I wanted to write a column about “Deflategate” as far back as January, but I had to wait four months until the five million dollar Wells Investigation was completed before I could weigh in on its too-long anticipated findings.
Many of us who consider ourselves part of Patriots Nation prefer to call this media-hype scandal “DeHatergate,” because our first line of defense against the rest of the football world is, “They hate us because they ain’t us.” In the midst of all the snow that has fallen since the AFC Championship game, it is worth remembering that the only thing that really should have wound up deflated after a 45-7 drubbing by the Patriots was the Colts’ collective self-respect, especially considering that in the second half, with footballs that were all supposedly properly inflated, the Patriots dominated by 28-0.
What you will encounter in this article is not a summary of the 243-page Wells Report, nor the 20,000-word, thorough rebuttal that the Patriots issued on their website, wellsreportcontext.com (both of which I have read in their entirety), nor a discussion of what might or might not have happened when a Patriots locker room attendant brought two bags of footballs into a bathroom before game time for less than two minutes for the purpose of what everyone seems to agree was “taking a leak,” but rather an exposé of some of the weakest points in Ted Wells’ case against the Patriots.
Although Wells casually dismisses any “sting operation” that might have been arranged before game time by the Indianapolis Colts and the NFL hierarchy, the facts in his report actually point in the opposite direction. Wells acknowledges that the Colts sent the NFL office a pre-game email that warned officials to be on guard that the Patriots might try to deflate footballs, essentially because “everybody knows they do it,” and that NFL VP Dean Blandino advised head referee Walt Anderson to be vigilant on this issue.
Given the Colts’ preemptive complaint, three things revealed in the report become all the more mind-boggling: the fact that Wells instructed his research team, Exponent, to consider the Colts’ footballs “the control group” and beyond any suspicion of tampering; that Walt Anderson failed to record one single measurement for any footballs for either team before kickoff; and that while Anderson’s “best recollections” form the entire baseline for all pre-game football psi measurements, his recollection on one key point is discounted by Wells and Exponent when it proved inconsistent with their case against the Patriots.
Let me clue you in to just a few ways that the Colts could have tipped the psi scales in their favor, knowing in advance that their footballs would be used for comparison. They could have inflated their footballs toward the higher end of the acceptable range, which the report freely acknowledges that they did, to 13.0 – 13.1 psi. They could have inflated them with colder than room temperature air, causing the temperature and psi to drop more slowly during the outdoor game. They could have reinflated their footballs slightly after receiving them back from locker room attendant McNally. They could have had handwarmers in their plastic game ball bags, or kept their footballs close to heaters during the game, as the Patriots allege that the Colts actually did. Wells ignores or glosses over all these possibilities, while wallowing in every nefarious suspicion against the Patriots.
Meanwhile, for the opposing side, Anderson recalls that the Patriots’ footballs measured at exactly the low end of the legal limit, at 12.5 psi. Here it’s worth noting that there is no prohibition against footballs falling below that level during a game, and any first-year physics student could tell you that based on a 50-degree kickoff temperature, 10-15 mph winds, and steady rain during the first half, psi drops for both teams’ footballs were entirely predictable according to the Ideal Gas Law. In fact, the intercepted football that caused the NFL and its Inquisition Team to leap into action at halftime behaved precisely as the Ideal Gas Law predicted it would, by falling to approximately the range of 11.32-11.52 psi. But that hit squad of league officials knew nothing about physics and very little about making consistent measurements, so from there on, everything went downhill.
Walt Anderson had brought two gauges with him to check the footballs, one with a long needle that the report calls the Logo gauge, and the other gauge with a shorter needle and with no logo. The troubles for baseline measurements began not just with psi readings that started about .5-.6 psi apart, but also with two gauges that read differently by about .45 psi. Anderson’s “best recollection” was that he used the higher-reading Logo gauge for his pre-game measurements, but Wells and Exponent discounted that particular recollection in favor of the lower gauge whose readings were more incriminating against the Patriots, suggesting yet again that Wells’ real mission was to help the NFL CYA, if you interpret my abbreviations correctly.
The problems of measuring got compounded at halftime when a third gauge was used briefly for measuring the intercepted ball, and that gauge, last seen in the hands of NFL officials, mysteriously vanished, never to be seen since, according to Wells. Then we add the complications that Anderson can’t recall which team’s footballs he measured first; that officials and higher-ups are sure that they measured the 12 Patriots’ footballs first at halftime, but aren’t sure whether they reinflated Patriots’ footballs before or after measuring only 4 of 12 Colts’ balls (which becomes an important point because Exponent claims that the passage of mere minutes can contribute significantly to a rapid rise in temperature and psi in locker room conditions).
Oh, and the NFL dream team “ran out of time” to measure all Colts’ balls at halftime; failed to reinflate any Colts’ balls at halftime, even though 3 of 8 measurements showed those balls to be lower than the legal psi; switched gauges among officials at the end of the game; misrecorded at least two Colts’ measurements; checked 4 of 12 Colts’ balls at the end of the game without being sure whether they were actually the same 4 balls they measured at halftime; and so on, ad nauseam. I kid you not, these foul-ups are all there in the 243-page report, and that’s the “scientific” basis for determining that hanky-panky occurred in the AFC Championship game.
Meanwhile Wells paid little or no attention to the fact that the Patriots dominated time of possession in the first half (thereby exposing their footballs more to the elements), or that the Patriots employed a much more bruising running game, rather than a passing game, which might also have accounted for additional football deflation.
As NFL reporter Mike Florio has suggested, at some point Ted Wells morphed from being an “independent” investigator to being a prosecutor determined to convict the Patriots on whatever flimsy statistical or circumstantial evidence he could piece together. The important question was not whether Patriots’ footballs dropped below 12.5 psi, but whether the drop was consistent with the expectations of the Ideal Gas Law, or whether the drop suggested “tampering” on the part of the Patriots’ staff or players. Since the data on which the tampering charge rests is utterly unreliable, the tampering allegation remains unproven to this day, and so should be considered, contrary to Wells’ conclusion, “more improbable than not.”
As of today, the Patriots have decided not to appeal the NFL’s million dollar fine and loss of two draft picks, while Tom Brady is moving ahead with his appeal against the NFL. Personally, I hope Brady’s appeal winds up in federal court, where it might get a truly impartial hearing for the first time.
John McColgan, a resident of Joseph, is a proud member of Patriots Nation.