This is my Thursday column.
I don’t trust Bill Belichick or Tom Brady.
But, I don’t want to rush to judgment. Maybe Belichick and Brady didn’t defile the integrity of the league this past Sunday. Maybe someone else or something else deflated the Patriots’ footballs before or during the AFC championship game. We don’t yet know all of the facts.
Here’s what we do know: NFL teams use their own footballs during games, meaning Brady was throwing the Patriots’ set of footballs and Andrew Luck was throwing the Colts’ set of footballs. These footballs must contain between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds of air per square inch. That’s a rule. During the AFC championship, the Colts accused the Patriots of using underinflated footballs. At halftime, officials checked them and determined 11 of the Patriots’ 12 footballs contained less than 10.5 pounds per square inch of air.
Underinflated footballs provide a forbidden advantage. They’re softer, easier to throw and easier to catch than regular footballs.
Two hours and 15 minutes before every game, each teams brings its footballs to the officials for inspection. It’s possible the Patriots handed over one properly inflated football and a bag of 11 underinflated footballs, and expected the officials to check them and inflate them. It’s possible the officials stuck an air gauge in only one of the Patriots’ footballs and not the other 11.
If the officials did not check all 12 footballs before the game, the NFL should fire them for negligence.
But, according to NBC Sports, which cites a league source, the officials checked all 12 balls before the game, which seems to eliminate the officials from our list of suspects.
This report doesn’t confirm the Patriots’ guilt. There are other suspects, like the weather.
As temperature decreases, air pressure in a football decreases as well. If the temperature in Foxboro during the game was 31 degrees Fahrenheit, the cold air naturally would have deflated each football by 2 pounds of air per square inch.
But, the temperature during the game was 51 degrees, not 31. So, it seems we also can eliminate the weather from our list of suspects. You’re off the hook, weather.
Who’s the next suspect? Consider the chain of custody.
After officials check the footballs two hours and 15 minutes before a game, an equipment guy gathers his team’s footballs in a bag, carries the bag to the field and drops the bag on the team’s sideline anywhere he chooses.
It wouldn’t have been difficult for the equipment guy to hide the bag behind the Patriots’ bench, kneel down and pretend to tie his shoes while casually sticking a needle one by one into 11 of the 12 footballs.
The equipment guy is my top suspect.
If he is indeed guilty, are we supposed to believe he acted alone?
Equipment guys don’t make unilateral choices like that. They follow directions or they get replaced by people who follow directions.
If a Patriots’ ball boy deflated the footballs, I suspect Brady or Belichick or both induced him to do so.
All Brady or Belichick had to say was, “Boy, these balls would be nicer if they were 9 or 10 psi,” within earshot of a ball boy, and they would get their point across. If the ball boy didn’t get it right away, Brady or Belichick could wink and nod to drive the point home.
I doubt they had to wink or nod. Brady explained his preference publicly more than three years ago to WEEI radio in Boston. “When Gronk scores … he spikes the ball and he deflates the ball,” Brady said. “I love that, because I like the deflated ball.”
If we know Brady prefers a deflated ball, the Patriots’ equipment guys probably know it, too.
I point the finger at Brady. Even if a rogue equipment guy worked alone, which I doubt, Brady knows the feel of a deflated football. As soon as he picked one up, he should have made the ball boy inflate it. Then, Brady should have made the ball boy check the other footballs. Too much was at stake not to. Brady had a chance to protect the NFL’s integrity, the Patriots’ integrity and his own integrity, and he failed.
I point a second finger at Belichick. He created a culture of cheating in New England when he started spying on other teams. The NFL fined Belichick $500,000 and took away the Patriots’ first-round draft pick in 2007 for videotaping the Jets’ defensive signals.
Belichick is one of the most successful coaches in NFL history, if not the most successful. Still, his contribution to the league has been negative. No one has besmirched the NFL’s reputation more than Belichick the past 15 years.
Belichick seems decidedly uninterested in the competitive part of football. He seems interested only in trying to cut corners and gaining crooked edges and winning at all costs. He leaves nothing to chance. Or skill.
If the NFL finds that the Patriots deflated the balls, the NFL should suspend Belichick and Brady for gross negligence.
But it won’t. You know it won’t. The equipment guy probably will take the fall and Belichick and Brady will get off scot-free.
That’s because the NFL seems to care less about its integrity than its media policy or its dress code. The NFL fined Marshawn Lynch $100,000 for refusing to talk to reporters and threatened to suspend him from the NFC championship game if he wore gold cleats.
The fine for deflating footballs is just $25,000.
What a wonderful league.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.