Did you watch the AFC Championship Game on Sunday between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts? If so, you can now say you were there for the start of the latest “gate” incident to hit the Patriots – Deflate-Gate.
Early in the second quarter when Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a pass from quarterback Tom Brady, he thought the ball felt deflated. Jackson told the team’s equipment manager about it who, in turn brought it up to Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. Pagano then told Ryan Grigson, the team’s GM who called the league.
It was a game played in heavy rain and according to those who know, deflating a ball even slightly gives a player the ability to better grip the ball. Each NFL team brings 12 Wilson footballs to a game for its team’s exclusive use, meaning that the offensive team uses a set of balls it brought until possession shifts; then the opposing team brings a set of their own game balls into use.
The acceptable inflation limit for footballs is between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch with the ball itself weighing between 14-15 ounces. All game balls are checked by the referee in the officials’ locker room two hours and 15 minutes before kickoff.
There are certainly more rules governing the footballs being used at an NFL matchup. But the real point is that balls approved by the ref prior to kickoff could still be deflated during a game, a “ballsy” move that can draw a fine of $25,000 and loss of draft pick.
But balls can change during play to other factors, such as air temperature. And in fact, according to a tweet from Bob Kravitz of WTHR-TV in Indianapolis, “at one point the officials took a ball out of play and weighed it.” Whether it was this ball in question or another isn’t mentioned.
The NFL has confirmed that this complaint is being looked into. However, Brady’s response when he heard about this was “I think I’ve heard it all … I don’t even respond to stuff like this” on a post-game radio show.
Adding “gate” to the description of this incident is sure to dredge up memories of the Pats’ 2007 Spygate scandal where they were caught by the league videotaping sideline signals of opposing teams. Accusations of coach Bill Belichick “bending” the rules continue, giving the team a “cheater” reputation.
While many think that the league turned it into a “tempest in a teapot,” since commissioner Roger Goodell destroyed the tapes, the case has provided more questions than it has answers.
While there is a possibility of deflating a ball, the fact is that if this ball was underinflated it will be difficult for the league to prove whether it was due to some external problem or unsportsmanlike actions taken by the Pats.