Investigators hired by the NFL concluded Wednesday that it was “more probable than not” that New England Patriots personnel intentionally deflated footballs and that star quarterback Tom Brady was “at least generally aware.”
The investigators’ report on what came to be called Deflate-Gate faulted Jim McNally, a Patriots locker room attendant, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant, for an apparent effort to let air out of game balls for the AFC championship game in January.
The report found less evidence linking Brady to tampering but found it was probable “that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski.”
It quoted text messages between the two, months before the AFC title game, suggesting that Brady was asking for underinflated game balls, and that the quarterback expressed his displeasure when they were not to his liking.
It also quoted requests from McNally for shoes and signed footballs from Brady in exchange for deflating game balls.
Before the AFC championship game, McNally took two large bags of game balls, meant for both teams, out of the officials’ locker room and disappeared into a bathroom for a minute and 40 seconds, the report found.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league would “consider what steps to take in light of the report, both with respect to possible disciplinary action and to any changes in protocols that are necessary to avoid future incidents of this type.”
The Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 for the AFC championship, and the Colts complained after the game that some balls were underinflated. Underinflated footballs are easier to catch and throw, particularly in difficult weather, and it was raining during the game.
Two weeks later, the Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. After a furor over the game balls, the commissioner asked Ted Wells, a prominent lawyer, to compile the report. It took more than four months and ran to more than 240 pages.
The Patriots’ owner, Robert Kraft, said he was still convinced that the team had done nothing wrong.
“To say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC Championship game, would be a gross understatement,” he said in a statement.
In an interview with the investigators, Brady denied wrongdoing and said that he didn’t even know McNally’s name before the AFC title game. “We found these claims not plausible and contradicted by other evidence,” the report concluded.
It also found that Brady and Jastremski did not communicate by phone or text for six months — then communicated six times over the three days after suspicions were first raised about ball-tampering.
In May 2014, long before the season, McNally referred to himself as “the deflator,” according to texts reviewed by the investigators:
McNally: You workingJastremski: YupMcNally: Nice dude....jimmy needs some kicks....lets make a deal.....come on help the deflatorMcNally: Chill buddy im just (expletive) with you ....im not going to espn........yet
The report includes further salty text-message exchanges between McNally and Jastremski during the 2014 regular season, as they deal with Brady’s preferences for game balls.
After Brady complained about the inflation of footballs in a game in October, McNally wrote to Jastremski: “Tom sucks ... im going make that next ball a (expletive) balloon.”
Another exchange that same month went like this:
Jastremski: Can’t wait to give you your needle this week :)McNally: (Expletive) tom....make sure the pump is attached to the needle.....(expletive) watermelons comingJastremski: So angryMcNally: The only thing deflating sun..is his passing rating
In addition, the Colts alerted the league on the day before the AFC title game to concerns about air pressure in Patriots footballs, the report found. General Manager Ryan Grigson wrote: “All the Indianapolis Colts want is a completely level playing field.”
An attached message from the Colts’ equipment manager, said:
As far as the gameballs are concerned it is well known around the league that after the Patriots gameballs are checked by the officials and brought out for game usage the ballboys for the patriots will let out some air with a ball needle because their quarterback likes a smaller football so he can grip it better, it would be great if someone would be able to check the air in the game balls as the game goes on so that they don‟t get an illegal advantage.
An NFL official promised that one of his colleagues would speak to game officials about it.
At a press conference in January, Brady denied wrongdoing and said that he had never knowingly played with a football that did not meet league regulations.
“I would never do anything to break the rules,” he said.
The report cleared Bill Belichick, the head coach, and the Patriots front office in Deflate-Gate. It did fault the Patriots for refusing to make McNally available for a follow-up interview with investigators. The investigators said it was inconsistent with the team’s pledge of full cooperation.