What is Deflategate? Revisiting Tom Brady involvement, suspension from Patriots scandal

Tom Brady earned a lot of accolades during his NFL career. He won seven Super Bowl rings, five Super Bowl MVPs, and three NFL MVPs across his 20 years with the Patriots and Buccaneers.

He also made some ignominious history, however, with his involvement in the Deflategate scandal.

Deflategate took the NFL by storm in 2015 after Brady and the Patriots were accused of deliberately utilizing game balls that were improperly inflated during the AFC championship game. What followed was a dramatic NFL investigation and the most severe punishment in league history.

Here’s everything to know about Deflategate, Brady’s alleged involvement in the scheme, and how the Patriots reacted to the historic discipline levied by the NFL.

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What is Deflategate?

Deflategate is the name of an NFL scandal involving Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The investigation alleged that Brady had ordered the team’s game balls from the 2015 AFC championship game against the Colts to be deliberately deflated below the minimum 12.5 pounds per square inch (PSI) allowed by the NFL.

Deflategate began after the Colts complained about an improperly inflated ball following an interception by linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. The issue was noticed by assistant equipment manager Brian Seabrooks, who had an intern test the ball with a pressure gauge. It came back with a reading of 11 PSI.

Seabrooks communicated that to NFL personnel working the game, which prompted a re-measuring of the game ball. All three readings of it came in lower than 12 PSI.

The NFL launched an investigation into the deflation of the balls as a result of their findings. The findings alleged Jim McNally, a seasonal Patriots employee who had been with the team for 30-plus seasons, and John Jastremski, the team’s assistant equipment manager, worked in conjunction with Brady to deflate the Patriots’ game balls below 12.5 PSI before the game, per Ted Wells’ write-up of the report.

How did this happen? McNally brought the game balls to the officials’ locker room and requested they be inflated to 12.5 PSI. The game’s head referee, Walt Anderson, obliged but later had trouble locating the game balls.

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That’s because McNally had taken the balls toward the field — with a one-minute, 40-second stop in a locked bathroom along the way. That hadn’t happened before in Anderson’s crew’s previous trips to Gillette Stadium, at least not without another official present.

The investigation revealed McNally and Jastremski “periodically exchanged text messages” hinting at meddling with the game balls. Among what was discussed:

  • The air pressure of Patriots game balls
  • Tom Brady’s unhappiness with the inflation level of Patriots game balls
  • Jastremski’s plan to provide McNally with a “needle” (a sports ball inflation device) for use by McNally 
  • McNally’s requests for “cash” and sneakers together with the “needle” to be provided by Jastremski.

McNally referred to himself as “the deflator” in one of the texts and also said that he was “not going to ESPN… yet” when asking for the sneakers.

Brady also spoke on the phone with Jastremski with increased frequency after the AFC championship game. Previously, the quarterback had not spoken to the assistant equipment manager by phone for six months.

Brady also declined to make his electronic communications available for the NFL as a part of its investigation. In fact, he destroyed his cell phone instead of turning it over to the NFL. All records involving Brady were collected from McNally and Jastremski.

After the lengthy NFL investigation concluded, the NFL deemed it was “more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.”

More notably, the league alleged Brady “was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”

The Patriots decried the NFL report, while many noted that the league’s application of the Fundamental Gas Law in assessing the PSI of each ball was flawed.

Nonetheless, the NFL levied a heavy fine against the Patriots, and the team forfeited a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and a fourth-round pick in 2017. Patriots owner Robert Kraft eventually accepted the discipline levied by the NFL but condemned the punishment for being too harsh.

“Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league,” he said. “Today’s punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.”

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Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension

As for Brady, he was suspended four games without pay because of the Deflategate scandal. He didn’t serve his suspension until the start of the 2016 NFL season after a lengthy court battle with the NFL.

Brady and the NFLPA filed an appeal of his suspension, while commissioner Roger Goodell refused to recuse himself from the case as the independent arbiter over the suspension. 

Judge Richard M. Berman eventually ruled on eve of the 2015 season that Brady would be eligible to play, taking issue with the manner in which the NFL suspended Brady. He “did not receive the proper advance notice to be disciplined by the NFL and information of the kind of penalties he could receive,” per NFL.com.

Brady played the 2015 NFL season because of this, but Goodell and the NFL refused to give up in their fight to see the quarterback suspended. On April 25, 2016, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Berman’s ruling and reinstated his four-game suspension.

“We hold that the commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness,” the majority opinion read. “Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand with instructions to confirm the award.”

A few months later on June 15, Brady announced he was declining to continue the legal process. He accepted the four-game suspension and served it to begin the 2016 NFL season.

When was Deflategate?

The Deflategate game occurred on Jan. 18, 2015, during the AFC championship game between the Patriots and Colts. However, its impact on the league lasted much longer.

Brady’s suspension appeal — and subsequent suspension — kept Deflategate in the news throughout the 2015 and 2016 NFL offseasons. Even after Brady’s suspension was complete, the final portion of the Deflategate punishment wasn’t paid out until April 29, 2017. The Patriots forfeited their 2017 fourth-round pick, which fell between the selections of wide receiver Josh Reynolds and Mack Hollins by the Rams and Eagles, respectively.

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That marked the unofficial end of the Deflategate scandal, though it remains a critical part of the lore of Brady’s fourth and fifth Super Bowl wins with the Patriots.

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What was the Deflategate game?

As mentioned, the Deflategate game was the 2015 AFC championship game, which was played between the Patriots and Colts.

New England throttled Indianapolis 45-7 in a blowout romp. Brady completed 23-of-35 passes for 226 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception with a 100.4 passer rating. LeGarrette Blount romped for 148 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries.

Julian Edelman led the team with 98 yards on nine catches, and Darrelle Revis and Jamie Collins each intercepted Andrew Luck twice. Luck completed just 12-of-33 passes for 126 yards, and Luck, Daniel Herron, and Zurlon Tipton combined for just 83 rushing yards.

Tipton scored Indianapolis’ lone touchdown with 4:54 left in the second quarter. The Patriots’ stalwart defense kept Indianapolis in check the rest of the day en route to their Super Bowl win over the Seahawks.

Deflategate meaning

The term “Deflategate” originated by combining the word “deflate” with the notorious Richard Nixon-led “Watergate” scandal that ran from 1972 to 1974. The NFL’s various scandals over the years — including Spygate and Bountygate — got similar treatment when deciding on a moniker for each.

Why those covering Deflategate didn’t choose to name it “WaDeflate” — a similar play on words that’s a bit less clunky than Deflategate — is unknown. Perhaps it is due to the previous naming convention established by Spygate and Bountygate, or maybe those covering the scandal were wary of sounding like they were doing bad Boston accents with the name.

Either way, Deflategate endured as the name for Brady’s biggest scandal during his NFL career.

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