Since January, the NFL has had its focus entirely on what happened to 12 New England footballs during the AFC Championship game. After over 100 days of investigation and millions of dollars spent, the best they could come up with was “more likely than not.” This is an extremely ambiguous statement. What does it mean? How do you quantify such a statement? And how do you justify making such a statement where a person’s career is involved?
I think Ted Wells is likely to most disingenuous person I have ever heard of around pro-sports. If I, or any other researcher, had published such a report, those people who employed me should be looking for their money back because I certainly had done a questionable job at best. And certainly not a job worth multiple millions of dollars. Wells chose to publish only those points that support a finding of fault on Brady’s and the Patriots organization. Worse, he made claims of lack of cooperation which have since been shown to be at least partly if not fully false. You cannot publish a report which makes false statements.
Strangely, Wells’ statement is probably true that Brady was generally aware of what was happening with the footballs! But he has failed to connect Brady to anything. Had he been a real researcher he would have known better than to limit the scope of his investigation to that single game, or for that matter, the previous games that New England played this past season. A thorough investigation would have shed light on Brady’s likely involvement. Here’s why.
Back in 2006, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning got the NFL to agree to a rule change. This rule change allowed them to get the footballs a quarterback is going to use in any particular game into the shape they want. That does not, however, allow for any deviation from the football inflation constraints. But it did empower all NFL quarterbacks. And so as the years passed, Brady, Manning, Farve, Rivers, Rogers, and all other quarterbacks of their caliber got to fool around with the footballs. No one took much notice, not even the referees. By 2014 they had all made their preference known to those team personnel who prepared the footballs for game day. Brady likes his footballs at the bottom end of allowable. I suggest that Brady probably off-handedly, and more than once, said to these personnel that he preferred his footballs below the allowable pressure. But, he likely never instructed them to do so. Just as Aaron Rogers likely never instructed those people on his team to over-inflate his footballs.
The attitude of game officials at the AFC Championship game of 2014 shows us exactly how important this was to them, zero. Even though Walt Anderson had been advised prior to the game of possible issues, I suspect he went about his business just as he had in all his previous 19 years of games, he looked the balls over for obvious violations and finding none he allowed them into the game. I think it likely he checked a couple of balls for pressure and finding now problems, or fixing those he found, he allowed the rest into the game. I think it likely all game officials having been acting in like manner since the NFL had previously not made it a priority. Scott Zolak suggested that such complacency has always existed in the NFL.
What further backs this up is the record of McNally carrying the 12 footballs from the preparation room where the game officials sit to the sidelines unaccompanied. That is contrary to the rules and yet it was allowed to happen. The question is, how commonplace are such acts around the league? I suspect it was very common. Officials heretofore had never thought it all that important and therefore never enforced the rule.
What Wells needed to do, and did not do, was poll other referees around the NFL about how they treated the game day footballs allowing them anonymity in relating their sense of what has happened with them. He also should have anonymously polled the other 31 team equipment managers about their actions. Team and NFL lack of vigilance on properly inflated footballs more probably than not would have shown the general feeling that how a quarterback wants his football is how he gets it, even if it does mean a rule is violated.
What comes of a proper investigation in this case is that the NFL itself had not created a standard operation procedure for the handling of footballs prior to the beginning of the game. Any organization that finds rules it creates to be crucial to its image makes certain there is a comprehensive paper trail coupled with exacting directions.
Tom Brady certainly made it known to his equipment manager, Jastremski, exactly how he liked his footballs. It is unlikely he said anything on the day of the AFC Championship game, or even in the days immediately prior to the game, because it was already well established what he wanted. He likely suspected the footballs were underinflated but chose not to say anything lest that be changed.
Similarly, Walt Anderson knew the rules of how footballs are to be delivered to the sidelines but when he noticed McNally taking them by himself it was just something he had observed 100 times before with every team in the NFL and it did not occur to him that it was anything out of the usual or even an infraction.
Brady needs to own his part in this, Goodell his failures, Wells his failures, etc. This is an institutional failure more than it is the failing of any one individual. Goodell desperately needs to vacate the Wells report, all punishment levied, and announce that the NFL has failed the fans and show the changes that are put in place to insure that things like this never happen again.