New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick strongly denied he had anything to do with deflating game balls used during the AFC Championship contest last Sunday with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Patriots won the game 45-7, and after an investigation by the league following the game, the NFL determined that 11 of 12 game balls used by the Patriots were well under the psi specifications for inflation.
A deflated ball theoretically gives the quarterback and receivers an advantage in the kind of wet, cold weather conditions under which the game was played on Sunday. The ball is easier to both catch and throw.
At a press conference, Belichick said he had no explanation for the deflated balls and said he had never given the rules governing the inflation of balls a thought in 40 years of coaching.
Belichick: I’ll start out by addressing the football issue here. When I came in Monday morning, I was shocked to learn of the news reports about the footballs. I had no knowledge whatsoever of this situation until Monday morning. I would say I’ve learned a lot more about this process in the last three days than I knew or have talked about it in the last 40 years that I have coached in this league. I had no knowledge of the various steps involved in the game balls and the process that happened between when they were prepared and went to the officials and went to the game. So, I’ve learned a lot about that. I obviously understand that each team has the opportunity to prepare the balls the way they want, give them to the officials and the game officials either approve or disapprove the balls. That really was the end of it for me until I learned a little bit more about this the last couple days.
Belichick claims that he goes out of his way to make the balls used in practice as difficult to handle as possible:
Let me just say that my personal coaching philosophy, my mentality has always been to make things as difficult as possible for players in practice. So with regard to footballs, I’m sure that any current or past player of mine would tell you that the balls we practice with are as bad as they can be: wet, sticky, cold, slippery. However bad we can make them, I make them. Any time that players complain about the quality of the footballs, I make them worse and that stops the complaining. We never use the condition of the footballs as an excuse. We play with whatever or kick with whatever we have to use and that’s the way it is. That has never been a priority for me and I want the players to deal with a harder situation in practice than they’ll ever have to deal with in the game. Maybe that’s part of our ball security philosophy.
I’m trying to coach the team and that’s what I want to do. I think we all know that quarterbacks, kickers, specialists have certain preferences on footballs. They know a lot more about it than I do. They’re a lot more sensitive to it than I am. I hear them comment on it from time to time, but I can tell you and they will tell you that there is never any sympathy whatsoever from me on that subject. Zero. Tom’s [Brady] personal preferences on his footballs are something he can take about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide. I could tell you that in my entire coaching career I have never talked to any player, staff member about football air pressure. That is not a subject that I have ever brought up. To me the footballs are approved by the league and game officials pregame and we play with what’s out there. That’s the only way that I have ever thought about that.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady also denied any involvement in deflating game balls, saying “I didn’t alter the balls in any way.”
NBC News reported that Brady addressed the issue with his teammates Thursday, saying in a closed-door meeting that he likes footballs “a certain way” and that they should stay focused on the Super Bowl.
In his news conference, Brady said there’s a usual process he goes through in getting used to using game day footballs, explaining it’s like any other piece of equipment for him. However, the quarterback repeatedly professed his innocence in doctoring any of the footballs.
“I feel like I have always played within the rules. I would never break the rules.”
Brady also echoed the earlier sentiment of his coach, Bill Belichick, in saying he was stunned by the news of the illegal footballs.
“I was as surprised as anybody when I heard Monday morning what was happening,” Brady said.
Sources told Fox Sports that the Baltimore Ravens, who played the Patriots the previous week, tipped off the Colts about the deflated ball issue. During the game, a ball was actually taken out of play to be examined by officials. It’s possible that examination led to the investigation by the NFL that began after the game was over.
The NFL is being tightlipped about what they’ve discovered, but says the investigation should be concluded by the weekend. The question then becomes, how to punish the Patriots?
In 2007, the Pats were fined and lost a first round draft choice due to their violation of league rules in videotaping the defensive signals of an opponent during the game. But stealing signals is one thing. Actually breaking the rules to gain a competitive advantage is another.
The ever-image-conscious NFL will probably not hit the Patriots with significant penalties. The league had a tough offseason as several high-profile domestic abuse cases and the arrest for murder of former Patriots player Aaron Hernandez caused the NFL to reexamine policies and procedures governing off-field behavior.
But calls for forcing the Pats to forfeit the game and send Indianapolis to the Super Bowl are absurd, as are calls to limit the Patriots’ ability to sign free agents or make trades.
The most likely outcome would be hefty fines and perhaps the loss of a draft choice. Meanwhile, the reputation of Belichick — already in tatters — took another hit. It is a supreme irony that a man who may go down as the greatest coach in NFL history would be remembered for his hand in cheating scandals as much as his Super Bowl wins.