What is Deflategate? A Definitive Guide.

Do you think Deflategate was about the New England Patriots definitely deflating 11 of their 12 game footballs to gain an advantage over the Indianapolis Colts? You know that cold weather has no impact on the air pressure of a football? You're wrong and this page is for you.

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YOUR ELI5 SUMMARY OF DEFLATEGATE

WHO: The New England Patriots (the victim), the Indianapolis Colts (the perp and patsy), the Baltimore Ravens (the accomplice), and, most importantly, a bunch of new-money NFL owners looking to trump up a nothing report into a bludgeon they could use to embarrass Patriots old-money owner Robert Kraft in their pitched battle over the direction of the league.

WHAT: A couple hours after the Patriots easily disposed of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game, Colts reporter Bob Kravitz broke a story that the NFL was investigating the Patriots for using underinflated footballs in the game.

Soon afterwards, Chris Mortensen inaccurately reported, based upon a now-discredited leak from the league, that 11 of the Patriots' 12 game footballs were deflated 2 PSI below the 12.5 PSI minimum legal requirement (Mortensen finally removed his inaccurate tweet on August 4, 2015 -- 195 days after he posted it.)

It was also reported that the Ravens, fresh off their own humiliating defeat to the eventual 2015 Champions, may have tipped off the Colts about the phantom issue. Documents from Tom Brady's appeal hearing, released on August 4, indicated that the Ravens did indeed warn the Colts about their suspicion that the Patriots might be deflating footballs.

In the publicly released court transcripts from Tom Brady's appeal hearing, it became clear that NFL league-office officials had no idea about the Ideal Gas Law or that football air pressure could drop naturally on account of cold temperatures.

From page 231 (page 62 of the linked PDF file) of those transcripts:

Question: "So prior to this game, okay, had you ever heard of the Ideal Gas Law?"

Executive VP of Football Operations Troy Vincent: "No sir."

Question: "Do you know if anyone in the NFL Game-Day Operations had ever discussed the impact of the Ideal Gas Law in testing footballs?"

Vincent: "Not with me.”

Question: "You had never heard to that?"

Vincent: "Never."

At the time, league officials believed that the only way a football could start at 12.5 PSI and drop to 11.8 PSI was if someone stuck a needle in and took that pressure out. Given their 2016 inaction against the Pittsburgh Steelers who played with similarly deflated cold-weather balls, it looks like the league now understands the Ideal Gas Law.

WHEN: After the January 18, 2015 AFC Championship Game

DEFLATEGATE TIMELINE: PENALTIES, APPEALS & REVENGE

Although NFL independent investigator special prosecutor Ted Wells said he would wrap up his investigation within weeks, he was able to persuade the new-money owners into paying him for over 100 days of work to try to build the league's case against Kraft and the Patriots.

On May 6, 2015 Wells and NFL general council Jeff Pash released their report. Ultimately, however, the best they could do was arrive at the conclusion that there was no direct evidence pointing to the intentional or illegal deflation of the Patriots footballs.

Instead, they fell back on a subjective "more probable than not" accusation that there was some dastardly deflations and dishonestly tied Brady to this phantom scheme with the thin tether that he was "at least generally aware" of this devious deflation scheme.

Interestingly enough, they were only able to do this by selectively ignoring the "best recollection" of head referee Walt Anderson because it didn't support the NFL's bogus case against the Patriots.

On May 11, 2015, the league announced their punishments for Brady and the Patriots, with Brady being suspended for four games, the team being fined $1 million and surrendering their first-round draft pick in 2016 and fourth-round pick in 2017.

On May 14, 2015, Brady and the NFL Players Association notified the NFL that they would appeal the league's decision. Despite the NFLPA's call for an independent arbitrator, the NFL recognized that with such a factless case they could not take that chance. The league subsequently announced that Goodell would preside over the appeal, thereby insuring that their "more probable than not - at least generally aware" judgment would not be embarrassingly overturned.

On June 23, 2015, Brady's 11-hour appeal took place at NFL headquarters in New York City.

On July 28, 2015, Goodell unsurprisingly announced that he would uphold Brady's four-game suspension and began pushing a dishonest media narrative (see details below) that Brady attempted to cover-up the phantom ball deflation conspiracy. Brady and the NFLPA quickly announced plans to challenge Goodell's decision in U.S. District Court.

