NFL report: Tom Brady probably knew footballs were deflated
Patriots used illegal balls in their win over Indianapolis Colts to secure Superbowl berth
A nearly-four month investigation stated that “it is more probable than not” that New England Patriots personnel intentionally deflated footballs to gain an advantage in the game, and that Brady was probably aware of it. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times
He called himself the deflator. A longtime locker-room attendant for the New England Patriots, Jim McNally, was responsible for controlling the air pressure in the footballs that quarterback Tom Brady would use on the field.
Another Patriots employee, an equipment assistant named John Jastremski, was in direct communication with Brady and provided McNally with memorabilia, including shoes and autographed footballs.
Those three men — two low-rung employees and Brady, the passer regarded as one of the best ever — are now linked in a scandal that threatens Brady’s legacy and further tarnishes the reputation of the Patriots, a team that has taken suspicious paths to success.
On Wednesday, the NFL released its report on the inquiry into New England’s surreptitious deflation of game-day footballs to make them easier to grip, a program uncovered during January’s AFC championship game.
Totality of evidence
Using detailed accounts and circumstantial evidence, it implicated Brady as part of the operation, saying he most likely knew that the two employees, McNally, 48, and Jastremski, then 35, were purposely deflating footballs, for Brady’s benefit, to a level beyond the permissible threshold.
“There is less direct evidence linking Brady to tampering activities than either McNally or Jastremski,” the report said. “We nevertheless believe, based on the totality of the evidence, that it is more probable than not that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski.”
The NFL report absolved other top Patriots officials, including Coach Bill Belichick, the owner Robert K. Kraft and the equipment manager Dave Schoenfeld, saying that there was “no wrongdoing or knowledge of wrongdoing” on their part.
The NFL said it would consider disciplinary action and changes to game-day protocol as a result of the findings.
Not the first time
It was not the first time that the Patriots, who won the Super Bowl, 28-24, against the Seattle Seahawks in February, had been found to break rules to gain an advantage. In 2007, the league fined the Patriots and Belichick and ordered the team to forfeit a first-round draft pick after a Patriots staff member was discovered videotaping signals by Jets coaches during a game. Belichick was fined $500,000, and the team was ordered to pay $250,000.
For this case, outside investigators hired by the NFL left some critical questions outstanding. They were unable to determine when the operation to release air from footballs had begun, who had come up with the idea, how often it had occurred or “the full scope of communications related to those efforts,” the report said.
But investigators implied that Brady had lied when he denied any knowledge of the operation or of McNally’s name and role. They found that Brady had spoken to Jastremski on the phone for more than 13 minutes starting shortly before 7:30 am the morning after the AFC championship game, their first phone conversation in six months. At Brady’s behest, for the first time that Jastremski could recall, they met in the quarterbacks’ meeting room later in the morning.
Brady told investigators that he wanted to discuss how the Super Bowl balls would be prepared and that the subject of the previous day’s underinflated balls and the growing scandal “may have come up.”
The report said Brady had declined to provide documents or electronic information, such as text messages.
“To say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC championship game, would be a gross understatement,” Kraft said in a statement. Brady did not comment on Wednesday.
The report, 139 pages plus two appendixes detailing scientific findings about the physics of ball deflation, was titled “Investigative Report Concerning Footballs Used During the AFC Championship Game on January 18th 2015.” It was written a New York law firm.
The report uses the nebulous phrase “more probable than not” several times in making its conclusions. Under league policy, the “standard of proof required to find that a violation of the competitive rules has occurred” is a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning that “as a whole, the fact sought to be proved is more probable than not,” the report’s first footnote read.
At the report’s heart is a tale of two wisecracking Patriots employees, McNally and Jastremski, finding themselves in the middle of a covert operation, all aimed to please Brady.
Part of Jastremski’s job was to prepare the game balls to Brady’s liking, using a set of allowable tricks — dirt and brushes to remove the slippery sheen, a leather conditioner to soften the touch, and a range of allowed air pressures to ensure a comfortable grip. Brady told investigators that he considered Jastremski a friend and that the two had seen each other daily during the season.
McNally called himself “the deflator” in a text message to Jastremski as far back as last May, and the two mocked Brady’s early-season struggles and his complaints about overinflated balls.
