With the Chris Mortensen report that 11 of the 12 footballs used in Sunday's AFC championship game were underinflated, and the Vice President himself weighing in on the controversy, I suppose it is finally time to take a closer look at the Patriots' "Deflate-gate." This is one of those stories that, frankly, I considered dumb enough that it would eventually just go away, but it is now clear that I was wrong. It's Wednesday, and it's stronger than ever.
So let's take a closer look at the accusations, at Mortensen's report, at the implications, and whether any of this actually matters.
So how did all this start?
Breaking: A league source tells me the NFL is investigating the possibility the Patriots deflated footballs Sunday night. More to come.- Bob Kravitz (@bkravitz) January 19, 2015
Apparently, during the game on Sunday, Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson thought the ball felt deflated after intercepting a Tom Brady pass in the second quarter and told an equipment manager, who told Colts coach Chuck Pagano. And off we were.
Why was Jackson the first to notice this? Had no other Colts touched the ball?
Well, each team has 12 balls that they put into play for their own offensive series. So it's conceivable that no other Colt had noticed anything up until that point.
Aren't the refs supposed to check the pressure of the ball?
Yes, and they did, two hours before the game. If they were in fact deflated, it happened after that, but before the game. Why they didn't notice during the game? Well, that's a good question.
And it's confirmed that they really were deflated?
We don't know for sure that someone actively deflated them, but league sources did confirm to Mortensen that they were down "two pounds per square inch," which is actually quite a bit, considering they're supposed to be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. The NFL is investigating and, according to Mortensen's source, is "distraught."
Well, we can't have the league distraught, can we?
Heavens, no. Get them to the fainting couch.
Who had access to the balls to deflate them?
Theoretically, ball boys. No one else handles the balls during or before a game other than the officials. So assuming Tom Brady didn't have a needle in his glove, it was them.
How does one actually deflate a football?
It's pretty easy! You can use a pump needle, or, if you don't have one of those, you can even use a paper clip, a sewing needle or even a match.
And why would the Patriots do this again?
To make the ball easier to catch. Quoth a scientist person to NPR: "Particularly during that game which was very rainy, it's hard to hold the ball, it's hard to catch the ball. So by making it a little softer, it's easier to catch the ball."
Haven't the Ravens now claimed that they think the balls were doctored in their loss to the Patriots?
They have. According to CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora, "Baltimore's kicking and punting units were not getting their normal depth and distance, and some believed the balls they were using may have been deflated."
Wow, what a scandal!
Nope: The Ravens are full of it. Kicking balls are kept separately from game balls, sealed, and delivered directly to officials. Baltimore is just piling on to help flame a controversy, something the Ravens organization should probably try to avoid doing, considering some of their own issues this year.
Isn't there a way that the temperature deflated the ball on its own?
Yes! If you can believe it, there is actually an incredibly detailed and cerebral, fact-based discussion of this going on in the Deadspin comment section, right here. They're showing their math and everything. There's some debate as to whether a 45-degree temperature could deflate a ball 2 psi or whether it would just deflate it 1 psi, but it's worth digging into regardless. As far as my own back-of-napkin reading of it goes, it at least seems possible that the temperature deflated the ball on its own, yes.
Boy, that would be embarrassing, a huge three-day scandal because of a misunderstanding of the basic effects of barometric pressure on physical objects.
Yes, yes it would.
All right, so why does this matter? The Patriots won 45-7. This controversy is now literally the only interesting thing about that game.
Yeah, this is what I thought at first too. I mean, 45-7: Who cares?
Your tone makes me think you no longer think this way.
Well, it's just … I mean, it is sort of pointless: The Patriots blew them away and certainly would have done so if the ball had been full of helium. But this is not like a pitcher scuffing a ball. If a ballboy did deflate a ball -- and this will have to be something definitively proven -- it was because he was instructed to do so. Which means it's something systematic: It's the sort of directive that not only comes from the top, but does so regularly. If it is regular procedure, that does seem to be a problem, yes? Like Craig Calcaterra put it, it's one thing if a pitcher scuffs a ball; it's quite another if a manager commands his whole team to do it.