On September 3, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman issuing a ruling that smashed holes in -- what he called -- the "heralded Pash/Wells 'independent' investigation". Yeah, he really did use quotes around "independent" and he really did list the NFL's attorney as a co-author. Berman's decision overturned the NFL’s four game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady and was premised upon several significant legal deficiencies in the NFL's case, including (A) inadequate notice to Brady of both his potential discipline (four-game suspension) and his alleged misconduct; (B) denial of the opportunity for Brady to examine one of two lead investigators, namely NFL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash; and (C) denial of equal access to investigative files, including witness interview notes. The league immediately appealed the Judge Berman's decision.

On April 25, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York ruled that, regardless of the bumbling investigation and lack of evidence that Tom Brady broke any rules, the commissioner still had the right to impose any penalty that he wanted. NFL players had foolishly given him that power in the collective bargaining agreement they signed with league owners. With their 2-1 decision, Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann, Judge Barrington D. Parker and Judge Denny Chin reinstated Brady's four-game suspension.

On April 28, 2016, the Patriots forfeited their first-round draft pick because they played their AFC Championship Game in cold weather against a hapless competitor and in a league with an incompetent commissioner and dozens of envious team owners.

On September 11, 2016, the Patriots kicked off their 2016 regular season with Tom Brady suspended the first four games for being "at least generally aware" that cold weather reduces the air pressure in footballs. Patriots second-string quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett combined to go 3-1 in those four games. The Patriots beat the then NFC-favorite Arizona Cardinals on the road, the 2016 Wild Card Miami Dolphins at home and the 2016 AFC South champion Houston Texans at home. In their fourth game without Brady, the Patriots finally lost when they discovered that they couldn't beat the Buffalo Bills by starting their third-string quarterback with a torn ligament in the thumb on his throwing hand.

On October 9, 2016, a healthy and rested Tom Brady started his season with the 2016 Patriots. He went 11-1, helping the Patriots achieve the best record and #1 seed in the AFC and a first-round playoff bye. Brady and the Patriots went on to beat the Houston Texans in the divisional round and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game to secure a trip to their record ninth team Super Bowl, and record seventh appearance by Brady and head coach Bill Belichick (seven as a head coach, but another two as an assistant coach).

On February 5, 2017, the Patriots faced off against the Atlanta Falcons and 2016 league MVP quarterback Matt Ryan in Super Bowl LI. The Falcons started fast and strong, taking advantage of two early Patriots turnovers to build a seemingly insurmountable 25 point lead late in the 3rd quarter. The Patriots, however, mounted the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, forcing the first ever Super Bowl overtime. The Patriots won the overtime coin toss, received the kickoff and Brady drove the offense 75 yards in 9 plays for the game-winning touchdown, successfully concluding their epic Deflategate Revenge Tour. In the end, Brady and the Patriots overcame the 25-point deficit by scoring 31 unanswered points.

In the game, Brady completed 43 out of 62 passes for a Super Bowl record 466 yards and earned a record 4th Super Bowl MVP. With the win, he became to only quarterback to win 5 Super Bowls. Brady and the Patriots also set records for most touchdown passes in the Super Bowl, most first downs in the game, most offensive plays and many more.

Goodell and Brady

Goodell: ("Uh oh, this is not how the new-money owners wanted my frame-smear to go.")

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT DEFLATEGATE

YOU'RE WRONG IF YOU THINK: The weather couldn't have been the cause of the deflation because none of the Colts' game footballs were below the 12.5 PSI minimum.

REALITY: Oh boy, where to begin? [DISCLAIMER: I'm going to proceed under the assumption that you are not a person who denies the cold, hard honesty of science.]

First, on June 14, 2015 The New York Times published a story titled "Deflating 'Deflategate'" which summarized an analysis of the Wells Report done by an independent think tank called the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

The AEI "On the Wells report" concluded:

"When we analyzed the data provided in the Wells report, we found that the Patriots balls declined by about the expected amount [ed. note: based on the Ideal Gas Law], while the Colts balls declined by less. In fact, the pressure of the Colts balls was statistically significantly higher than expected."
"This implies that the Colts balls sat in the warm room where they were to be measured — and thus increased in pressure — for almost the entirety of halftime before being measured."
"Logistically, the greater change in pressure in the Patriots footballs can be explained by the fact that sufficient time may have passed between halftime testing of the two teams’ balls for the Colts balls to warm significantly, effectively inflating them."

