INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is a quiet, laid-back kind of guy.
He doesn’t worry about personal mementoes, tries to avoid controversy and scandal and normally toes the company line.
But as this weekend’s NFL feature attraction looms, Jackson finds himself in an unusual spot — explaining how he unwittingly got thrown into the center of the months-long storm dubbed “Deflategate.”
“I had no idea it would end up like this,” the 32-year-old Jackson said Wednesday at the team complex. “Twenty years from now, I’m sure they’ll still kind of flirt around with it, so I guess it will be cool. Everything else that came out of that was nothing I had anything to do with. ”
Twenty years? The questions followed him to his first Pro Bowl, into his second season in Indy and now into one of the biggest games of this season — Sunday’s rematch with the Patriots (4-0).
Jackson never wanted to be in the spotlight for something like this, all he wanted to do on that wet January day in Foxborough, Massachusetts, was make a play.
By undercutting Rob Gronkowski’s route early in the second quarter, Jackson prevented the Patriots from taking a 21-0 lead and for that Jackson makes no apologies.
“I made a play that helped our team,” he said. “If that’s the case, I want to be a part of it.”
He ended up making the play that turned the NFL’s offseason upside down.
It embarrassed one of the league’s biggest stars, Tom Brady, one of the league’s most successful franchises and set off a long debate about whether the ball Jackson got his hands on, or any others Brady threw in that AFC championship game, were underinflated. Or it even mattered.
Jackson still insists he never noticed a difference because he doesn’t get his hands on many footballs. The 10-year veteran has only nine career interceptions including the one off Brady.
But Indianapolis officials were suspicious enough to alert the league office before the AFC championship game began. So when Jackson came up with the ball and the team equipment staff found it to be too light, Jackson found himself in the midst of a circus-like environment that grabbed headlines for months.
Ted Wells’ investigation cost the NFL nearly $5 million. Brady’s legacy was questioned. The personal relationship between Patriots owner Robert Kraft and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared strained after the league announced Brady would be suspended for four games and then refused to reduce it. Brady took the case to court, where the suspension was nullified, and now the NFL has appealed that decision. Oral arguments are not expected to be heard until February.
“It started a conversation about how the league operates,” Jackson said, explaining he supported the players association’s defense of Brady. “From my understanding, there was no policy for how he should be punished for his actions. It’s only going to help our game.”
The 38-year-old Brady has responded to the reversal by putting up MVP-type numbers.
On Sunday, exactly nine months after Jackson’s play, New England and Indianapolis (3-2) will meet for the third time in 11 months — and the first time since the furor over a football began.
Both teams have done their best to sidestep the subject this week.
Belichick didn’t address the controversy during his typically bland news conferences, and Brady wouldn’t even acknowledge that there’s any additional motivation for him to beat the Colts one more time.
“Like I said, I’m always pretty motivated regardless of the opponent, regardless of the team or the week, whether it’s a preseason game, whether it’s a regular season game,” he said.
The Colts have been nearly as quiet.
When Andrew Luck was asked if he thought Brady’s legacy had been tainted in any way by the investigation, Luck took the high road. Most of his teammates have stayed quiet, too, and there’s a reason for it
“There’s probably less talk about it in this locker room than anywhere else because us losing that game had nothing to do with footballs,” backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said Thursday. “Losing that game had everything to do with them playing good football and us playing bad football.”
But in Jackson’s case, everyone wants to know about the football he’s still trying to get back.
“I have not received it. That’s the mystery ball,” he said. “If you could tell me where it is, you would do me a huge favor.”
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