BOSTON (CBS) — In New England, it is officially Colts week. And in case you were not aware … these two teams have some history.
Leaving aside the years of Peyton Manning getting embarrassed by a tough defense in the early part of the century, forgetting the efforts of former Colts GM/president Bill Polian to change the rules to allow Manning to run his offense more efficiently, disregarding the Colts’ crushing of the Patriots’ souls with a comeback victory in the 2006 AFC Championship game, and even overlooking the Patriots’ sheer dominance of the Colts during the Andrew Luck era, the two teams have an incredibly nasty history dating only back to January.
If you believe the Colts, it actually began last November, when the Patriots visited the Colts for a prime-time matchup in Week 11. The Patriots bullied their way to a 42-20 victory, aided by 201 rushing yards and four touchdowns from Jonas Gray. But it was a pair of interceptions by Tom Brady that caught the Colts’ attention that night.
From the Wells report (emphasis mine):
During that [Week 11] game, Colts strong safety Mike Adams intercepted two passes thrown by Tom Brady. On both occasions, Adams handed the footballs to Brian Seabrooks, an Assistant Equipment Manager for the Colts, on the sideline. [Sean] Sullivan also examined the footballs because, as he described it, he always checks to see how other teams prepare their balls to “make sure no one is doing a better job.”
Sullivan and Seabrooks said that the intercepted footballs appeared to be coated in a tacky substance and seemed spongy or soft when squeezed. They explained that even though they did not test the air pressure of the intercepted footballs at the time, based on their years of experience, the softness of the balls raised suspicions. They also cited unspecified chatter throughout the League that the Patriots prefer their footballs softer than other teams and that visiting teams should be on guard when playing at Gillette Stadium. They could not identify a specific source for this information or reference particular conversations. (Wells report, page 46)
Let’s break this thing down a bit.
First, the idea of ball boys examining footballs to ensure that “no one is doing a better job” is a crock. Equipment managers prepare footballs to the specifications of the quarterback. What other teams do really doesn’t matter. (These are the same equipment managers who don’t act suspiciously at all on the sidelines during games, mind you.)
But the real issue is that considering the game in question was played at Lucas Oil Stadium, the only people in charge of handling the Patriots’ footballs that night were employees of the Indianapolis Colts. Whoever Indy’s version of Jim McNally is would be the man in charge of the footballs that night.
So for the Colts to claim “the softness of the balls raised suspicions” is to say that the Colts were suspicious that a Colts employee might have let some air out of the Patriots’ footballs.
See the problem?
Now, when it came time for a January rematch in the AFC Championship Game, Sullivan sent an email to Colts GM Ryan Grigson, with the intention of the message being passed along to NFL officials. Sullivan said that Ravens special teams coordinator Randy Brown called Colts coach Chuck Pagano to warn of issues with the kicking balls at Gillette Stadium. Later in that email, Sullivan expressed his concerns about the game balls:
As far as the gameballs are concerned it is well known around the league that after the Patriots gameballs are checked by the officials and brought out for game usage the ballboys for the patriots will let out some air with a ball needle because their quarterback likes a smaller football so he can grip it better, it would be great if someone would be able to check the air in the game balls as the game goes on so that they don’t get an illegal advantage. (Wells report, page 45)
The Colts never could explain where those “well-known” rumors originated. But their explanation that it started in Week 11 in Lucas Oil Stadium is fundamentally flawed. Yet it continues to serve as a reasonable basis for DeflateGate because … well, because the whole thing was so convoluted and complicated that it was hard for the general public or even those who read the documents closely to spotlight every individual flaw. Frankly, there were too many of them to keep track of.
After Sullivan sent the email to Grigson about the suspicious footballs, Grigson forwarded it to game ops higher-ups Dave Gardi and Mike Kensil, the latter of whom forwarded it along to James Daniel, the director of game operations, and Daniel forwarded it to “game operations personnel” who would be in attendance for the game. Kensil also forwarded the email to VP of officiating Dean Blandino and senior head of officiating Alberto Riveron.
All of these people saw Grigson’s over-the-top verbal massage of NFL officials, all of whom do a wonderful job of protecting the shield and the integrity of the game.
