlow, a professor of physics at Princeton University. This analysis concluded that no studied factors accounted for the loss of air pressure exhibited by the Patriots game balls. As a result, the report asserted that the scientific study supported the report’s conclusion that the loss of air pressure may be accounted for by human intervention.
On May 11, 2015, the NFL announced that Tom Brady was suspended without pay for four games of the upcoming season for his involvement, based on “substantial and credible evidence” that Brady knew Patriots employees were deflating footballs and that he failed to cooperate with investigators. Additionally, the Patriots were fined $1 million and had to forfeit their first-round draft pick in the 2016 NFL draft as well as their fourth pick in the 2017 draft.
While the Patriots and Tom Brady ended up paying the price for their actions, however, I find these actions quite sneaky and pretty creative. They took advantage of a rule change that probably gave teams too much freedom and responsibility to manage their own game balls, and as a result, they took advantage of it. One reason why I find this scandal to be creative is that it was difficult to detect. According to D’Qwell Jackson, the linebacker for the Colts that intercepted one of Brady’s passes in that AFC Championship Game, he could not even tell that the ball was deflated. He also stated that he did not know how a slightly deflated ball could be an advantage or disadvantage because it was difficult to notice any difference. Furthermore, the behind the scenes of this scandal took a lot of creativity because it involved the least expected members of the Patriots staff. It is most likely true that the locker room attendant was the guy doing the deflating, as he took all of the game balls into the bathroom before the games and took the air out of them. These actions are very sly and I find it hard to believe that more staff members of the Patriots did not know what was taking place. Ultimately, the Deflategate was a highly controversial scandal because it was not definitive that the Patriots actually deflated their footballs. While the evidence suggested that they did, it could not be proven for sure. I think the Patriots ended up getting punished anyway because they are the New England Patriots and if they do anything remotely sketchy they will get flagged for it. Furthermore, since Tom Brady is and will be one of the best quarterbacks to ever play, he is held to a much higher standard than most other players, which is why he received rather harsh punishment for this scandal.