I was in Phoenix Super Bowl week when Robert Kraft practically scolded the NFL, media members and assorted cynics who would dare to suggest that his New England Patriots would do something that wasn't kosher to win a football game, even if all evidence was to the contrary.
"It bothers me greatly that (Bill Belichick's and Tom Brady's) reputation and integrity has been called into question," the Patriots' owner said.
And everybody waited for the punch line.
The investigation into whether the Patriots intentionally deflated footballs in the AFC championship game against Indianapolis is finally complete. Conclusion: It's "more than probable" that they are guilty -- maybe not all of them, but enough of them.
Ted Wells, who led an independent investigation that lasted more than three months, released his findings in a 243-page report. In short: Brady and two New England locker room attendants were found culpable for the quarterback's use of deflated footballs.
There was no evidence linking Belichick to wrongdoing. At this point, you are free to ask yourself: So something was going on in Belichick's locker room that Belichick wasn't aware of?
Wells' report is long. But here's the meat of the findings: "... We have concluded that it is more probable than not that Jim McNally (officials locker room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (equipment assistant for the team) participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots' game balls after the balls were examined by the referee. Based on the evidence, it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots' game balls."
Not just in the AFC championship game, but other games as well.
Kraft did not take this well. He released his own statement (460 words) that basically boiled down to a vehement denial and/or him holding his breath until he turned Patriot blue.
He said Wells ignored "both scientific formula and independent research, as we did, (that) would ultimately exonerate the Patriots. ... I don’t know how the science of atmospheric conditions can be refuted or how conclusions to the contrary can be drawn without some definitive evidence."
(I'll pause here for the laugh track.)
Wells' report is thorough. You can read the entire PDF by clicking here. It includes details about the handling of footballs before the AFC championship game, as well as text message exchanges between McNally and Jastremski that illustrate how deflating footballs for Brady was a common practice.
In one exchange on May 9, 2014, McNally jokingly refers to himself as "the deflator" and texts Jastremski, "not going to espn……..yet.”
McNally: "You working"
McNally: "Nice dude....jimmy needs some kicks....lets make a deal.....come on help the deflator"
McNally: "Chill buddy im just buddy im just f***** with you ....im not going to
So what's Kraft's story here? That McNally and Jastremski went rogue?
What is Brady's claim going to be? That he had no idea the footballs were deflated?
This is what Brady said after the accusations were made: "I personalized a lot of things and thought this was all about me and my feelings got hurt, and then I moved past it because it’s not serving me."
That's right. His feelings were hurt.
(Laugh track again.)
This doesn't change the fact that Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play or that the Patriots are one of the elite organizations in professional sports. But they cheated and they need to pay some sort of price, even if Kraft believes the world is out to get him.
Some ideas, taking into account that this is not the first time the Patriots have painted outside the lines and Brady was less than forthcoming with investigators:
• The team should be given a record fine. A fine won't cause a dent in a franchise that has been valued at $2.6 billion but at least it will be symbolic of something.
• The team should be docked a first-round draft pick. This will hurt far more than the fine.
• Brady should be suspended. A two-game suspension seems fair. Cheating compromises the integrity of the game and damages the league at least as much as any player failing a drug test (which leads to at least a four-game suspension). I'm just not sure throwing a slightly deflated football rises to the level of a four-game punishment.
Finally, I think commissioner Roger Goodell needs to find some way to compel Kraft to publicly admit the findings of the report. When the Patriots claimed before the Super Bowl that "atmospheric conditions" caused the Patriots' footballs to deflate, no less an authority than Neil de- Grasse Tyson -- an astrophysicist by way of Harvard, Columbia and other institutions of the really smart -- responded via Twitter: "For the Patriots to blame a change in temperature for 15 percent lower-pressures requires balls to be inflated with 125-degree air."
I wrote then as I write now: We know where the hot air is coming from.
Previously on "DeflateGate":