Here’s Grigson’s email:
Just another FYI below. Again, all the Indianapolis Colts want is a completely level playing field. Thank you for being vigilant stewards of that not only for us but for the shield and overall integrity of the game.
Now of course, no fewer than seven NFL officials received Grigson’s email, and then Blandino and Riveron told referee Walt Anderson about the concerns. So we’re up to eight people knowing about these suspicions. And again, those suspicions came from a game when the Colts — not the Patriots — were in charge of the footballs.
During interviews, when asked to explain the source of their concerns about the Patriots game balls, Grigson, Sullivan, and other members of the Colts equipment staff referenced the Colts Week 11 game against the Patriots in Indianapolis. (Wells report, page 46)
Despite this advanced warning, Anderson did not record the pregame PSI measurements of the Patriots’ footballs, and he and the officials then allowed the bag of game balls to go missing before the game.
During this time, NFL official Clete Blakeman claimed that “Anderson was visibly concerned and uncharacteristically used an expletive when the game balls could not be located. The other officials were similarly surprised and concerned.”
This, despite McNally being in the restroom for 100 seconds. That’s not a whole lot of time for officials to A) notice the footballs are missing, B) search for said footballs, and C) freak out over said missing footballs. Yet it’s in the Wells report, so it’s an accurate account of what took place, according to the NFL.
And when those “surprised and concerned” officials learned that McNally had the footballs on the field, they did not take them back into the officials’ locker room to measure the air pressure, and they did not insert the 12 backup balls (which had been stored safely in the locker room the entire time and had not been in McNally’s possession). Instead, they said, “Game on,” and put those suspicious footballs into the AFC Championship Game.
“DeflateGate,” of course, officially blew up after the Patriots’ 45-7 victory. In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, Blandino claimed that nobody in the NFL had any knowledge of any concerns about footballs leading up to the game.
“There was an issue that was brought up during the first half. A football came into question and then the decisions was made to test them at halftime and now,” Blandino said in Phoenix. “I don’t know where [the idea of a sting] came from. This was a problem that came up in the first half.”
NFL executive VP Troy Vincent carried the torch for that misinformation. Vincent testified during Brady’s appeal hearing that as he sat with Kensil during the game, he did not hear about any concerns regarding underinflated footballs until Grigson complained in the second quarter.
“It was first brought to my knowledge approximately six or seven minutes remaining in the second [quarter] of the AFC Championship Game.” (Brady appeal transcript, page 229)
Vincent claimed that it was at that point — in the middle of the AFC Championship Game, immediately upon hearing of this football concern — that he told Kensil that the footballs should be tested. That’s quite a quick response time for someone like Vincent to make a decision, and Vincent’s testimony necessitates that Kensil did not say one word about the concerns to Vincent during the first two quarters of the game.
However this contrasts with what Vincent claims his job duties entail. Nobody talks about “preserving the integrity of the game” more than Vincent, and considering slightly underinflated footballs was clearly such an egregious threat to that integrity, it’s impossible to believe that Kensil did not say one word about the concerns to Vincent.
I understand this was quite long, so here’s the digest: The explanation given by Ted Wells and accepted by the NFL for the origins of the suspicions of the Patriots’ inflation/deflation practices makes no logical sense. In essence, for the Colts to have been suspicious of the condition of the Patriots’ footballs in Indianapolis, the Colts by necessity would have had to have been suspicious of their own employees.
After that, nearly a dozen NFL officials went into scramble mode to deny the occurrence of any “sting operation” or any arranged setup, to the point where they denied knowing anything about any deflated football concerns until the middle of the game.
These claims were proven to have been lies, which by NFL standards should warrant the liars a healthy suspension. But of course, the rules don’t apply to the men in charge, and so instead of Roger Goodell treating his employees like the unbridled vigilantes they truly are, he enabled their lies and gave us all nine months of nonsense that might never end. It forced Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to be placed under criminal-level scrutiny in press conferences, it served as one of the all-time biggest distractions facing any Super Bowl team, and the case is ridiculously still being fought in court.
And it all stems from a complaint by the Colts that makes no logical sense.
The Patriots visit the Colts on Sunday night.