BOSTON (CBS) — Given the need for immediacy in our news culture today, the 139-page report from Ted Wells on DeflateGate churned out hundreds of headlines around the country in a matter of just a few minutes. And thanks to Wells’ conclusions written on Page 2 of that report, the headlines were very neatly and easily packaged for all of us to share.
“Tom Brady likely knew of ‘inappropriate activities,’ Deflategate report says” —CNN
“Deflategate: Patriots altered footballs and Tom Brady knew it, report says” —Los Angeles Times
“Deflategate probe suggests Patriots’ Tom Brady aware of tampering, but clears Bill Belichick” —USA Today
“Tom Brady burned in bombshell Deflategate report” —New York Post
“Wells Report — Patriots, Tom Brady Cheated … In Deflategate” —TMZ
(You can question the journalistic credibility of those last two sources, but you can’t deny that millions of people get their news from those outlets.)
And on and on it goes. We’re guilty of it here, too. I’m not suggesting that this immediate digest of the news is wrong. It’s just incomplete.
The investigation process from start to finish took more than 100 days, and the results are complicated and thorough. While the ready-for-TV headline that “Brady likely knew” was easy to spread and will no doubt fuel the millions upon millions of folks who hate the Patriots with all of their souls, the right thing to do would be to actually read the report and draw conclusions based on the findings, interviews and evidence.
I’ve done that to the best of my ability (some of it is legitimately unreadable) and I will say this: It really does seem as though Patriots employee Jim McNally took the footballs into the bathroom and deflated them after they had been tested by referee Walt Anderson. Ergo, I believe that on the accusation that the Patriots intentionally deflated footballs in a secretive manner on the night of the AFC Championship Game, it seems they are guilty.
It seems that way.
But after all of that hubbub, after the countless hours spent investigating, that’s all we have. Seems. Likely. More probable than not. At least generally aware.
It is, frankly, disappointing, but given the NFL’s history of investigations, it would have been foolish to expect more.
So while I know that not everyone can dedicate the time to reading the entirety of the report, I’ll do my best to break down some of the strengths and the weaknesses concluded by Wells.
This part is important: Steelers fans, Ravens fans, Jets fans and the like will not care about any of this, and it’s not worth wasting any breath or time to try to infuse deep thought into the situation for them. Cheatriots, Belicheat, Spygate, and now DeflateGate will be the most-typed words on their computers and phones for eternity, so there’s not much use in trying to change that.
This isn’t for them.
Without further ado….
My biggest issue with the report is that the two employees — John Jastremski and Jim McNally — shared in a text message conversation that the genesis of Tom Brady’s desire for footballs inflated on the low end of the spectrum likely came from NFL officials’ overinflation of footballs in a Week 7 game against the Jets.
“I just measured some of the balls. They supposed to be 13 lbs… They were like 16,” Jastremski texted to his fiancee. “Felt like bricks.”
“I checked some of the balls this morn… The refs [expletive] us…a few of them were at almost 16,” Jastremski texted to McNally the day after that game. “They didn’t recheck then after they put air in them.”
What Jastremski is saying is that the footballs were given to the officials before that Week 7 game likely close to 12.5 PSI, and the officials put air into them but filled them up well beyond the allowed range of 12.5-13.5 PSI. If they measured at 16 PSI the following day, they must have been really pumped up for that October game.
Brady was, as the Jastremski-McNally text messages indicate, pretty upset about this instance of the NFL’s officials improperly inflating footballs, but this occurrence did not trigger a 100-day league-sponsored investigation into how it happened and why. That’s despite the fact that an NFL game was played with footballs not in the allowed PSI range.
(The referee for that Week 7 game was Bill Leavy. He was interviewed by Wells’ team, but there are zero mentions of what came from that interview.)
Granted, the referees’ inflating footballs over 16 PSI would not give the Patriots free reign to start sticking needles in footballs prior to future games, but it is nevertheless a major fact that is merely glossed over by Wells.
The major note, for me, is this: Tom Brady’s preference for footballs is for the inflation level to be “closer to 12.5 than 13.” After that Jets game, Brady said he learned the rule and then requested that all footballs be inflated at 12.5 PSI, “because he did not ever want to get near the upper range again.”