“I have a big needle for u this week,” Jastremski wrote to McNally in a text message in October.
“Better be surrounded by cash and newkicks,” McNally responded, referring to shoes, “or its a rugby sunday.”
“Maybe u will have some nice size 11s in ur locker,” Jastremski wrote back.
According to the report, Brady, Jastremski and McNally were in the Patriots’ equipment room on January 10th, just before a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens. McNally received two footballs signed by Brady. He had Brady autograph a game-used jersey.
Brady then led the Patriots to a come-from-behind victory, completing 33 of 50 passes for 367 yards. It put the Patriots in the AFC title game against the Indianapolis Colts the next weekend.
It was there that the operation unraveled. In the hours before the game in Foxborough, Mass., in the byzantine catacombs beneath Gillette Stadium, McNally took 12 game balls to the locker room used by on-field officials.
The head referee for the Patriots-Colts game, Walt Anderson, used a gauge to test the air pressure of each ball. The balls are made of a urethane bladder inside a pebbled leather casing. NFL rules dictate that they be properly inflated during a game, falling into the window of 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch.
McNally told Anderson that Brady liked the balls to be at the low end of the scale. (Brady later confirmed this, to reporters, saying that he liked squishier footballs to help him get a better grip.) Ten of the balls were approved. Two others were underinflated. Anderson instructed another official to pump them up until they reached the 12.5-p.s.i. threshold.
A second bag of balls was provided by the Colts. Those, too, were tested. Most were inflated to about 13.0. All were approved.
A short time later, Anderson looked around the locker room. The two bags of balls were gone. It was the first time in his 19-year career as an NFL official that Anderson could not find the footballs before a game, he told investigators.
McNally had taken them out of the locker room without anyone’s noticing. He turned left, then left again, walking through a tunnel toward the playing field. Just before he got there, he entered a bathroom to the left.
He locked the door and was inside for 1 minute 40 seconds, surveillance footage later showed. He left the bathroom and took them to the field. And when 11 balls were tested with two gauges at halftime, after the Colts had raised suspicions following a second-quarter interception of a Brady pass, they were all below 12.5 p.s.i. Most were substantially lower. One was at 10.5.
The game was played in the rain, and deflated balls would have been easier to grip in the wet weather.
The Patriots won the AFC championship, 45-7, but the victory was quickly overshadowed by intrigue and controversy, as team leaders — Brady, Belichick and Kraft, mostly — took turns denying any wrongdoing.
The NFL, trying to keep the ball controversy from overwhelming anticipation for the Super Bowl, promised a thorough investigation. The Patriots beat the Seahawks for their fourth championship since 2001, all under Belichick and with Brady at quarterback.
The investigation could not determine how many years, if any, the intentional deflating of footballs had gone on. It revealed a text-message correspondence between McNally and Jastremski from May 9th 2014, in which McNally, after asking Jastremski if he was working, wrote: “jimmy needs some kicks....lets make a deal.....come on help the deflator.”
Brady struggled early in the season. On the sideline during an October 16th home game against the Jets, Jastremski said, Brady complained to him about the inflation of the balls.
“Tom is acting crazy about balls,” Jastremski texted to an unidentified recipient at halftime.
Jastremski told Brady that McNally was the locker-room attendant for the officials, and Brady “said something like, ‘isn’t he in there to make sure the balls are staying where they should be?’ ” the report said.
The Patriots won, 27-25, and Brady was a rather ordinary 20 of 37 passing for 261 yards, though he threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Over the next few days, McNally suggested in text messages to Jastremski that he would overinflate the balls — using the terms “watermelons,” “rugby balls” and “balloons” — for the next game.
“The only thing deflating sun..is his passing rating,” he wrote.
They were jokes, apparently. The next game, a home rout of the Chicago Bears, Brady completed 30 of 35 passes for 354 yards and five touchdowns, his best performance of the season.
Brady and the Patriots finished the regular season with a 12-4 record, earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs — a more meaningful advantage, perhaps, than anyone had suspected.
And at the first playoff game in January, eight days before the scandal erupted, the three men later implicated — McNally, Jastremski and Brady — were in the equipment room, trading pieces of valuable merchandise.
Three weeks later, the Patriots won the Super Bowl. Brady was the game’s most valuable player.
Read the full report here.