Add this on to the litany of things the Patriots have done throughout the years, some legal, some illegal, all of which have taken a concerted effort to stretch the interpretation of the NFL's rules to the max degree.
The commentary from non-Patriot fans heading into last season was that the team had never won a Super Bowl since Spygate. The 2014 club went on to shake off a very ugly start en-route to an impressive 4th Super Bowl victory under Brady and Belichick.
This was supposed to be the swan song for player, franchise, and coach. No longer could detractors point to "Spygate" and say "yeah but." The Patriots parlayed an unlikely turnaround into a playoff performance that even had Bronco Mike impressed with the level of resolve and determination exhibited. This was supposed to be the cherry on top, an-unheard of fourth championship in the era of free-agency....for #12 this was what was supposed to separate himself from Manning and move on to a different conversation with Joe Montana.
The team that finally broke through to another level of success did so through the same shady practices that has built their profile throughout the years.
Deflate-Gate Timeline and facts
According to the report, the Indianapolis Colts brought up issues concerning the inflation level of the game balls being used by the New England Patriots. At halftime, the psi (pressure per square inch) of game balls being used by both the Patriots and the Colts was tested by members of the officiating crew. To be exact, 11 of the Patriots game balls and 4 of the Colts balls were tested. It was found that each of the Patriots game balls that were tested measured below the minimum pressure level of 12.5 pounds per square inch that is allowed by Rule 2 of the "Official Playing Rules of the National Football League." The Colts' balls on the other hand were found to be within the legal 12.5-13.5 psi range.
From here the NFL retained Theordore V. Wells Jr. and the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to conduct an independent report into possible rules violations.
The findings of this report state that "it is more probably that the New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules." The report goes on to say "we have concluded that is is more probably than not that Jim McNally (the Officals Locker Room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (an equipment assistant for the Patriots) participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee."
As far as Tom Brady is concerned? "It is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls."
There were some scientific tests done that ultimately dismissed notions that the playing balls could have deflated that much from the naturally existing weather conditions. The gauges used in the original test at haltime were also found to be in proper working order.
The report details that Jim McNally told game official Walt Anderson that Brady wanted the balls inflated to 12.5 PSI. After both the Colts and Pats balls were checked by the NFL, the Patriot game balls "could not be located." Video evidence shows McNally taking the Patriot game balls from the Official's locker room to a bathroom located about three feet from doors that lead to the playing field. It was determined that the door was locked and McNally remained in the bathroom for 1 minute and 40 seconds before he exited and took the balls to the field.
In the months leading up to the AFC Championship, McNally was shown to have exchanged text messages with John Jastremski who was the Patriots equipment assistant, and the person primarily responsible for the preparation of Patriot game balls.
After a Thusday night game against the Jets, Tom complained about the inflation level of the game balls and McNally and Jastremski had the following exchange via text message:
McNally: Tom sucks...im going make that next ball a fu#$in balloon
Jastremski: Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done... I told him it was. He was right though...I checked some of the balls this morn...The refs fu@#ed us...a few of them were at almost 16...They didn't recheck then after they put air in them.
McNally: F!@# tom....16 is nothing...wait till next sunday
Jastremski: Omg! Spaz
It would appear from this exchange that the balls were tested, found to be underinflated, had more air pumped into them in order to comply with the rules, but were over-inflated and never checked. That game Tom completed 54% of his passes.
Exchanges from October 21st:
Jastremski: Can't wait to give you your needle this week :)
McNally: F@#k tom...make sure the pump is attached to the needle...fu@#in' watermelons coming.
Jastremski: So angry
McNally: The only thing deflating sun...is his passing rating
Exchanges from the following day
Jastremski: I have a big needle for u this week
McNally: Better be surrounded by cash and newkicks....or its a rugby sunday.....F@#k tom
Jastremski: Maybe u will hae some nice size 11s in ur locker
McNally: Tom must really be working your balls hard this week
Here we have the beginnings of what looks like "payments" for deflating the balls. To be fair, it is common practice for players to give locker-room workers gifts such as autographed memorabilia...the fact that in this case the recipient openly calls himself "The Deflator" and has a weekly running joke with another worker close to the situation regarding the deflating of footballs...not to mention that Brady's knowledge of such happenings has been implied by both of these individuals seems to paint a much different picture.
