Ok, so you knew this was coming.
I'll start off by saying that I try not to be a Boston sports homer. I try to stay as level headed as possible. I don't always succeed. Do I think the footballs in question were potentially under inflated on purpose? Yes, it is absolutely possible. It would be naïve of me to think otherwise. NFL teams, and pro teams in general, always try to push the envelope of the rules to gain any advantage they can. "Gamesmanship" is as old as sport itself. That said, and I cannot emphasize this enough, I do not believe that Tom Brady told the ball boys to break any rules, nor do I think the Wells report proved any intentional impropriety. There are too many holes in the investigative process to justify this punishment. Let's look at a couple key points.
First and foremost, in my opinion, the most crucial piece of information is not included anywhere in the report. What was the exact psi of both the Patriots' and Colts' footballs when measured by Walt Anderson prior to the AFC Championship Game? This info is at the crux of the entire issue and the report relies on Anderson's recollection as opposed to any documentation. I don't know much about Walt Anderson, other than he is a 19 year veteran NFL official and has a pretty good reputation. That said, doesn't he have a vested interest in protecting his professional reputation? If he came out and said he didn't properly measure prior to the game, wouldn't he now be the one under fire? That is a huge issue to me as far as credibility goes. The other issue with the lack of documented pregame numbers is that the report later asserts that the Patriots' footballs decreased in pressure to a greater degree than the Colts' footballs. Again, relying upon Anderson's recollection of the numbers instead of documented fact. It's very easy to manipulate facts without a starting point being written down. Do I think it is a conspiracy and Anderson hates the Patriots? Absolutely not, but I do feel that there is an inherent interest in protecting his own reputation and image and therefore a conflict of interest in his recollection.
The second issue is that Roger Goodell was asked at his Super Bowl press conference about whether the NFL had ever tested air pressure during halftime of any game in the league's history. Goodell replied that he couldn't say whether they had or hadn't, which to me suggests the latter. If it were common practice, then the Commissioner would have said so. That said, there once again is no reference point (scientists call it a control group) for comparison. During the course of a game, footballs are thrown with great force, hit with helmets as defenders attempt to knock it loose, spiked in celebration, and fallen on by very large men, sometimes several of them at a time. How do we know that any of the above don't or can't affect the psi of the footballs? In short, we can't because they've never measured them before and have no way to show the allegedly decrease in pressure was abnormal.
Also at issue is the fact that 2 separate gauges were used at halftime, showing two different measurements for each of the measured footballs (12 Patriots', 4 Colts'). 2 men using 2 different gauges came up with 2 different measurements each time. The report states that Anderson can't remember which gauge he used pregame versus which he used at halftime. He thinks he used one, but the report asserts that he must have used the other. Again, why? If you're going to rely on his recollection for the baseline psi numbers, why are you then going to refute his recollection of which gauge he used? Because it makes the alleged drop in pressure seem more egregious and damning.
Let's move on to the supposedly incriminating text messages between McNally and Jastremski. (Bird and JJ, respectively.) These texts are taken completely out of context, and we're supposed to take them at face value, with no potential for hyperbole or sarcasm. I read those messages as two guys bitching about their boss. We all do it and we all know other people who do to. How does this prove anything? Yes, McNally referred to himself as "The Deflator." Does this mean Brady told him to set an illegal pressure? Is it outside the realm of reasonable possibility that Brady was upset about game balls not being up to his liking, yelled about it because he wanted them at the minimum level, and the two guys joking about that? If he likes them at 12.5 psi and got them at 13.5 or 14 or 16, wouldn't the name Deflator still apply? Why is this nickname taken to mean something nefarious was going on? Also, nowhere in those text messages does it state that Brady wants the balls set at a particular psi, legal or otherwise. In fact, the only reference to a specific psi was when one of them was lamenting how "the refs f**ked us" by inflating the balls to 16 psi, which he found when he measured them the next day. So, are we to believe that the guy who was allegedly deflating footballs after the refs measure them left them at such a high level?
Now comes Tom Brady. The report states that he lied when he stated that he didn't know McNally, whose nickname around the locker room is bird. You all have known me for years as H. If it wasnt for Facebook friendships, many of you wouldn't know my real name. If someone asked you, "Hey, how's Mike Hilario doing, you might think you don't know me. I have had friends from the music and bar scene who had known me for years without knowing my real name. So if they said they didn't know me, would that make them liars?
As far as the cell phone issue, I can understand Brady not wanting to give his phone to investigators. Like all of us, he likely has personal information on there, conversations with his wife and family, and other potentially sensitive, unrelated information on his phone. With the number of leaks that came out of the NFL offices and other sources in this and other recent investigations, I can understand the concern that personal info could be leaked to the public. We all remember the iCloud hack of not long ago. Is it possible that Brady has similar type of material on his phone? That is only one of literally hundreds of possibilities that could make someone want to hold onto their phone. I don't think his refusal is an admission of guilt. Other than this one area, Brady cooperated fully with the investigation, and the report states as much.
I could go on, but I think I've sufficiently poked enough holes in the report on which the NFL relied upon to determine their punishment of Brady and the Patriots Organization. How you can turn around and justify such a steep penalty using this flawed document is mind boggling. I reference again a quote from page 228 of the report. "In sum, the data did not provide a basis for us to determine with absolute certainty whether there was or was not tampering as the analysis of such data ultimately is dependent upon assumptions and information that is not certain." Case closed. The report also states that Bill Belichick and the Patriots likely did not know of any tampering that may have occurred.
This penalty is simply an overreaction and response to public pressure and outcry. The NFL botched the initial punishments for Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Greg Hardy last season. With the Rice suspension specifically, the initial 2 game suspension was only increased after TMZ released the footage from the elevator, which the NFL to this day denies seeing before that day. After the public outcry, Rice's suspension was increased in length. So, rather than risk another misstep, the NFL released the report last week, waited to gauge public sentiment, and then determined punishment. That is absolutely ridiculous and unfair scapegoating of Tom Brady and the Patriots.
I know I'm going to get slammed for this whole thing, but the point is the NFL doesn't have the evidence required for such a harsh penalty. I really hope that this another case where the NFL loses on appeal, but in general I am very disappointed and surprised about what has transpired here.