By Dan Wetzel
May 13, 2015
With anger still simmering, an appeal coming and Ted Wells holding a fiery teleconference Tuesday to attack Tom Brady's agent (professionalism straight out of the WWE), it's fair to say we are far from the end of deflate-gate.
A first-year attorney could lampoon Wells' report, and Brady has hired the prominent Jeffrey Kessler, so expect the four-game suspension to be halved on appeal. We'll see about the New England Patriots' lost draft picks and $1 million fine.
Still, at this point it's worth contemplating the totality of evidence, as Wells likes to write. And what's apparent is deflate-gate was more misdemeanor than felony, a molehill that commissioner Roger Goodell's office turned into a mountain via incompetence, vengeance or both.
The idea a Patriots lackey carried game balls into a bathroom and took a little air out via a needle prior to the AFC championship game is a relatively moderate rule violation – and a comical bit of gamesmanship. It's wrong and deserves punishment but not something that should merit a four-month, multi-million dollar investigation and the tsk-tsking of over-the-top pious law-and-order types.
"It's not ISIS," Tom Brady said back in January.
Wells should have focused on that line rather than whine about Brady not handing over electronic communication that may not exist (did he expect to find a confessional email chain with BBelichick@Patriots.com?).
It doesn't matter whether you think Brady and New England are guilty or innocent, punished properly or inappropriately. Me? I go with common sense and common sense says the Patriots' equipment guys did it to gain some advantage and Brady was approving of the act. Yet the biggest take away from this tiresome ordeal is how Goodell's lack of touch, vision, courage and guile created a circus.
Start with this: the story didn't go big until ESPN reported about 24 hours after the game that the NFL had discovered that 11 of the 12 footballs were measured to be more than 2 pounds per square inch below the league minimum of 12.5.
That gave a subject that almost no one knew much about context, significance and potentially sinister intent. ESPN cited a nebulous "league source" at a time when it's believed no one outside the NFL office knew the actual measurements.
Of course, that story wasn't true. It wasn't even close to true. Wells' report showed that none of the footballs, each measured twice, were that underinflated.
At that very moment, the NFL had to know the story wasn't true. Yet it did nothing.
So the league either created a fake story that was extremely prejudicial to the Patriots by leaking inaccurate information or someone else did it and the league office let it run wild rather than correct it with the actual air pressure measurements. It's tough to figure out which scenario is worse for Goodell.
Once it appeared the Patriots were up to something big then the public and media rightfully demanded a serious investigation into what wasn't that serious of a story. Goodell didn't steer this to the truth and away from the heated condemnation of a signature player and the validity of a Super Bowl participant (and soon champion).
He instead commissioned Wells' report, lending credence to a false narrative. Abdicating his authority to Wells led to the build-up for the report, which allowed a pack of Manhattan lawyers to serve as the cops, judge and jury.
Goodell could have looked at the pressure levels, saw that in the context of natural weather-related deflation it was fairly insignificant, doled out some kind of fine or even sanction and killed the kerfuffle in its tracks. It would have saved his league from all sorts of negative headlines and conspiracy theories.
A good commissioner would've done just that. He's supposed to "protect the shield," not provide talk radio fodder. There is just no way Adam Silver, Paul Tagliabue or David Stern lets this go down.
Even more bizarre, an NFL senior vice president emailed a letter to the Patriots stating that "one of the game balls was inflated to 10.1 psi … [and] in contrast each of the Colts game balls that was inspected met the requirements."
Those assertions were untrue.
No gameball was measured below 10.5 and most were in the 11s, which is within an acceptable range of natural deflation. Three of the four Colts footballs as measured by one gauge were below 12.5, although also within the weather realm (it's uncertain the NFL knew anything about Ideal Gas Law at the time).
Wells' report brushed this off as "miscommunication" but it's quite a miscommunication.
The NFL either had no idea what it was doing and was just making up facts without checking or, in a more draconian reading of it, it was trying to scare and/or silence the franchise into compliance by trumping up evidence.
What's also clear is the NFL never cared about a whole lot about the inflation levels of footballs, probably because it doesn't impact the game very much. The refs check the footballs pregame with a pressure gauge (which vary wildly) and that's about it. It's all a loose guess. In November, when Carolina and Minnesota were caught trying to doctor the footballs by warming them on a cold day, they each got a warning and everyone laughed at the story.
The Colts sent the league an email the week of the AFC title game with concerns about the Pats' footballs. The NFL ignored it, instead employing a process so casual that there is a viable counterargument that the league never even proved the footballs were deflated.
Even then the competitive advantage is debatable, if not negligible. Brady was better in the second half against the Colts. As Peter King points out, across his career he is almost exactly as effective on the road (when Pats personnel would have no access to pregame footballs) as at home (when "The Deflator" might operate).
The Patriots and Brady seemingly deserve some sanction, if only for having someone carry the footballs into a bathroom, but this grew beyond reason.
This wasn’t important to the NFL until the NFL retroactively made it important.
Nearly everyone is enjoying the haughty Patriots getting their comeuppance here and that's understandable. However, even if you think in the end Brady was secretly commanding this operation (as I suspect), is this how the commissioner's office should work?
What happens when the next time it's your team's time?