Second, the game officials admitted that they did not log the starting pressure of any of the 24 game footballs so we'll never know for sure the starting pressure of the Patriots and Colts footballs. This is important because if the Patriots started at the low-end of legal (12.5 PSI) and the Colts started at the high-end of legal (13.5 PSI) then weather-based deflation could easily push one set of footballs into the illegal zone while dropping the other to the low-end legal zone.

Third, both cold and moisture affect the pressure of a football. A Carnegie Mellon team simulated the temperature and moisture environment of the game and found that the average amount of temperature and moisture deflation was more than 1 PSI, with a maximum drop of nearly 2 PSI. When leather gets wet, it is easier to stretch, which would lower the bladder pressure.

Fourth, because of the Colts inept AFC Championship game offensive, they (and their balls) were on the field much less of the first half than the Patriots were. Each team had five first-half possessions, but the Colts offense was in the cold and rain for only 12:30 game-minutes while the Patriots were on for 17:30 game-minutes. Because of clock stoppages, commercials and such, the difference of 5 game minutes equates to about 15 more real-time minutes and is 40% more in-the-elements time.

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YOU'RE WRONG IF YOU THINK: 11 of the Patriots' 12 game footballs were definitely underinflated by more than 2 PSI.

REALITY: Ian Rapoport reported on the morning of Super Bowl XLIX that only one Patriots' game ball was 2 PSI below the minimum and the others were close to or "just ticks under the minimum."

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YOU'RE WRONG IF YOU THINK: Tom Brady was deviously covering up his cheating history by destroying his personal cell phone.

REALITY: Throughout their dishonest case against Brady and the Patriots, the league regularly leaked misleading or false information to swing public opinion in their favor. Reported Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk:

"It started, of course, with the mistaken air pressure information from the initial letter to the Patriots, in which league executive Dave Gardi told the team that one of the footballs measured at 10.1 PSI — even though none of them were that low. It quickly continued with the leak of blatantly false information to ESPN that 11 of the 12 Patriots footballs were a full two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum. This cemented the notion that someone deflated the footballs, leaving only two questions: (1) who did it?; and (2) who knew about it?

"Months later, it became clear that the information was incorrect. But the damage already had been done, with a curiosity instantly morphing into a multi-million-dollar investigation and the Patriots thrown against the ropes from the outset of the fight.

"The P.R. mastery continued with the release of the Ted Wells report, which created the initial widespread impression that the Patriots cheated, and that quarterback Tom Brady knew about it. By the time those in the media inclined to digest the 243-page opus began to notice the warts, the narrative had been locked in by those who admittedly didn’t bother to roll up their sleeves and start reading.

"The coup de grâce came Tuesday morning, when the league leaked to ESPN that 'Brady destroyed his cell phone,' locking in the notion that something sinister — and irreparable — had occurred. The press release announcing the decision likewise focused on the destruction of the cell phone, raising eyebrows from sea to shining sea and reinforcing for many the idea that Brady had something to hide, and that he tried to hide it."

The truth, however, was buried in a footnote (#11 on page 12) in the NFL's "FINAL DECISION ON ARTICLE 46 APPEAL OF TOM BRADY". Florio translated it into English: "Although the text messages couldn't be retrieved directly from Brady’s phone, his agents provided all of the phone numbers with which Brady exchanged text messages. His agents also said that the league could attempt to get the actual text messages from the phones of the people with whom Brady communicated, but the league refused to attempt to try, claiming that it would be too hard to track down the various people and to persuade them to cooperate."

This was a bogus excuse from the league as only a small fraction of those numbers would have been relevant since only Patriots employees could be involved in the phantom deflation scheme. In reality, the league knew their leaked "Brady destroys cell phone" headline would be all they needed to win the public relations fight.

So in fact, "Brady destroys cell phone" did not mean "Brady destroys evidence" it simply meant "Brady makes it harder for the league to see and leak all his personal texts" (as they were wont to do) by forcing them to only dig into the work-related numbers on his phone (who would be compelled to give consent to the league), and not the ones of his friends and family (who would not have given the league consent to invade their privacy.) They still could have if they wanted to, but they chose not to.

