Deflategate is the gift that keeps on giving. The NFL-manufactured scandal that accused the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady of illegally tampering with the air pressure inside footballs to gain a competitive advantage — an accusation that was later disproven by basic science — dominated news cycles throughout 2015 and 2016.
Now, it is back. A new book by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk shines a light on the league office’s role in the scandal and how it actively worked against the Patriots.
Two pieces of information were recently shared in a quasi-excerpt from the book: who was responsible for the erroneous tweet by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen claiming that 11 of 12 Patriots footballs were two pound per square inch (PSI) below the league’s air pressure range (12.5-13.5), and how the NFL handled measurements conducted during the 2015 season.
As for Mortensen’s tweet, its source reportedly was NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent:
So who was his source? Per a source with knowledge of the situation and as explained in Playmakers, the source for the notorious 11-of-12 footballs report was NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent.
It makes sense. It needed to be someone sufficiently high on the organizational chart to make it credible, and to prompt Mortensen to use it, despite the fact that (unbeknownst to Mortensen) it wasn’t true. It’s unclear whether Vincent deliberately lied to Mortensen. Things were muddled and hazy and confusing in the early days of the scandal.
Vincent played a key role in the whole Deflategate affair, being present during measurements at halftime of the 2014 AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and the visiting Indianapolis Colts. The Colts had alerted the league about a rumor originating with the Baltimore Ravens that New England would tamper with the footballs; the NFL tried to catch the Patriots in the act and measured the footballs at the half.
New England’s balls were measured first, and only one of the twelve was more than 2 PSI below the threshold; the others ranged from 1.8 to 0.2 PSI below but still within a scientifically explainable range. Yet, Mortensen’s tweet remained online and the basis of much of the talk about Deflategate.
Obviously, the league’s field study conducted during the 2015 season would have helped exonerate the Patriots and their quarterback after their were heavily penalized for their alleged involvement. However, NFL hid the numbers, reportedly at the behest of league counsel Jeff Pash:
So what happened to those numbers from the 2015 season? Per a source with knowledge of the situation, and as reported in Playmakers, the NFL expunged the numbers. It happened at the direct order, per the source, of NFL general counsel Jeff Pash.
Why would the league delete the numbers? It’s simple. For cold days, the numbers were too close to the actual numbers generated by the New England footballs at halftime of the playoff game against the Colts. Which means that the numbers generated at halftime of the January 2015 AFC Championship were not evidence of cheating, but of the normal operation of air pressure inside a rubber bladder when the temperature drops. Just as it was expected.
The fact that the NFL league office built an expensive case against New England and eventually conspired to keep unfavorable evidence hidden is nothing new. The league never releasing the testing numbers after the 2015 season was sufficient proof of that already.
Now, however, we know who played a key role in the process that eventually cost the Patriots two draft picks — a first- and a fourth-rounder — and led to the NFL suspending Tom Brady for four games: Troy Vincent either knowingly or not feeding wrong numbers to a receptive journalist, and Jeff Pash covering up facts that would have proven the NFL’s case to be based in fiction rather than fact.
Ultimately, however, none of it matters. Those who believe the Patriots have been guilty of whatnot will still do so, while their two stripped draft will not return. Likewise, this serves as further proof that Vincent and Pash tried to hold onto the conclusions that were drawn in the Gillette Stadium locker room in January 2015.
At the end of the day, Deflategate remains a full success for the NFL as Pats Pulpit’s own Alec Shane wrote in 2016:
[T]he league was able to dominate the news cycle while simultaneously diverting attention away from some very serious, very legitimate issues that they mishandled that might not have found most of the country so forgiving. Looking back on the ineptitude, corruption, dishonesty, and greed that surrounded domestic violence, child abuse, CTE, player depression, the increased risk of veteran suicide rates, and sexual abuse, the NFL had a veritable laundry list of failures all across the board. However, nobody spoke a single word about any of that nasty business as they argued over the merits of “more probable than not” and “generally aware.”
Florio’s new book will not change any of that.