When Tom Brady eventually retires, he will undoubtedly be placed on New England’s version of Mount Rushmore. He will go down alongside Larry Bird, Bobby Orr and Ted Williams as one of Boston’s most beloved athletes. Often referred to as “The Golden Boy,” he has stood atop the sports world for his entire 14-year career, accumulating four Super Bowl championships, three Super Bowl MVPs, two NFL MVPs and 10 Pro Bowl selections.
Perhaps this idolization is why the media has had such a frenzy over DeflateGate; perhaps this is why ESPN has spent the past four months covering a story about football pressure levels. Although I am a diehard Patriots fan, I have rejected the defensive, stubborn attitude that many of my fellow Brady disciples have adopted throughout the investigation. The feud between the NFL and the Patriots has turned into a nasty break-up between exes, in which the reputations of the both the league and the Patriots have been damaged. Both sides have lost credibility as this legal process has broken down into a he-said-she-said argument.
When the Wells Report was released on May 6, the public’s general opinion shifted heavily in favor of the league. The report concluded that Tom Brady was “at least generally aware” of the deflation of the footballs. However, outraged by the lack of incriminating evidence in the report, the Patriots responded by creating their own website, wellsreportcontext.com, which refuted the claims made by the NFL. The website helped shed light on the shortcomings of the investigation, while simultaneously attempting to absolve members of the Patriots organization who were thrown under fire.
The website addressed many of the flaws in the report, but certainly did not completely exonerate the Patriots. Listed below is the noteworthy evidence provided against the Patriots in the report, as well as the rebuttals New England provided on their website:
The primary evidence used against the Patriots is the significant drop in PSI levels of their 12 footballs. While head coach Bill Belichick has attributed this drop to poor weather conditions, the NFL has concluded that the average drop in air pressure was significantly greater for the Patriots’ footballs than for the Colts’ footballs.
However, after the release of the Wells Report, it became known that two different gauges were used to test the PSI levels, and that the gauges provided different readings. One gauge, which had a Wilson logo on the back, had a crooked needle and generated typically higher readings than the other gauge, ranging from 0.3 to 0.45 PSI. This difference may appear miniscule, but it is essential in determining if the Patriots deliberately tampered with the footballs. Walt Anderson, the official who measured the footballs, does not recall which gauge he used before the game, but the NFL assumes he did not use the gauge with the logo.
This lack of certainty is crucial in this section of the investigation, as the gauge used before kickoff determines the starting point for halftime analysis. If this gauge with the logo was indeed used prior to the game, then the average PSI level of the footballs at halftime would have been 11.48, not 11.11. This higher average would lead one to believe the Patriots did not tamper with the footballs, as the ideal gas law cited in the Wells Report states that Patriots’ footballs should have been measured between 11.3 and 11.5 PSI due to the poor weather conditions. This argument is based on speculation, but when the burden of proof falls on the prosecution, it helps reveal one of the shortcomings of the investigation.
The other smoking gun the Wells Report claims to hold are text messages between two Patriots employees, Jim McNally and another New England equipment manager. In the texts McNally is referred to as “the deflator,” and makes comments such as, “I’m going to blow up the ball to look like a rugby ball” and “watermelons are coming.” These remarks certainly indicate shady practices by these individuals, but do not necessarily constitute hard evidence.
In fact, closer examination of the text reveals a message where they mention that footballs were overinflated by the refs to 16 PSI, well above the legal limit. At no point do they state that Brady directly informed them to deflate the balls below the legal limit. The Patriots responded by claiming that these conversations constituted friendly banter between friends, and that McNally was referred to as “the deflator” because he was trying to lose weight — not exactly a solid defense.
So what does this Patriots fan think? I will not adamantly proclaim the Patriots are completely innocent, but I will quickly acknowledge the shortcomings and flaws of the Wells Report. I do believe, however, using the NFL’s jargon, that it is more probable than not that this investigation has been blown way out of proportion, and that the punishment does not fit the crime.
Last week, the league issued the harshest punishment it has ever dealt: suspending Brady for four games, forcing the Patriots to surrender their 2016 first-round pick and 2017 fourth-round pick, and fining the organization $1 million. Many members of the league were shocked by the severity of the punishment, but the commissioner supported the ruling because of the lack of cooperation the Patriots provided. Furthermore, Goodell felt that New England, as repeat offenders due to Spygate, must be punished accordingly for threatening the integrity of the game.
The harsh ruling is certainly within the jurisdiction of the commissioner, but was questioned by many because of previous incidences the NFL has dealt with this year. Ray Rice, who was caught on tape physically assaulting his fiancée, was only suspended two games. Why the debate of under-inflated footballs has received more media attention and scrutiny than the league’s primary problems — domestic violence, drunk driving and suicide-related concussions — is beyond me.
Michael Woo thinks that Stanford football should start deflating the balls that Kevin Hogan uses this offseason — based on historical precedent, that would push Stanford all the way to a College Football Playoff championship. Contact Michael at mtwoo ‘at’ stanford.edu.