This Might Surprise You: DeflateGate and 3 Surprising Facts in the Wells Report

Last post, I commented on how frustrating it was to hear announcers spout off about Tom Brady and Deflategate before reading the Wells Report. I decided to read it myself.

My goal is to neither bash the Patriots nor exonerate them. I simply aim to provide an objective review of the Wells Report.

CLIFF’S NOTES OVERVIEW

NFL rules say the ball must be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 psi. Teams prepare 12 footballs before games, and the refs check air pressure with a gauge. The NFL referee manual specifically states that if a ball measures below 12.5, the refs need to inflate it to exactly 12.5. If it’s above 13.5, the refs need to reduce it to exactly 13.5. (As stated on pg 36 of the Wells Report.)

The problems that caused Deflategate, from what I can tell, stem from two inconsistencies.

First, different gauges give different readings. For Deflategate, two gauges were used to measure psi at halftime and after the AFC Championship. Both gave inconsistent results.

Second, NFL officials (at least some) don’t apparently measure how much air they add to footballs deemed underweight. AFC Championship head ref Walt Anderson claims that officials added air to 2 Patriot footballs before the game, and that he made sure they were at exactly 12.5.

From what I’ve read, my guess is that over time there were instances when Patriot footballs measured under 12.5, and refs didn’t always check psi after adding air. Based on texts between the Patriots ball boys, some footballs were likely over the legal limit of 13.5. It seems plausible that the Patriots concocted a system to reduce psi in footballs, countering against footballs that were sometimes overweight after NFL officials added air.

THREE SHOCKING THINGS IN THE WELLS REPORT

1. Colts balls were underinflated both at halftime and after the game. One of the Patriots balls was overinflated after the game.

Crazy, huh? Remember, two gauges were used to measure psi at the AFC Championship. All of the Patriots footballs at halftime measured below the legal limit on both gauges. However, three of the four Colts footballs also measured below the legal limit on one gauge. When footballs were checked after the game, three of the four Colts balls measured under the legal limit on one gauge. One measured below the legal limit on both. Perhaps most surprising, one of the four Patriot footballs scored above the legal limit after the game.

2. The gauges don’t appear very accurate.

Two alternate refs, Clete Blakeman and Dyrol Prioleau, measured psi with separate gauges at both halftime and after the game. Head referee Walt Anderson used one of the gauges before the game.

Halftime readings are all over the place. Blakeman’s gauge reads anywhere from .45 psi over Prioleau’s, to .45 psi under Prioleau’s. That’s a 45% difference both ways. Considering the legal window is 1 psi, that’s hugely significant. Post game, readings differ between 35-40%.

3. The texts between the two Patriots staff members are both telling and weird.

Jastremski 050815_jim_mcnelly_525

The Telling

Patriot staff members John Jastremski (top photo) and Jim McNally (bottom photo) discussed psi after a 2014 Jets – Patriots matchup. Jastremski’s comments:

“Jastremski: I checked some of the balls this morn… The refs (cheated)

us…a few of then were at almost 16,,,,They didnt recheck then after they put air in them”

He used a more colorful word than “cheated.” But the last line really says something despite the spelling goof. Refs seemed indifferent toward psi being exactly 12.5 after adding air. (According to the box score on Pro-Football Reference.com, the head ref was Bill Leavy.)

The Weird

McNally’s texts are bizarre.

Jastremski testified that Brady complained on the sidelines during the Jets game that footballs were too heavy after the officials handled them. Jastremski stated that Brady asked if McNally could do something.

McNally’s and Jastremski’s texts after the Jets game:

McNally: Tom sucks…im going make that next ball a (freaking) balloon

Jastremski responds by saying he spoke with “tom.” “Tom” said McNally must have a lot of stress to “get them done.” Jastremski adds the comments about footballs at 16 psi.

McNally responds: (Forget) tom …16 is nothing…wait till next Sunday

McNally used different words that start with the letter “F.” Is he joking around, as he and Jastremski claim in the investigation? Here are some texts in days leading up to the next week’s game vs. the Bears:

LATER:

Jastremski: Can‟t wait to give you your needle this week 🙂

McNally: (Forget) tom….make sure the pump is attached to the needle…..(freaking) watermelons coming

McNally: The only thing deflating sun..is his passing rating

Jastremski: have a big needle for u this week

McNally: Better be surrounded by cash and newkicks….or its a rugby sunday

McNally: (Forget) tom

McNally likes to curse Brady’s name. More interesting is how he threatens to overinflate the footballs if he doesn’t receive shoes and cash in return. Jastremski double checks McNally’s shoe size, and McNally states, “Tom must really be on you.” Jastremski replies “Nah. Hasn‟t even mentioned it, figured u should get something since he gives u nothing.” Months later, McNally asks Jastremski for Brady autographs.

