- Ian O'Connor, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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No neutral observer needed to run this 243-page report under the nearest available microscope, not after Tom Brady had already drawn up the X's and O's in the dirt for everyone to see. The January day the pocket passer scrambled around questions about deflated footballs while wearing that funny hat and fearful gaze was the day this fact became clear:
As much as Spygate belonged to the head coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, this one belonged to his quarterback.
It turns out that a pair of low-level Patriots staffers were the two-bit Watergate burglars in this case, and that Brady -- not Belichick -- was the tragic Nixonian figure who allowed his unyielding drive to win to blur the line between right and wrong. Appointed by the NFL to find out if New England had intentionally deflated footballs used in its AFC Championship Game rout of the Indianapolis Colts, Ted Wells concluded it is "more probable than not" that Jim McNally, the officials locker room attendant for the Patriots, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant for the team, did tamper with game balls after they were examined by officials.
"Based on the evidence," the report reads, "it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady (the quarterback for the Patriots) was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls."
Yeah, Brady was "generally aware" of these activities like he's generally aware he's married to a Brazilian supermodel, or like he's generally aware he's tied with his idol, Joe Montana, with four Super Bowl rings.
Wells concedes that he's not certain when the Patriots staffers started running this shell game, and that there is less direct evidence linking the quarterback to the deception than there is linking McNally and Jastremski. But then again, the report states, "Brady is a constant reference point in the discussions between McNally and Jastremski about inflation, deflation, needles and items to be received by McNally."
Brady's taken his fair share of hits over the years, but he's never been sacked like this. The Wells report exonerated every Patriot outside this alleged unholy trinity, including Belichick, and honestly, that doesn't come as a shock. The coach is indeed the reigning overlord of the Spygate scandal, and he is indeed a control freak who admitted to scuffing up footballs in practice to make things tough on his players.
But beyond his bizarre "My Cousin Vinny" reference, he came across as credible when talking about "My Quarterback Tommy." Belichick swore he'd never spoken to anyone about a football's air pressure, or pounds per square inch, and he had to know what he was doing when he said, "Tom's personal preferences on his footballs is something he can talk about in much better detail and information than I can possibly provide."
Brady denied knowledge of any wrongdoing to league investigators, yet declined to provide those investigators with texts and emails related to the case. The report cites data retrieved from Jastremski's phone in describing a "material increase" in the communication between the staffer and the quarterback after the allegations of tampering became public on Jan. 19.
"After not communicating by telephone or text message for more than six months ... Brady and Jastremski spoke by telephone at least twice on January 19 (calls lasting a total of 25 minutes and 2 seconds), twice on January 20 (calls lasting a total of 9 minutes and 55 seconds) and twice on January 21 (calls lasting a total of 20 minutes and 52 seconds)," the report states, "before Jastremski surrendered his cell phone to the Patriots later that day for forensic imaging. ... Brady also took the unprecedented step of inviting Jastremski to the QB room (essentially Brady's office) in Gillette Stadium on January 19 for the first and only time that Jastremski can recall during his twenty-year career with the Patriots, and Brady sent Jastremski text messages seemingly designed to calm Jastremski ('You good Jonny boy?'; 'You doing good?')."
Wells doesn't believe a pair of underlings would deflate footballs without Brady's knowledge and consent, and really, what right-minded person would? Brady had already publicly stated his preference for throwing soft footballs. Would McNally really take the game balls for the AFC Championship Game out of the officials locker room without authorization, carry them into a bathroom stall and use a needle to bleed air from them in what will be the costliest 100-second trip to the john in NFL history without Brady being "generally aware" of it? With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line?
This is the same Tom Brady who lobbied for the 2006 rule change that allowed quarterbacks of road teams to prepare game balls to their liking ... as long as those balls remained within the allowable range of 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch. So only a fool would believe Brady's claim that he wasn't aware of the league minimum of 12.5 psi until 2014, or his January claim that he's too busy dodging pass-rushers to gauge whether a football is softer than NFL law requires.
"I get the snap, I drop back, I throw the ball," he said then.
And yet he was furious after an October 2014 game with the Jets because the balls he was throwing felt "like bricks," complaints that set off a comical and profane text exchange between the Patriots flunkies, including a pledge from McNally, who called himself "the deflator," that he'd get back at Brady by trying to "make that next ball a f---in balloon."
Jastremski and McNally texted quite a bit about needles, and McNally seemed to be angrier at Brady than Rex Ryan's ever been. Except, of course, when the locker room attendant was apparently looking for autographed footballs, sneakers and cash for his services. On Jan. 10, 2015, in a meeting witnessed by Jastremski in the Patriots' equipment room before the playoff victory over the Baltimore Ravens, the report states McNally "received two footballs autographed by Brady and also had Brady autograph a game-worn Patriots jersey that McNally previously had obtained."
But when questioned, Brady claimed he didn't know Jim McNally from Jim McMahon. Maybe the quarterback's texts and emails would've told a different story about that.
Funny, but the one mistake Brady made in the 45-7 victory over the Colts hurt him dearly. D'Qwell Jackson intercepted a second-quarter pass and ultimately handed the ball to Indianapolis equipment personnel who, working on past suspicions, used a pressure gauge to determine the ball didn't meet the 12.5-psi minimum. Eleven Patriots balls tested by the refs at halftime turned out to be improperly inflated and, voilà, a scandal was born.
At the Super Bowl, Patriots owner Robert Kraft expressed his unmitigated faith in Brady and Belichick and demanded an apology from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the event the Wells investigation turned up nothing. No, Kraft will not be getting that apology.
He did a lot of shouting about Wells' investigation in a statement released Wednesday, but his most relevant words were found near the end of his angry, five-paragraph response. Kraft took a knee there and said the Patriots "will accept the findings of the report and take the appropriate actions based on those findings as well as any discipline levied by the league."
Brady deserves to be suspended for his actions, and four games sounds about right. You get caught tampering with the equipment and running a flea-flicker on the game's integrity, you have to pay a price.
The good news? Brady gets to keep his fourth Super Bowl ring and his standing among the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He didn't need to cheat to beat the Colts or anyone else, but the evidence says the 199th pick in the 2000 draft -- the long shot out of Michigan who burned to prove everyone wrong -- couldn't resist the urge to seize a competitive edge.
Tom Brady should go ahead and tell his fans the truth about that, the whole truth, and nothing but. It would pump up a dynastic career that looks a lot more deflated now than any Patriots game ball.
Tom Brady has taken plenty of hits over the years, but none has been as damaging to the all-time great QB as the Wells report findings about his role in Deflategate, Ian O'Connor writes.