A little over a week removed from the emergence of Deflate Gate, and with the dust settled from the numerous press conferences, exclusive reports, and a Super Bowl being hailed as one of the most dramatic in history, I’ve figured out just what happened to those 12 footballs in question three Sundays ago in Foxborough, MA.
By figured out, I mean that I’ve compiled about as airtight (no pun intended) a theory as I’ve heard or read from anyone, after breaking down all of what we know or think we know about the league’s ongoing investigation.
All teams cheat.
By cheat, I mean that all teams look for any extra advantage they can find that, in their estimation, falls between the written and unwritten rules.
The Patriots infamously violated league rules from 2000-07 by recording the signals of opposing coaches from the sidelines, but their defense was to try and tie the rule stating teams could not record “on the field” with another rule dictating that recording devices can’t be used to “aid a team during the playing of a game.”
Unfortunately for them, Roger Goodell hammered Bill Belichick and New England thanks in part to a 2006 memo outlawing recording an opponents signals during the course of a game, regardless of the circumstances.*
Step forward in time to Saturday, January 24th, 2015, and you find Belichick defending his Patriots from another scandal. In the midst of an impromptu press conference on the science of football PSI, he stated, “We as an organization have absolutely followed every rule to the letter,” and “we did everything as right as we could.”
While talking to a good friend of mine who races boats as a hobby, he reminded me of an adage I’ve heard before.
It’s not what’s in the rule book, but what isn’t.
What’s in the rule book is the description of a regulation football with the proper air pressure of 12.5 to 13.5 PSI. Once the Referee has ruled the game balls as up to code, they “shall remain under the supervision of the Referee until they are delivered to the ball attendant just prior to the start of the game.”
A few things to note:
- Nowhere in Rule 2 – Section 1 or 2 (the portion of the NFL rulebook pertaining to The Ball) does it stated that a team cannot add or remove air from a game ball.
- It is not written what can or can’t be done to the game balls between the time they are handed from the Referee to the ball attendant and kickoff.**
Combine all of this with Ian Rapoport’s revelation that only 1 of the 12 game balls was significantly below 12.5 PSI, while 10 others measured just under regulation, and we come to my theory.
Someone from New England’s staff, likely the ball attendant allegedly captured on video disappearing into a bathroom for 98 seconds with balls in tow, took air out of those footballs.
They just didn’t take them below 12.5 PSI.***
One ball did wind up with substantially less air in it than the others, but that can be accounted for by keeping the needle or air gauge used to accomplish the task in for a few seconds too long.
Tom Brady stressed twiced in his maligned presser that he likes the football to be at 12.5 PSI. Belichick said that even though, “the officials were asked to inflate (the balls) to 12.5 PSI,” that it is, “the official’s discretion to put them where he wants.”
If Brady wants the balls at 12.5 PSI, but the officials can put them up to 13.5, then how do you know that the game balls are inflated to where the QB wants them to be? By having an “elderly” ball attendant take them into a bathroom on his way out to the field and taking some air out. Just not enough to bring the balls below league specs.
I believe Belichick when he says, “We feel like we followed the rules of the game to the letter.”
I believe Brady when he says he, “would never have someone do something that I thought was outside the rules.”
I also find it interesting that no one from the Patriots game day staff has stepped forward and explicitly denied removing air from the game balls.****
The truth is somewhere between what is and isn’t said.
Just like competitors in any sport look for what is and isn’t in the rule book in order to gain the upper hand.
*If anyone tries to tell you the Patriots also recorded the Rams’ Super Bowl XXXVI walkthrough practice, remind them that no evidence ever surfaced and the Boston Herald retracted the story they ran that provided this bit of misinformation still circulating today.
**In Chris Mortensen’s initial report, he says that NFL rules do not allow alteration of game balls after they’ve been approved. I could not find that in the rule book posted on NFL.com, but considering a memo sent out in 2006 by the league specifically prohibited recording opponents signals, the Patriots’ history of massaging the rule book to justify their actions doesn’t kill this theory. It would just add to the likelihood that the league punishes the Patriots.
***Human error during the process of removing the air or the atmospheric conditions that Belichick detailed in his January 24th science lesson could account for the balls dropping slightly below the 12.5 PSI mark in the first half.
****Robert Kraft did demand an apology, “if the Wells’ investigation is not able to definitively determine that (the Patriots) tampered with the air pressure.” However, the statement simply put the burden of proof on the NFL, and was not an outright denial of guilt.
Dustin Copening is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @SNUtilityMan.