Forget Nipplegate. Deflategate is shaping up to be the biggest scandal in Super Bowl history. Following reports that the New England Patriots, and specifically star quarterback Tom Brady, were using underinflated footballs during the AFC Championship game victory January 18th against the Indianapolis Colts, Brady met the media Thursday to deny any wrongdoing. "I didn't alter the ball in any way," Brady stated firmly at a press conference in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
"I feel like I have always played within the rules. I would never break the rules," Brady said during the 11-minute media session where he was bombarded with questions regarding Deflategate. "I don't know what happened over the course of the process with the football. I was preparing for my own job." Neither Brady nor Patriots coach Bill Belichick in an earlier press conference owned up to ordering that the footballs be deflated, but neither denied that some type of doctoring of the footballs had occurred.
If you're just now hearing about Deflategate, here's a refresher: Prior to each NFL game, both teams hand over between a dozen and two dozen footballs to the referees for the teams to use over the course of the game, with each football being prepared to the respective quarterback's liking. However, league rules require that each ball is inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch (psi), with the lower end of that scale making it easier for quarterbacks to grip the football. This is especially true in cold, windy and wet conditions, which describes the weather during the AFC Championship game.
Midway through the game, after Indianapolis Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson intercepted a pass thrown by Brady using one of the Patriots-prepared footballs, the referees were alerted by the Colts that the football felt underinflated. Those footballs were removed from play, and while the Patriots still went on to handily beat the Colts 45-7, the Patriots have been dogged by allegations that they used illegal footballs while building a lead in the first half.
Soon after the game, ESPN revealed that 11 of the 12 Patriots' AFC Championship footballs were underinflated well below the NFL's psi specifications. Given the venue where this happened – the AFC Championship game, the final stepping-stone to get to the Super Bowl – and the team involved – the Patriots, the NFL franchise with scandals like Spygate and Aaron Hernandez on their résumés – both the media and football fans immediately suspected collusion in the deflating of the footballs.
However, Belichick and Brady wouldn't waver from their stance that they had no knowledge that the footballs had been underinflated. "I was shocked to learn of the footballs on Monday. I had no knowledge until Monday morning," Belichick said at his Thursday morning press conference. "I'd say I've learned a lot more about this process [of pregame football preparation] in the last three days than I knew, or had talked about it, in the last 40 years that I've coached in this league."
Prior to each game, each teams' footballs are inspected by the referees, and a pregame test of the Patriots' AFC Championship footballs raised no red flags; Brady himself called the footballs "perfect." So what happened between that batch of legal footballs and the underinflated footballs that showed up at game time? Brady has no idea. "I have questions, too," Brady said. "There's nobody I know that can answer the questions I have." Brady, a 14-year veteran and three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, added that he didn't realize the "perfect" footballs were replaced with the underinflated footballs during the game because he was too consumed with the game itself.
The NFL reportedly is investigating the incident, although Brady said during his press conference that he had not been approached by the league for questioning. Deflategate is the latest black eye for the NFL in a season that's already been marred by Ray Rice's spousal abuse suspension, a tiff with Rihanna and Adrian Peterson's ban for abusing his child.