Would we even be talking about this if it weren't the Patriots?
No, obviously, but it is the Patriots, so there's precedent here. I've always thought that SpyGate was a bit overrated as a sports scandal -- it has mostly been used as a cudgel with which to pummel the Patriots because everybody hates the Patriots, not because it's any sort of smoking gun that explains a decade-and-a-half of success -- but certainly the Patriots can't claim to be a babe in the woods here either. Frankly, if there's any franchise that shouldn't be pulling any stunts like this, it's New England: People are looking for any excuse to nullify their accomplishments.
Why is that?
It's Belichick. It's not just that he's moody and cranky and weird. It's that no one inside the game seems to like him either. I wonder if this is because he takes the NFL credo of "winning is everything" and takes its to its logical, monstrous conclusion. Bill Belichick is about nothing other than winning: It is the only thing he cares about, in a way that pretty clearly has left him isolated in the real world and, I suspect, lonely in that same way that Michael Jordan was revealed to be in that Wright Thompson piece, so desperate to vanquish foes real and imagined that he lunges at every shadow. The rest of the NFL claims it is only about winning, but it's not: It's about networking and back-slapping and staying employed and ingrained in the NFL cultural sewing circle, just like every other job. Sure, winning is important, but it's not the only thing that's important: You always are in better if you have friends.
But Belichick doesn't have any friends. (Other coaches clearly hate him.) He doesn't play any of the gotta-be-palling-around-with-everyone-because-you-never-know games that the rest of the NFL plays. He has a burning, overpowering, actually-sort-of-sad desire to win at all costs, a desire that I'd argue exceeds that of his colleagues and peers. It has led him to all those victories … and it has made him the signature target of everyone else. People want to take Belichick down, maybe even more than they want to personally beat him themselves.
Could this actually take Belichick down?
It's tough to imagine. On Thursday, the coach offered a full-throated denial of intentionally deflating footballs, a denial that appeared, at first blush, to throw his own quarterback under the bus. Of course, it would have been tough to imagine on Monday that the Vice President would be talking about this the day after the State of the Union Address too. Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution actually argued that, if it turns out the Patriots did deflate the balls, Belichick shouldn't be allowed to coach in the Super Bowl.
He's about to coach in our nation's showcase sporting event, and if there's cause to believe he knew or should have known that improper measures were being taken in the effort to help his team reach that showcase … come Feb. 1, should he be allowed on the sideline? … Let's see how serious this commissioner is about protecting the shield -- or if he cares more about shielding one of his golden franchises and its coach.
There was also this:
I'm hearing from numerous players on the Patriots. I have players saying Belichick should be suspended for the Super Bowl.- mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) January 21, 2015
That strikes me as pretty extreme … but considering the year the NFL has had, who knows what will set Roger Goodell off? That said, the Washington Post reports that a likely punishment, even if the Patriots are found guilty of doctoring the balls, is loss of a draft pick and/or fines.
What do you think will happen?
Unless they can find a ballboy saying that Coach Bill ordered the code red, it's difficult to conceive of such a drastic measure of suspending Belichick or anything like that. But again: The way this season has gone, man, nothing would surprise me. Heck, what if … what if!
What if Brady had the equipment guys do it and Belichick didn't know? Possible?- Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) January 21, 2015
Get used to a lot of that.
Is this really going to be the story of the Super Bowl?
Yes. (He says, with a weary sigh.) It's always something that takes over and fills our two weeks with silliness until they play an actual game. Last year it was Richard Sherman's postgame rant; the year before it was the Harbaugh brothers. This year it's going to be Deflate-gate. Time to accept it.
Finally: At any point in the next 11 days, should I make some sort of testicle-related joke about deflated balls?
Please, please do not.