Ahead of Super Bowl XLIX, one topic pushed itself over the talk of the actual game: Deflategate.
The overhyped scandal involving the possiblity that the Patriots used intentionally underinflated footballs has been a polarizing topic over the past two weeks, leaving many eager to permanently stamp “cheater’’ labels on the foreheads of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and others striving to prove their innocence.
While the D-word has become mercifully less omnipresent as we get closer to kick off, here is everything you’ll need to know about the scandal when it inevitably comes up at your Super Bowl party:
How Did it Get Started?
It began on Sunday, Jan. 18, shortly after the Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts to win the AFC Championship. WTHR.com’s Bob Kravitz reported that the Patriots were suspected to have used footballs in the game that were under the inflation range of 12.5-13.5 PSI (pounds per square inch of air pressure) set by the NFL.
Was There Any Proof?
Following a couple of days where it seemed like this was nothing more than a rumor, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported on Jan. 20 that 11 of the 12 Patriots game balls were under-inflated, being below the minimum requirements by “two pounds per square inch.’’ The NFL later confirmed that game officials had discovered the footballs that were under-inflated in a letter shared with The Boston Globe.
With the Patriots in the air en route to Arizona on Jan. 26, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported the league had “zeroed in’’ on a “person of interest’’ in the investigation: a New England locker room attendant. Citing unnamed sources, Glazer reported that person “allegedly took balls from [the] officials’ locker room to another area on their way to the field.’’
The “area’’ in question was a bathroom, reported by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. Citing an unnamed league source, Florio reported surveillance video showed the person spent approximately 90 seconds in the bathroom.
Further clouding matters, NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino admitted that the air pressure of the footballs was not logged by officials during their pregame check before the AFC Championship game during a a press conference on Jan. 29.
How Did Everyone React?
The initial backlash was substantial, with many around the country piling on to call the Patriots “cheaters.’’ ESPN’s Michael Wilbon went as far to suggest the Patriots forfeit their place in the Super Bowl if they were found to have intentionally tampered with footballs. The ordeal reopend old wounds from Spygate, the videotaping scandal that cost Belichick $500,000, the Patriots $250,000, a first-round draft pick. For many footballs, that previous scandal also cost the Patriots the benefit of the doubt.
On one side of the aisle, Kravitz, who first broke the story, believed that “if Bob Kraft is a true man of integrity, he will take it out of the league’s hands and fire [Bill] Belichick.’’ Others who chimed in, such as comedian and Boston native Louis C.K., said he would have “no problem’’ with the Patriots cheating to win.
Who believes Belichick and Brady? New England. That's it. pic.twitter.com/Mp3mtpN5zz— SportsNation (@SportsNation) January 23, 2015
How Did the Patriots React?
In his first public comments on the controversy on Jan. 22, Belichick proclaimed he “had no explanation for what happened. Speaking about footballs and their preparation for games, he told reports that he had “learned more about this process the last three days than I knew, or had talked about, in the last 40 years that I’ve coached in this league.
Seeming to throw Brady under the bus, Belichick directed the media to question his quarterback. The Patriots took a beating on social media leading up to Brady’s own press conference, which was moved up from its weekly slot. Dozens of reporters gathered to hear Brady speak, with many shouting questions over one another during the 30-plus minute circus that ensued. Many doubted Brady’s sincerity after he denied any knowledge of how the footballs could have been deflated, notably former NFL colleagues such as Mark Brunell.
After his team arrived in Arizona on Jan. 26, Patriots owner Robert Kraft unexpectedly addressed reporters. He expressed how he was “disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon.’’ During his remarks, he threw his full support behind Brady and Belichick. He also let the NFL know that he wants and apology should their be no evidence of wrongdoing found.
Did the Patriots Have An Actual Explanation For What Happened?
Two days after his first comments on the controversy, Belichick fired back at those accusing the Patriots of intentional wrongdoing, citing an experiment the team conducted.
Belichick said the team had simulated a full game day situation, which found their preparation raises the football’s PSI one pound per square inch, and once the footballs were taken outside they lost 1.5 pounds per square inch of air pressure.
Some local scientists found Belichick’s explanation plausible, including MIT’s Richard P. Binzel, who told The Boston Globe that “’Professor’ Belichick got it exactly right,’’ and Boston Unviersity’s James Bird, who said “Everything they said doesn’t seem impossible to me. Based on simple ideal-gas-law calculations, I would not be surprised if the Patriots are vindicated.’’
Bill Nye ‘the Science Guy’ was not convinced by Belichick, however, telling “Good Morning America’’ that “what he said didn’t make any sense. Rubbing the football, I don’t think, can change the pressure.’’
Did Someone Turn in the Patriots?
One initial report suggested Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson noticed a football he intercepted in the AFC title game felt under-inflated, but he later denied he noticed anything strange with the football. Another report indicated that a Colts equipment manager noticed some off with the ball after the turnover. Some speculated the Colts were suspicious of the Patriots using under-inflated footballs after their Week 11 meeting. Others believed the Baltimore Ravens tipped off the Colts. It was even believed that there may have been some type of sting operation in place to catch the Patriots in the act.
In his press conference just days before the Super Bowl, Blandino denied that the Colts had informed the NFL about the Patriots potentially using deflated footballs in their Nov. 16 game or there was any kind of sting operation put in place by the league in the AFC Championship game.
What is the NFL Doing About It?
On Friday, Jan. 23, the NFL announced that it had put together a team to investigate the matter, led by attorney Ted Wells, who had overseen the investigation of the Miami Dolphins in their bullying scandal. Kraft released a statement welcoming the appointment of Wells and indicating the team would cooperate fully with the investigation.
Wells said in a statement on Jan. 26 that he expects the NFL’s investigation to take “at least several more weeks.’’
In his “State of the NFL’’ press conference on Friday, Jan. 30, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell revealed that “no judgment’’ had been made on the matter, adding that the league “[doesn’t] know enough to know who is responsible or even if there’s an infraction.’’
How Will the NFL Handle its Footballs At the Super Bowl?
There will be added security for the 108 official Super Bowl game balls leading up to Sunday. Chicago Bears equipment manager Tony Medlin will oversee the handling of the footballs from Friday through their pregame test with the game officials three hours before kickoff. This process, which was in place even before this year’s AFC title game, is much stricter than in the regular season, as neither team will see their game balls between when they are handed in on Friday and approved by the game officials on Sunday.
Super Bowl XLIX: While the topic has continued to be at the forefront of conversations in anticipation of the Big Game, it appears that major progress with this story may have come to a halt – at least until after a new Super Bowl champion is crowned. With a resolution that will likely come long after the confetti falls on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, it remains to be seen whether “Deflategate’’ ends up going down as a scandal worthy of its surname.