The New England Patriots’ deflated footballs’ story has been an atypical blend of NFL controversy and fifth-grade humor. You know it’s different when even Sarah Ryan, the wife of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, is putting a screen shot of an amusing text conversation with her mother on Twitter with hashtags like #DeflatedBalls.
“Oh no. Really?” Matt Ryan said, laughing, on the phone from Arizona, where he’s preparing for this week’s Pro Bowl.
But one thing about this story has bugged me, other than the comments of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady , two of the most detailed-oriented individuals in NFL history, who would have us believe they had no idea that footballs had been deflated. (Yet, if we were to go with the theory that they’re innocent, wasn't it odd that neither seemed the least bit upset about the revelation that somebody had tampered with their equipment?)
What I’ve wondered is: How common is this? I’ve covered the NFL off and on since 1983 and I’ve never heard that this was a regular practice. I saw the Twitter comments of Matt Leinart, who wrote, “Every team tampers with the football. Ask any Qb In the league, this is ridiculous!!”
Then again, Leinart has never been an NFL quarterback, so how would he know?
(Thank you, I’m here all week.)
So I put the question to Ryan: Is this common?
“I was talking to some of the guys here (at the Pro Bowl) about it, and everybody’s different,” he said. “I don’t think it’s uncommon for guys to get a ball the way they like it. Some guys are more picky than others. But as far as inflation or deflation, that’s not an issue for us.”
So you've never had a ball deflated to make it easier to throw?
"No. I've never thrown a deflated ball, except maybe in my youth.”
So what do you mean by, “get a ball the way you like it”?
“Our equipment guys, Brian Boigner and Jimmy Hay, know that I like my balls broken in a little. There’s a film that comes on them, so I’ll throw them in practice for a couple of weeks. But it’s nothing to do with the air pressure or anything like that. I don’t think it’s uncommon in the league for guys to want the ball beat up a little and worn in. But beyond that, it's not that big of a deal to me. Our equipment guys joke that I’ll throw the ball right out of the wrapper. I really don’t care that much.”
Other than that, Ryan is staying away from the Patriots’ controversy, other than to say, “The NFL is so popular right now. Every little thing that comes up the week before the Super Bowl is going to be big. That’s part of the microscope we’re under.”
Ryan, speaking publicly for the first time since the end of the regular season, addressed some other topics pending with the Falcons. He can’t respond to questions about Dan Quinn, the team’s head coach in waiting and Seattle defensive coordinator, and also wouldn’t address the team’s new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (whose hiring hasn’t officially been announced by the team).
But here are some general thoughts on …
• Moving past the Falcons' 6-10 season: “It’s still fresh in my mind and it was disappointing. It didn’t go the way any of us wanted to. But it’ll be exciting moving forward. Things will be a little bit different (with a new coaching staff), learning what to do. I’ll miss Smitty (former coach Mike Smith). He was great. But it also will be exciting to see what happens and I’m looking forward to it.”
• On whether he has spoken to Smith since his firing: “Yes. It was very personal. But I just told him how much I appreciated everything he had done for the organization and what he did for me and the way he conducted himself. I also appreciated that he gave me the opportunity to play from day one, and I’ll be forever thankful for that.”
• On if he has heard anything about potential changes in the offensive scheme: “I don’t really know, not at this point. I’m just trying to figure out what offense we’re running in the Pro Bowl.”
• On playing in his third Pro Bowl: “Any time you have the opportunity to play in this game, it’s special. I know in the past I’ve been in Hawaii so this is different but Arizona is nice too and you can tell they’re getting geared up for the Super Bowl.”
• On whether he’ll stay in town for the Super Bowl: “No. I’m flying back to Atlanta Monday. I’m at the point now where I’m not going to the Super Bowl until I’m playing in it.”