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YOU'RE WRONG IF YOU THINK: The Wells report was an independent investigation with no trace of an agenda.

REALITY: Ted Wells and his team acted as a special prosecutor for the league, working with the NFL's executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash to build a case (poorly) to support a pre-determined conclusion. As the months rolled on, it became clear that he did not act as an independent investigator as the league wanted us all to believe.

In his ruling vacating Tom Brady's suspension, Judge Richard Berman assigned the NFL unambiguous co-authorship of the report, calling it the "Pash/Wells" report. He even used quotes around the term "independent."

Many steps along the way, Wells twisted the story to paint a picture that he (and clearly the NFL) wanted. One of the most significant was his coaxing of referee Walt Anderson into correcting which pressure gauge he used for his pre-game football PSI measurements.

The one Anderson thought he used based upon his "best recollection" showed no unexplained non-environmental deflation. The one Wells talked him into -- getting Anderson to admit was "possible" that he used -- showed a deflation beyond what could be explained by the ideal gas law. Later in his report, Wells morphs Anderson "possible" into a "more probable". This is the only time, by the way, that Wells report rejects any of Anderson's recollections.

The entire "deflategate" charge rides on which gauge was used for the pre-game measurements. If it was the logo gauge, then the PSI drops are completely explained by the ideal gas law. If it was the non-logo gauge, then they are not. Considering the critical importance of which gauge Anderson used in his pre-game measurements, this is one of the most curious parts of the Wells report and one of the biggest tells that there was a more probable than not directive from Goodell and the league office to find evidence to support their pre-determined verdict.

Said Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, "Anderson recalls using the gauge before the game that, based on the halftime measurements, leads to a finding of no tampering. So how did Ted Wells get around the 'best recollection' of Walt Anderson? Wells persuaded Anderson to admit that it’s 'certainly possible' he used the other gauge." Florio concluded, "That’s how investigations that start with a predetermined outcome and work backward unfold."

To summarize:

  • WHAT ANDERSON SAID: "Although Anderson's best recollection is that he used the Logo Gauge, he said that it is certainly possible [ed. note: when pressed by Wells] that he used the Non-Logo Gauge." (p 52)
  • WHAT WELLS REPORTED: "We believe it is more probable that Anderson used the Non-Logo Gauge for his pre-game measurements." (p 52, footnote 30)

cavlin-and-hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes perfectly summarizing the Pash/Wells "independent" report

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YOU'RE WRONG IF YOU THINK: The NFL doesn't have some undercurrent of anti-Patriots bias.

REALITY: A few good-natured, but telling, rapid-fire social media posts from the NFL's official Instagram and Twitter accounts:

And topped off with this hand-tipper (which the league eventually took down):

You don't generally find this level of social media trolling for the other 31 teams.

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YOU'RE WRONG IF YOU THINK: The NFL disciplined the Patriots the same way they would have discipline any team suspected of tampering with game balls.

REALITY: In 2009, the NFL suspended a member of the New York Jets equipment staff for attempting to use "unapproved equipment to prep the K[icking] Balls" before a game against the New England Patriots. The infraction was revealed in the petition filed by the NFLPA in the Tom Brady Deflategate suspension (see page 37).

The NFL suspended the equipment staff member, but did not investigate or discipline the Jets kicker for “general awareness” or specific involvement, even though the Jets kicker (like Tom Brady in Deflategate) was the player most likely to benefit from the behavior and, in turn, the player most likely to be aware of the conduct.

This faux scandal was created, inflated and perpetuated by Mike Kensil, Roger Goodell and the league office to take the Patriots down a notch and solidly establish the supreme power of the commissioner.

Oh, and also:

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YOU'RE WRONG IF YOU THINK: The Patriots shouldn't get the benefit of the doubt because they are the one and only NFL team with a serious history of cheating.

REALITY: Yeah, that's the narrative the media has lazily, but persistently, crafted since 2007. The other 31 NFL teams and their fans love it because it takes any focus off their own, sometimes significant, cheating. To see all of the NFL teams with a serious history of cheating, you really need to visit this page.

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YOU'RE WRONG IF YOU THINK: Cold, hate-less, historical data clearly shows that the Patriots fumbled at a rate well out of range with other NFL teams, indicating they were tampering with footballs for a long time.

REALITY: There are three types of lies -- lies, damn lies, and statistics.

