Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
The postmodern abyss of the New England deflated-ball flap—in which unknown members of the New England Patriots organization are accused of doing something to deflate footballs at an unknown point before or during the AFC Championship game—is so thin on substance right now that it’s almost a pure expression of mass-media id. Through four days of increasingly surreal press attention, the public has been asked to care deeply about things that most had never cared about before—the air pressure in a football, Avogadro’s law, Mark Brunell’s opinion—because the “integrity of the game” is supposedly at stake. Yet the only solid information released by the NFL so far is that the Patriots are under investigation. Or under review. Under something. The league has refused any further comment, and thus the story has become a Tasmanian Devil of anonymous tips, innuendo, and huffy moralizing. Life suffocates in a vacuum, but media frenzies flourish.
Regular readers know I’m a New Englander with loyalties to the hometown team, but I’m not about to guess whether the Patriots are guilty of anything or not. It seems that something was screwy, and that’s all anyone can say so far. What this story needs is facts. Block & Tackle is here to help. We went to the most sophisticated sporting-goods testing facility within walking distance of The A.V. Club office to evaluate the performance of an NFL football under various conditions. First, as a baseline, we tested a game-ready ball inflated to 12.5 pounds per square inch, which is the low end of the league’s 12.5-13.5 PSI specification for footballs:
Early in the week, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen issued a report, citing anonymous sources, that most of the game balls on the Patriots sideline were found to be under-inflated by about 2 PSI at halftime of the AFC Championship. Peter King of Sports Illustrated published an almost identical report last night on his MMQB site. Working off this information, we adjusted a ball to 10.5 PSI and, as you can see, detected no discernible difference:
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady held press conferences yesterday in which they denied knowledge of any ball-deflating hanky-panky. Both were instantly and almost unanimously decried as liars. Because the last time Bill Belichick issued such an adamant denial was in 2008, when the Patriots were accused—based on an anonymously sourced story in the Boston Herald—of having filmed a St. Louis Rams practice before playing them in the 2002 Super Bowl. (Belichick never denied the sideline-filming scandal that kicked off Spygate—he admitted the Patriots had taped opposing teams’ defensive signals and used some extremely tendentious reasoning to argue that it wasn’t against the league’s code of conduct.) And we all remember how the practice-taping story turned out, right? We all remember that the accusation dissolved due to an utter lack of evidence, and that the Herald had to apologize for its bogus story while the rest of the sports press—which had touted the practice-taping story to no end that year—quietly moved on. Yet I have read very few columnists this week opining that the media’s “legacy” was “tainted” by the incident—and many that repeat (or re-insinuate) the false charges to tar Belichick. Weird!
Nobody possesses the integrity our nation demands. We are in the midst of an integrity crisis. That’s why, for our next Deflate-gate-ghazi test, Block & Tackle examined a brand-new football. It has that new-ball smell and, most importantly, the signature of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, an imprimatur so upstanding that some states allow it to serve as an emergency notary public. At last, a football Americans can look up to. Watch and see how it performed:
This story is fueled by lack of trust. You can’t trust the Patriots, you can’t trust the reporters, and as we know from the Ray Rice debacle, you can’t trust the NFL’s crack team of investigators. Nothing is valid, and thus we are pushed further into the house of mirrors. Hell, Tom Brady might have been out there slinging an emoji football for all we know. Block & Tackle tested that, too:
So now you know.