It’s a May 2014 text-versation, however, that illustrates the two of them may have been working out sneaker deals, at least amongst themselves, months before Jastremski’s big needle game plan vs. the Bears.

McNally: You working

Jastremski: Yup

McNally: Nice dude….jimmy needs some kicks….lets make a deal…..come on help the deflator

According to the report, Jastremski didn’t answer. McNally, however, followed up:

McNally: Chill buddy im just (messing) with you ….im not going to espn……..yet

You can guess McNally’s writing style to surmise what synonym he used for “messing.” This text-versation also implies that McNally previously deflated enough footballs to derive his personal identity from such deeds. Cue 1970s pop smash: “How long has this been going on?”

SUMMARY

The report seeks to find whether the Patriots made “deliberate efforts to circumvent the Playing Rules.” Video evidence depicts McNally taking footballs into the bathroom after the refs checked them. It’s pretty clear he deflated them. Now, whether he purposefully aimed to bring them under 12.5 to “circumvent the Playing Rules” is very debatable. My guess is he just stuck a needle into the footballs, not caring whether the psi ended up being 12.0, 12.5, or 11.2. He simply made sure Brady didn’t get one “at almost 16.”

Based on what I’ve read, a better explanation might be that Patriots circumvented pre-game procedures to negate the chance of receiving overinflated footballs. Still a punishable offense, but perhaps not as serious as what Brady and the Pats have been handed. I not convinced they meant to purposefully cheat by playing with footballs under the legal limit.

The report makes a big deal of sneakers and a few Brady autographs McNally received. It concludes Brady had knowledge of McNally’s deflating, the shoes and signatures a thank you.

That finding, in my opinion, is a stretch. Here’s why: In May 2014, McNally deems himself the “deflator.” But it wasn’t until October 2014 that Brady asked if something could be done about overinflated footballs. That leads me to believe that Brady didn’t know what the underlings had cooking, at least not until that point. While it’s possible he knew later, it’s also possible Jastremski got things done without his boss knowing (or wanting to know) how. “I don’t care how you get it done, just get it done,” echoes all over America on any given workday. From what I read, there isn’t anything to absolutely say Brady knew the staff’s exact actions.

That’s not to say that Brady comes out perfectly clean in the report. His testimony does conflict with others on certain side issues.

The report is over 240 pages. The “Executive Summary” provides a good overview, and coupled with the Table of Contents, you can find important spots quickly. I’ll admit to not having read the entire report, but rather a significant amount.

You can read the Wells Report here.

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In honor of perhaps providing you with better info about Deflategate to make your own decisions, we’ll post a classic IBM “You Make the Call” aired during Super Bowl 22.

Thinking Out Loud: Two Thoughts on Deflategate

THOUGHT ONE

The “Deflategate” news train keeps rolling. Tom Brady has been found guilty in both the court of public opinion, and by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. His four-game suspension, currently under appeal, has been lauded by many.

The media circus surrounding this controversy reminded me of what Irv Cross mentioned in The Game before the Money. He discussed the difference between today’s media and his approach while working on The NFL Today.

“We reported,” Cross said. “You just didn’t wing things and sing things off the top of your head. If Tom Landry did something and I reported it, it actually happened. I had it verified, and had probably talked to the player directly involved. Today I hear, ‘I think this and I think that,’ but I don’t see much reporting.”

True indeed. Few pundits bothered to read the Wells Report, duplicating the scenario that took place when baseball’s Mitchell Report hit the streets. Opinions abound, but nobody will truly know the real story except for Brady and his conspirators if the allegations are true. The point of this column is not to question Brady’s guilt or innocence, but merely to keep in mind that many opinions aren’t founded in research.

You can read the Wells Report for yourself here.

THOUGHT TWO

Sports cheating is kind of a gray area. At times the actions are revered. Baseball is the prime example. Gaylord Perry. The Niekro Brothers. Stealing signs. Doctoring baseballs and corking bats is even joked about. Don Sutton quipped that Vaseline isn’t a foreign substance — it’s made in America.

