After months of investigation, the NFL's report about the Patriots' DeflateGate found that the Patriots more than likely deliberately deflated footballs below legal levels during the AFC Championship game. Using video footage, interviews, and text message transcripts, the investigators painted a pretty clear picture of where, when and how Patriots employees probably doctored the footballs.
It was pretty easy. But referees noticed something was up on gameday as a part-time New England employee took off with the balls, something multiple officials said was extremely abnormal.
Here's a step-by-step process of how it went down.
1. Preparing the balls normally
John Jastremski, who the report describes as the Patriots "principal game ball maker," has made these balls look a-OK for the refs. He's spent all week preparing balls to Brady's liking -- he spends about an hour per ball breaking them in, and breaks in 20-to-35 per week -- and on the Sunday of the AFC Championship game, he spends time rubbing the balls with leather gloves to match the tack of receiver's gloves, a request Brady made due to bad weather.
Jastremski says he used to set balls between 12.75 and 12.85 PSI, but after an October game against the Jets when Brady complained about the balls' overinflation, he says he changed that and began setting them to 12.6 PSI, which is just a tad above the NFL's lowest legal limit of 12.5 PSI.
2. Giving them to the refs
At the start, everything is normal. The balls were delivered to NFL ref Walt Anderson, who the report states is one of the few head refs who actually tests the pressure of the game balls instead of handing that duty off to another crew member.
Anderson finds most of the balls at 12.5 PSI, "one or two" at 12.6 PSI, and two that don't comply. An assistant, Greg Yette, inflates the balls to within the legal limit.
At some point, Jim McNally, a Patriots employee, reminds Anderson that "Tom likes them at 12.5." This isn't out of the ordinary: Anderson recalls that McNally has made this same request in the past.
The refs know McNally well: He's worked as a seasonal or part-time employee for the Patriots for 32 years, since he was 16. His official title is Officials Locker Room Attendant -- his job is getting the refs toiletries, programs and whatever else they need before the games. Refs describe him as "professional, attentive and cordial."
What the refs don't know is that McNally has another unofficial role. Text messages between McNally and Jastremski reveal that he calls himself the "deflator," and that he often references a specific role in maintaining the inflation level of footballs -- not part of his duties in the officials' locker room. He often jokes with Jastremski about Brady, threatening to overinflate balls if he doesn't receive cash, sneakers or autographs.
At some point, McNally asks for permission to move the balls next to the door of the locker room, ostensibly to make it easier as they take the field, and does so.
3. Taking off with the balls
Video footage shows that at 6:30, 20 minutes before kickoff, McNally leaves the locker room with the balls, walks towardthe field, goes into a bathroom, locks the door, and stays there for a minute and 40 seconds. It's here that McNally presumably doctored the balls.
McNally can't quite remember the details surrounding his trip to the bathroom. In his initial interview with NFL security staff, he says he walked straight to the field and didn't go in a bathroom. Later, he tells investigators that he dropped the bag and used the urinal in the bathroom, which does not have a urinal. He says he didn't use the bathroom in the officials' locker room because referees like space before they take the field, but officials agree it would've been totally normal for him to use the bathroom there.
McNally also says it was totally normal for him to leave with the refs' locker room with the game balls without the refs' consent. He says he only walks with officials "about half the time" and that "he brings the game balls to the field when he sees fit." Patriots security staff say that what McNally did is normal.
Referees vehemently disagree with this. Anderson asserts that people besides the referees are not supposed to leave the locker room with the game balls, that he has denied requests from ballboys and locker room attendants to do so, and that he would have denied a request from McNally to do so. Other referees back up this account.
The officials don't notice that McNally has left. When they get set to take the field and realize the balls are missing, they panic. Anderson says this is the first time in his 19 years that he's been unable to locate the balls before a game. He's flustered. The normally calm ref is "visibly concerned and uncharacteristically used an expletive" as they attempt to track down the footballs.
The refs take the field without them and ask somebody else to go get the backup balls. But right after they do this, they find McNally on the field with the balls.
When the refs inspect the balls at halftime after complaints by the Colts, they are woefully underinflated: While all of the Colts' balls measure at least 12.5 PSI on one of the referees' gauges, only one of the Pats' 11 balls even measure 12 PSI, with most falling between 10-11 PSI.
At no point does the report assuredly condemn the Patriots. It couldn't. There's no footage from inside the bathroom of McNally deflating balls, no text message where he confirms he deflated them.
But McNally definitely absconded with the balls, something officials agreed he wasn't supposed to do, he definitely went into a place he couldn't be filmed with the balls, and the balls were definitely less inflated than they should've been. The report was able to connect the dots, even if it couldn't provide a smoking needle.
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