“In addition, Brady stated that he suggested that the Patriots give the game officials a copy of Rule 2 when they delivered game balls prior to each game, so that the officials would know that it was not necessary to inflate them further,” the report said. “He claimed that doing so would help ensure that the officials did not alter the footballs he had approved.”
Given this information, and given the complete absence of any evidence of Brady instructing Jastremski or McNally to deflate balls below 12.5 PSI, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the NFL can rightfully issue a punishment of any significance to Brady.
The fact is this: Tom Brady got angry when the referees pumped his footballs up to 16 PSI on a nationally televised game, and so he took steps to ensure that within the rules, that would never happen again.
Now, you can choose to believe him or you can choose to believe that he’s lying. But absent any proof or evidence of the issuing of a “code red,” so to speak, the NFL has nothing on Brady.
“Nothing,” of course, except a series of complaint-filled and expletive-laden texts between Jastremski and McNally. These are the pieces of evidence that make it seem most likely that a Patriots employee did in fact deflate the footballs after Anderson had checked the PSI levels.
Jastremski told McNally, “Can’t wait to give you your needle this week :-)”
McNally referred to himself as “The Deflator” and said, “I’m not going to ESPN …. yet.”
Jastremski also told McNally, “He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done…”
The “he” in that sentence likely refers to Brady, and “get them done” would seem to indicate that there was some sort of task involved for McNally regarding the footballs.
McNally, a man who has no actual job responsibilities that relate to the footballs, was shown on camera taking the game balls into the bathroom for 1 minute and 40 seconds. When he was questioned by NFL security that night, he lied and said that he did not enter the bathroom.
Reading the report, it would be very difficult to believe that McNally did not deflate footballs the night of the AFC Championship Game.
But we would likely know for sure if not for the most frustrating part of the entire experience: Referee Walt Anderson.
The veteran NFL referee was told in the days leading up to the game that he needed to be extra vigilant with regard to measuring the PSI of the game balls.
Despite that forewarning, Anderson:
1. Did not record his PSI measurements prior to the game. He merely tested them and then put them in the bag for the game.
2. He forgot which team’s footballs he measured first.
3. He forgot whether he actually discussed the warnings about PSI with Alberto Riveron or if it did not come up in conversation.
4. He forgot whether the gauge he used to measure the footballs’ PSI had a logo on it or whether it did not have a logo on it.
If Anderson had just done item No. 1 on that list, the Wells report would have been 15 pages long and would have concluded that yes, the balls were deflated by a human being in the time between the pregame inspection and halftime, when the NFL measured their PSI levels again. But because there is no base reading from which to gauge the later readings, all of the evidence and scientific studies are based on assumptions. Without those readings, nobody can know for certain that something was done to those footballs. Ted Wells can’t know. I can’t know. You can’t know. The report admits as much, saying, “Analysis of such data is ultimately dependent upon assumptions and information that is uncertain.”
One more note on McNally: He does not appear to be a Patriots-loving honk. In fact, he seems to hate Tom Brady.
“Tom sucks,” McNally texted to Jastremski, joking that his response to Brady’s complaints about the footballs would be to overinflate them in the future. “im going make that next ball a (expletive) balloon.”
“(Expletive) tom… 16 [PSI] is nothing… wait till next sunday.”
“(Expletive) tom… make sure the pump is attached to the needle… (Expletive) watermelons coming”
“The only thing deflating [Sunday]…is his passing rating.”
That doesn’t sound like someone who’s willing to do anything to help Tom Brady win.
But disliking Brady would not exonerate McNally from wrongdoing. Lots of folks dislike their bosses or people at work who rank higher on the food chain, but they still execute their duties.
These texts are important, though, because if the league had just fingered a “rogue ball boy” as the culprit, most of us would have been skeptical. But the detail of McNally’s involvement signal that he almost assuredly had something to do with those footballs that Sunday in Foxboro.
And if you were one of the many folks banking on science to explain the PSI drop, the Wells report is bad news for you. Citing work done by the firm “Exponent,” the Ideal Gas Law cannot reasonably account for the significant drop in PSI recorded in the Patriots’ footballs. In fact, the Ideal Gas Law would seem to explain why the Colts’ footballs dropped from roughly 13 PSI to between 12.15 and 12.95, and that drop works against the Patriots, whose footballs’ PSI levels dropped from 12.5 to between 10.50 and 12.30.
