Now that the NFL investigation has reportedly found 11 of New England’s 12 allotted game footballs in the AFC Championship Game were underinflated, the topic continues to be the talk around the nation and league whether the Patriots cheated.
Reports surfaced after the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl with a 45-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday night that they purposely deflated footballs.
ESPN reported Tuesday night that the investigation found the footballs were inflated 2 pounds per square inch below what’s required by NFL regulations.
“We are not commenting at this time,” said Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of communications.
The “DeflateGate” opinions go wide and far.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, for one, takes an opposite viewpoint on the NFL’s rule for inflating footballs. He wants the footballs fully inflated for games.
And former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson has admitted to paying a bribe to have the footballs tampered with before the 2003 Super Bowl.
Rodgers said NFL referees take air out of footballs to be used in games and he doesn’t like it one bit.
“I have a major problem with the way it goes down, to be honest with you,” Rodgers said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show. “The majority of the time, they take air out of the football. I think that, for me, is a disadvantage.”
Rodgers said he likes the footballs to be inflated because of his strong grip pressure and large hand size.
“The majority of quarterbacks, I would say more than half, are maybe on the other end of the spectrum and like it on the flatter side,” he said on his show. “My belief is that there should be a minimum air-pressure requirement but not a maximum. There’s no advantage, in my opinion — we’re not kicking the football — there’s no advantage in having a pumped-up football.
“There is, if you don’t have strong grip pressure or smaller hands, an advantage to having a flat football, though, because that is easier to throw. So I think that is something they need to look at. There should be a minimum on the air pressure but not a maximum. Every game they’re taking air out of the footballs I’m throwing, and I think that’s a disadvantage for the way that I like them prepped.”
Rodgers said he and the team’s equipment staff work together to pick balls they’ve either practiced with or used in previous games. Before each game, officials take balls from each team and approve them for use. They are separate from the designated “K-balls” — used on special-teams plays, which cannot be manipulated.
“The majority of people don’t like throwing brand-new footballs, and that’s why the change was made and Peyton (Manning) was big on helping all the quarterbacks out with that,” Rodgers said. “But if they’re going to let us prep them the way we want them, I don’t believe they should be able to take air out of the footballs.”
According to ESPN, during the Nov. 30 game between the Packers and Patriots on CBS, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms discussed the preference by Rodgers for overinflated balls.
“I like to push the limit to how much air we can put in the football, even go over what they allow you to do and see if the officials take air out of it,” Simms said Rodgers told them before the game.
Simms pointed out that Rodgers is the exception.
“Everybody wants it smaller and soft, so they can dig their fingers into,” Simms said. “(Rodgers is) such a feel thrower. You can tell. The one touchdown he threw down the field to the tight end is such feel; then he flicks it. That shows you he just has great control of it, with his fingers and hand.”
Johnson said he paid $7,500 to some people he did not identify so that they would scuff the balls set to be used in Super Bowl XXXVII, making them easier to grip. According to Johnson, there were 100 footballs set aside for the game, and the people he bribed tampered with all 100, to Johnson’s specifications.
Johnson and coach Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers beat the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in the Super Bowl
“I paid some guys off to get the balls right,” Johnson told the Tampa Bay Times. “I went and got all 100 footballs, and they took care of all of them.”
One huge difference from the Patriots-Colts game: Both teams used the same footballs in the Super Bowl. Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon threw five interceptions.
Gruden said on ESPN Radio that he was aware that Johnson was concerned about being able to grip the balls in that game, but Gruden did not say whether he was aware of Johnson breaking the rules to get an advantage.
NFL rules stipulate that footballs must be inflated between 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch and weigh between 14 and 15 ounces.
NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino told NFL AM on Monday that “it’s not unheard of for a ball to be removed from circulation and then tested during the week for whatever issue there was.”
Blandino said once measured and inspected, the footballs are in the possession of designated game ball attendants.
Former NFL official Jim Daopolous explained to ESPN the process in which footballs are managed. He said that two hours and 15 minutes before each game, officials inspect 12 footballs from each team and put a mark on them to indicate they meet the proper requirements and are good for usage. Then those footballs are given to the ball attendant. There also is a second set of six footballs, used specifically for the kicking game, which are marked appropriately and remain in the possession of officials at all times.
“Officials check balls as they go into the game, and if the ball doesn’t feel perfect, they can throw it out,” Daopolous told ESPN. “There is always the possibility that balls can lose air due to the conditions.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday that the organization will “cooperate fully with whatever questions they ask us and whatever they want us to do.”
On Tuesday, Belichick didn’t seem too interested in the topic during his conference call with the New England media.
“Any questions on that you should talk to them about,” Belichick said.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady seemed amused when asked Monday morning about the report.
“I think I’ve heard it all at this point … it’s ridiculous,” Brady said during his weekly interview with Boston radio station WEEI. “That’s the last of my worries. I don’t even respond to stuff like this.”
In 2008, the Patriots were heavily fined and docked a first-round draft pick for what is now known as “SpyGate.” Belichick was fined $500,000, the team was fined $250,000 and the Patriots lost their first-round draft pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.