Exchanges from the following day
Jastremski: Size 11?....2 or 3X?
McNally: Tom must really be on you....11 Or 11 half........2x unless its tight fitting
Jastremski: Nah. Hasn't even mentioned it, figured u should get something since he gives u nothing.
Exchanges from January 7th:
McNally: Remember to put a couple sweet pig skins ready for tom to sign
Jastremski: U got it kid...big autograph day for you
McNally: Nice throw some kicks in and make it real special
Jastremski: It ur lucky. 11?
McNally: 11 or 11 and half kid
As for how long this went on? At least from the start of the 2014 season. These set of exchanges occurred May 9, 2014:
McNally: You working
McNally: Nice dude...jimmy needs some kicks....lets make a deal...come on help the deflator
McNally: Chill buddy im just fu@#in with you....im not going to espn........yet
At the very least McNally knows what he's doing is wrong and/or scandalous and knows that an expose to the sports world would garner a lot of attention (hence the reference to ESPN).
So what's the big deal?
Deflated balls are easier to handle because someone with a smaller hand can still grip and squeeze. Remember what a big deal Broncos fans make when we face cold weather games? It's a similar principal. W'e're worried about the ability of Peyton Manning to be able to "feel" and grip a football in cold weather.
In the scheme of things, deflating a football is a really small thing. Do I think it altered the game to a significant degree? Its hard to say in a game like the AFC Championship when the outcome was so lopsided. But the evidence at least hints at the notion that this was a practice going on all season long. I'm not naive enough to think that it didn't have some impact in the success of the team as a whole, especially when it took so long for Brady and the New England offense to start playing at a decent level.
Regardless, this isn't necessarily about how much the cheating impacted the game, it was the fact that this team CONTINUALLY pushes the envelope of the rules in order to gain an advantage. Whether it be fudging injury reports, snagging hurt players off waivers, skewing formations and eligibility in order to confuse the defense...videotaping signals from other teams and even taking that same sort of mentality to other teams (a la Steve Scarnecchia who illegally taped under Josh McDaniels)
The Real Patriot Way
The Real Patriot way has nothing to do with the intergrity of the game. To the Patriots the rules and procedures set forth by the NFL are nothing more than a nuisance standing in the way of their dominance. The real Patriot way is "by any means necessary." As long as they think they can continue to gain an edge, scandals such as spygate and deflategate will continue to occur. When the lines between black and white are continually blurred, this is what happens.
As for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick
I remember a very smug Tom Brady saying "Maybe those guys gotta study the rule book and figure it out. We obviously knew what we were doing and we made some pretty important plays. It was a real good weapon for us. Maybe we'll have something in store next week."
I also remember a seemingly forthcoming Brady claim that he didn't know or didn't order the balls to be altered in any way.
When asked if Tom Brady was a cheater:
"I don't believe so...I feel like I've always played within the rules....I believe in fair play."
When I look at a team like New England, it's not four championships that sticks out to me, it's all the drama surrounding the way they got them. I don't view Montana's Niners like I do the Patriots, nor do I judge Bradshaw's Steelers in the same way.
Call it an asterisk, call it a footnote, call it whatever you will, when the New England Patriot Championship teams come into discussion it's always going to be with "yeah...but they cheated."
Brady made it to six super bowls "yeah...but they cheated."
Belichick and Brady have more wins than any other Coach/QB tandem in NFL history "yeah...but they cheated."
Brady is the winning-est QB ever when it comes to the playoffs "yeah but he cheated and lied."
The New England Patriot way should be the milestone that all other teams look to for an example. Instead, they cheated.
Cheaters will prosper for a time, but their legacy will be short-lived.
I don't know about you, but I'll take my 43-8 super bowl beating any day of the week over a tainted championship--At least we didn't cheat.
I don't want to hear another Brady/Manning debate for the rest of my life. One plays the game the way it should be played with reverence for his fellow colleagues and unmatched character. The other? He's won a lot of games and championships, but did so while cheating.
It's called integrity, something the New England Patriots know nothing about.