It’s even funnier when someone gets caught, e.g. the classic Joe Niekro “Nope! Nothing in my pockets!” episode in 1987.

 

Nobody’s laughing about Deflategate, however, and Goodell handed down a four-game suspension, equating to 25% of the season. Compared to baseball’s standards, that’s much more rigid. Joe Niekro received a 10-day suspension in 1987, missing approximately 2 starts. Considering he started 19 games that year, that’s about 10% of his starts.

Pitcher Rick Honeycutt received a 10-game suspension in 1980. Literally tossing a “cut fastball,” he actually cut the baseball with a thumbtack. Again, 10 games probably equated to missing 2 starts. Honeycutt started 30 games that season, so the suspension benched him for 6% of his starts (based on 32 starts). Honeycutt was also fined a whopping $250.

SUMMARY

Is doctoring a football similar to doctoring a baseball? Goodell says no. The notion conflicts  with his priority to “protect the integrity of the game.”

I find it interesting to note the differences in how baseball and football handled these suspensions. Assuming the four-game suspension is upheld, it’s also interesting to note that Brady’s suspension would equal Ben Roethlisberger’s, after Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault. Goodell originally suspended Big Ben for six games, citing violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The suspension was later reduced to four games.

For the good ol’ days, we’ll close by posting some vintage NFL Today with Irv fittingly discussing how Washington’s defense likely stole Roger Staubach‘s play calling via Robert Newhouse‘s mouthgaurd. (Starting at the 4:25 mark.)

The Story of the NFL Draft and Recent Super Bowls

Last week we looked at the starting lineups of last year’s Super Bowl teams, wondering how much the draft led to the Seahawks’ and Broncos’ success. We found that while the draft was important, it appears to be equally important to find talent from other sources, likely because the draft is only seven rounds.

Now we take a look at Super Bowl teams (including the Seahawks and Broncos) from the past 5 Super Bowls, plus the first Giants/Patriots game after the 2008 season. Turns out last year’s teams were below the average number of starters to be drafted for the period, although the Seahawks were only slightly under (54.2%). Of the Broncos 22 starters only 10 were originally drafted by the franchise, a figure equaled by the 2011 Giants as the lowest in our survey. The 2010 Packers led all teams with 17 of their draftees in their Super Bowl lineup. Only the Seahawks and Packers won the Super Bowl with more of their draftees in their starting lineup than their opponent.

HOW TEAMS WERE BUILT

About 60% of Super Bowl starters from these 6 Super Bowls were starting for the team that originally drafted them (a total of 157 over 7 years). Although this era is commonly called the “Free Agency Era,” the number of veteran free agents bested the number of undrafted players only by a slim total of 7 players in those 6 games. The 2013 Broncos started 9 free agents, the highest total. No other team started more than 6. The 2011 Patriots started the most undrafted players (8), followed closely by the 2009 Colts with 7. The Colts were the only team we surveyed that didn’t start a veteran free agent on Super Bowl Sunday.  Here is a composite of how these 12 Super Bowl teams were built. Note that some players included in the “Veteran FA Signings” category are also in the “Total Undrafted Starters” category.

FIRST TWO ROUNDS AND THE REST OF THE NFL DRAFT

The first and second rounds dominated the makeup of Super Bowl starters playing for their original team. Those two rounds outscore all other rounds combined, 92-65. The 2008 Patriots and 2012 49ers tied for the most number of their first-round picks starting, with 7. The 2008 Giants had the lowest number, as only 2007 first-round pick Aaron Ross started for them in the Super Bowl. The 2011 Giants, however, started four of their first-round draft choices, as Kenny Phillips (2008), Jason Pierre-Paul (2010), and Hakeem Nicks (2009) joined Ross. All teams started at least one of their first- and second- round choices, but three teams (the 2011 Patriots, the 2009 Saints and the 2008 Giants) lacked a third. The fourth round surprising outscored the third overall, 16-15.

SUMMARY

I found these totals to be fairly consistent with last week’s percentages. The draft remains vital to championship-level NFL teams, but not as much as the hype surrounding the 2014 NFL Draft might lead one to believe. A strong dose of veteran free agents and undrafted players, possibly mixed with a trade and/or waiver pickup, work together as the recipe for success in today’s National Football League.