A hater with a spreadsheet and an agenda can be very convincing, and can even fool old-guard institutions like the Wall Street Journal. It is unclear if Warren Sharps' statistical failures were intentional, accidental or the result of incompetence but it is clear that the data he use was wrong. A statistics professor from Loyola University Chicago and one from Skidmore College corrected Sharps' work and found that, although the Patriots had a league-best fumble rate, it was within the normal distribution of results.

Harvard and Princeton guy, Daryl Sng piled on further, clearly illustrating all of the ways that Sharps' data and analysis were flawed. Where Sharp constructed his data, graphs and conclusions to support his belief that the Patriots were clearly cheating, Sng's analysis show that the Patriots' care in avoiding fumbles was actually low enough to be explained by a coaching staff who preached and punished (ask new Jet Stephen Ridley) ball security. The conclusion on Sharp: "Analysis is only as good as the data on which it is based. Unfortunately, in this case, bad data led to bad conclusions."

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YOU'RE WRONG IF YOU THINK: Patriots locker room attendant Jim McNally tried to introduce an unapproved football during the AFC Championship game.

REALITY: That ball was actually given to McNally by a league official who, it was later discovered, was illegally stealing and selling game balls for personal profit. Beautiful.

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YOU'RE WRONG IF YOU THINK: The Patriots were guilty and should have been punished, or even disqualified from the Super Bowl, before any real facts were released.

REALITY: Actually, this is an indication that you are both wrong and a Hater. The Deflategate Wing of the Hater Hall of Fame is a crowded, drool-filled place. Recent inductees:

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Colts reporters Doyel -- "Everybody lost DeflateGate, including Colts, me" -- and Kravitz -- "A (sort of) mea culpa on DeflateGate" -- later offered their nonpologies for their rabid and unprofessional Deflategate overreactions. Fortunately for them, these did not invalidate their inductions into the Hater Hall of Fame as they were both sniveling attempts to deflect attention away from their comically poor judgement and sensationalist, homer reporting.

DAYS TO REACH AN "I DON'T KNOW...MAYBE?" VERDICT

START: @bkravitz: The NFL is investigating...blah blah blah (19 Jan 2015 @ 12:55 AM)

timer

END: @AdamSchefter: Ted Wells transmitted his report to Commissioner Goodell and the New England Patriots earlier today. (6 May 2015 @ 1:03 PM)

For a little perspective, a few things that took less time than the Wells/NFL "more probable than not" kangaroo court verdict:

  1. The complete Boston Marathon Bomber trial, including jury selection (93 days)
  2. The complete Aaron Hernandez murder trial (77 days)
  3. Christopher Columbus' first voyage across the Atlantic in 1492 (70 days)
  4. Germany's invasion of the Netherlands, Belgium and France in 1940 (36 days)
  5. William Henry Harrison's presidency in 1841 (31 days)
  6. Apollo 11's trip to and from the moon in 1969 (8 days)

To be fair, NFL commissioner and former Jets public relations intern Roger Goodell and his wholly professional and "completely unbiased" investigative team had a lot to look into before handing down their "maybe guilty" verdict, such as:

  • Could the weather have been responsible for the 10 of 11 balls that were only 1 PSI to "just ticks under?" [SPOILER ALERT] A renowned sports physicist, the independent think tank American Enterprise Institute, and the head of the Boston College Physics Department, along with others, all said yes.
  • Did the NFL setup a sting operation in an attempt to catch and embarrass the Patriots (NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said that "to his knowledge this was not a 'sting' operation by the Colts and the NFL.")?
  • How did the league officials handle the pre-game football approval process: did they measure every ball, did they use a pressure gauge on each ball or did they use the less precise "squeeze test?"
  • Did these officials log the results of their initial measurements to determine how much they changed throughout the game? [SPOILER ALERT] They didn't.
  • Did the Colts have anything to do with the illegal manipulation of the only ball -- the one that they had on their sideline after the D'Qwell Jackson interception -- that was 2 PSI under the minimum?

The Deflategate Team

Sheriff Wells and his trusted deputies during a recent team bonding activity

Think something should be added to this summary of Deflategate? Is there a broken link? A fact that need clarification? Email The Commish (with supporting links) and he'll take care of it just as quickly and professionally as Roger Goodell would.

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