So if you were counting on science, or if you put your faith in Bill Belichick’s fascinating impromptu Saturday press conference before leaving for Arizona, you’re unfortunately out of luck. Science does not bail out the Patriots here.
However, it’s important to note that the science in this investigation is based on assumptions. Because again, Walt Anderson did not do his job and did not record the pregame PSI levels of the Patriots’ footballs despite being warned ahead of time to be on the lookout. Had he done that, so much guesswork would have been removed from the entire situation.
There’s also this: The footballs were measured at halftime by two different officials, and they came up with very different measurements. Clete Blakeman, whom you might remember for picking up the flag on Rob Gronkowski’s pass interference in Carolina in 2013, measured that on average, the Patriots’ footballs came in at 11.1 PSI. Dyrol Prioleau measured those same balls, and the average PSI was 11.49 PSI. That’s a not-so-insignificant difference.
Blakeman and Prioleau also measured four Colts footballs (they couldn’t do 12, due to time constraints at halftime). Blakeman’s average measurement was 12.6 PSI. Prioleau’s average was 12.44 PSI. Not as significant, no, but it’s interesting that Blakeman’s measurements were higher than Prioleau’s for the Colts’ footballs but lower on the Patriots’ footballs.
I don’t have a conspiracy to invoke here. I just think it goes to show that the nature of measuring the PSI in footballs is not an exact science. (Especially when there is no base measurement from Anderson to which one could compare these halftime readings.)
(As an aside, those readings determined that three of the four Colts’ footballs were under 12.5 PSI, yet the Colts are not under investigation for using underinflated footballs. Nor should they be, but that’s merely a reminder of what we’re talking about here: air pressure in footballs. For the first time ever, this is something under the microscope.)
–Nobody owes Robert Kraft or the Patriots an apology. Well, at least not for the carrying out of this investigation. The investigation actually found something, albeit a speculative guess at what happened. But it does seem like something went on, so the league is justified there.
The league probably could issue an apology for having more leaks than a Gillette Stadium bathroom at halftime. The dark shadow cast over the Patriots — for something that still hasn’t been proven — for the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl was probably a little bit unfair, and for that, Roger Goodell could issue a private apology.
But publicly, no way. That apology will not be coming.
What looks worst for Tom Brady is his message, passed on through Jastremski, in which he references McNally getting “them done” with regard to the footballs. Also not a positive for Brady is that cell phone records show he did not communicate with Jastremski for six months, but after the investigation had begun that night in January, they spoke six times on the phone in the three days that followed. Brady also invited Jastremski for a meeting inside the quarterbacks’ room for the first time in Jastremski’s 20 years working for the Patriots.
Brady did not turn his phone over for the investigation, but I don’t think that’s necessarily damning. Given that the investigation was about PSI levels in footballs and not state secrets, he’s well within his rights to maintain his privacy. Any text messages he might have sent to Jastremski or McNally would have shown up on their respective phones, anyway. In the Internet age, I wouldn’t hand over private photos of my world-famous supermodel wife to a bunch of men in suits, either.
Ultimately, though, there’s no hard evidence against Brady. You can believe or assume whether you think he demanded a sub-12.5 PSI football, but there’s no proof one way or the other.
We do know that he likes his footballs on the low end of the allowed range. He said as much publicly in that now-infamous press peppering at Gillette Stadium in January, and those comments seem to have been used against him. The points of emphasis in the following statements from Wells’ report are mine:
“The inflation level of game balls clearly is important to Brady as demonstrated by his reactions when he believed that game balls were inflated at an undesirable level.”
“During the process of advocating that rule change, it is reasonable to infer that Brady was likely to be (or become) familiar with the NFL rules regarding game balls, including the 12.5 PSI minimum inflation level, although Brady denies having been aware of Rule 2 or the minimum inflation level until 2014 (despite approximately fourteen years as an NFL quarterback).”
While Wells was, in a sense, hired to offer an informed opinion, those words seem more likely to have been written by the aforementioned bitter Ravens fan than an independent investigator.
Essentially, Brady’s claims were categorically denied and cast aside by Wells and the investigators, while referee Anderson was taken at his word, despite noted instances of him being forgetful on the night in question.
So while Wells may have found enough to guess or assume that Tom Brady likely had specific knowledge of some unsanctioned activity on the night of the AFC Championship Game, there is just not enough evidence for the league to justify any significant punishment.
They came close, but came up a few ticks short.