By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — It was the biggest sports story of 2015. Really, it was one of the biggest sports stories of all time, the one that involved arguably the greatest quarterback in history caught up in a sensational cheating scandal. It dominated the sports media landscape and spilled over into the news media as well as the pop culture corners of the country, as folks just could not get enough “DeflateGate” talk.

And it was all over nothing.

N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

Look, no matter what you believe happened or didn’t happen in that Gillette Stadium bathroom, the fact of “DeflateGate” is that much of the country became obsessed with air pressure and PSI levels in footballs for the first time in the history of mankind. Suddenly, a measurement that never before had been measured properly or monitored closely became proof positive that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were devious cheaters. Their legacies were, naturally, soiled eternally.

Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2015:

The damage here will not be seen in Brady’s play or the Patriots’ record, but in their shared legacy. Brady, a former sixth-round pick who has long been considered the NFL’s shining example of hard work and perseverance, is now officially a cheater who belongs in the same conversation as a Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds. The Patriots, who had already been fined and docked a first-round draft pick for spying in 2007, might now be officially the most deceitful organization in NFL history.

Chris Chase, USA Today, July 28, 2015:

[Nothing will] help Brady’s new image with the common fan. It’s one that’s more evil and nefarious than anyone could have imagined in the days and weeks after the scandal began. … That stain will always remain. Tom Brady, through complete fault of his own, has invited comparisons to sports villains such as Alex Rodriguez or Lance Armstrong over an incident that most treated as a joke as recently as two hours ago.

Thanks to Brady’s action, there’s no Deflategate defense any more. People can rally around a cheater but they won’t stand for a cold, calculating liar.

Adam Kilgore, Washington Post, May 6, 2015:

It helped, just like Vaseline on an offensive lineman’s jersey helps keep defensive linemen from yanking him around. He cheated.

Gregg Doyel, Indianapolis Star, July 28, 2015:

Brady has left Rafael Palmeiro territory, wagging his figurative finger at the camera and saying, “I don’t believe so,” when asked if he’s a cheater, and entered the more nefarious neighborhood of Ryan Braun and Lance Armstrong. Rigged muscles, rigged footballs — it’s rigging the contest. Gaming the system. Cheating the other team from the fair game it deserves.

Michael Felger, 98.5 The Sports Hub, roughly 3 million times from January-November:

I still need to see how he can play in cold weather without Jimmy Hot Fingers DINKING AROUND with the footballs. (Approximate quote.)

Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel, May 6, 2015:

Have you thought about this: How many other times during his career did Brady have an unfair and illegal advantage? How many of his four championships were illicitly attained?

Alex Marvez, FoxSports.com, May 6, 2015:

There’s a new leader atop the list of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. T*m Br*dy. … A softened football would give Br*dy a competitive edge because it’s easier to grip. … The question with Br*dy will always be this: Why would someone so good at his craft resort to an unnecessary shortcut for success at the risk of tarnishing previous accomplishments forever? An explanation and apology for doing just that would go a long way toward helping Br*dy restore what is now a name sullied by symbols.

That is, of course, just a sampling of some of the over-the-top, fiery hot takes issued by the bozo brigade in the wake of various “DeflateGate” developments last year. It could have gone on here for several thousand more words, and it certainly stands in sharp contrast to the near total silence currently surrounding Peyton Manning and the more traditional cheating accusations that have been lobbed at him in recent weeks. But that’s neither here nor there.

It is those last two snippet that, in the days following the conclusion of the 2015 regular season, really stands out.

How often did Brady cheat?

How much of an advantage did he gain?

How much of his career is … TAINTED?

What will become of Tom Brady’s … LEGACY??

Well, we now have a full season of data to try to levy a guess. And the answer is this: if you believe that Tom Brady built his Hall of Fame career based on some advantage gained by a manipulation of the air pressure inside footballs, then you are an idiot.

Granted, some people may have been able to surmise as much in real time when the hot takes were being flamethrown around the country for much of 2015, but now there is a statistical basis to add some context.

In the 2015 season, with the NFL instituting new protocols for monitoring footballs before games and ensuring that footballs are inflated to proper levels, this is what Tom Brady did:

–He threw more touchdown passes than anyone else in the NFL. Despite throwing zero touchdowns in Week 17 for the first time all year, Brady’s 36 TDs were one more than Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning and Blake Bortles. It was tied for the third-highest single-season total of Brady’s career.

–He led the NFL in touchdown-to-interception ratio. He threw just seven interceptions despite throwing 624 passes. His 1.1 percent interception percentage was also No. 1 in the NFL. The seven picks made for the second-lowest single-season total of his entire career, and that’s despite throwing the third-most passes of any season in his career.

–He ranked third in passing yards. He finished 100 yards behind Drew Brees and 22 yards behind Philip Rivers.

–He ranked fourth in passer rating.

He did this despite losing his best wide receiver for nearly half of a season and losing his dynamic backfield receiving threat in early November. He also lost his starting left tackle in mid-October and was without his right tackle-turned left tackle for the final two weeks. His interior line rotated three rookies and two second-year players.

Cam Newton may be the league’s MVP, but Brady just turned in a uniquely remarkable season in a career which years ago was already good enough to guarantee Brady a bust in Canton.

Oh, and for anyone who subscribed to the conspiracy that deflated footballs led to the Patriots never fumbling the football, thereby nefariously cheating the league? Idiots, too.

Despite the eye-catching headline that insinuated illegally low PSI numbers led to fewer fumbles (seriously, has nobody ever watched or held a football before?), the Patriots barely fumbled at all this year. Again, with the league monitoring PSI levels very closely, the Patriots:

–Had the fewest fumbles among rushers in the NFL with two (2). LeGarrette Blount fumbled once, and Tom Brady fumbled once. That was it. For the entire season.

-Were tied for the fifth-fewest fumbles in the NFL on receptions with three (3). Dion Lewis fumbled twice, and Julian Edelman fumbled once. That was it.

Some people, like my lovable pal Felgie, try to include Brady’s fumbles on strip sacks in this total. But to do that in order to shape an argument would be disingenuous at best and snively, weaselly and blatantly dishonest at worst. Good people wouldn’t do that.

–But even when factoring that in, the Patriots only lost seven (7) total fumbles all year long, which left them tied for second-fewest in the NFL.

Add it all up, and we now have data to prove what we already knew: Tom Brady did not rely on illegally deflated footballs in order to become arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. Likewise, the Patriots’ unparalleled success over the past 15 years has nothing to do with air pressure in footballs. Anyone who’s even remotely been involved with throwing or catching a football, or even anyone who spent more than 10 seconds to actually think about it would have already known that.

So for everyone who expressed foolish proclamations last year, now might be a good time to repent. Sure, there will be many who stick by their guns with the whole lying/cheating angle, which is their purview. But for anyone who actually believed air pressure in footballs made any difference, it’s time to admit your idiocy and start 2016 with a fresh slate.

And if those measurements taken by the NFL show that footballs do indeed deflate in cold weather the way that any scientist not paid by the NFL has stated they will, it might be time for a certain team owner to get a certain commissioner on the telephone. There may be an upcoming first-round draft pick worth discussing.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

Comments (3)