Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Brad Johnson said Wednesday that he and former Oakland Raiders QB Rich Gannon were in full agreement on the need to work in and scuff up the new, slick footballs that were used in Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego on Jan. 26, 2003, and that the former Vikings' teammates met early that week to discuss the situation.
A Tampa Bay Times story on Wednesday quoted Johnson from several years ago admitting he paid $7,500 to some unidentified people in order to scuff up the 100 footballs that were being used that week in the Super Bowl -- in violation of NFL rules -- in order to make them easier to grip and throw.
Reached via text message on Wednesday, Johnson told SI.com the two starting quarterbacks agreed that the new, just-out-of-box balls were too difficult to throw and needed to be worked in, characterizing the Times’ story as "way off."
"I feel like my name has been slandered by using the word bribery," Johnson told Pro Football Now Wednesday afternoon, saying that he tipped equipment managers as he normally would, not specifically to scuff game balls.
"This has been blown way out of proportion," Johnson texted. "Rich Gannon and I had met the week of the Super Bowl and agreed to work the balls in the week of the Super Bowl, just like we would do for any other game. The balls were used by both teams and fair for everyone. I really don’t understand what the big deal is. Rich Gannon and I talked today, too, and we both laughed at the nonsense of this story.
"I never touched the balls before the game. And no one ever complained, be it the refs, players or quarterbacks. We [he and Gannon] were both fine with all the balls that we played with."
The NFL has subsequently changed its rules and allowed quarterbacks an opportunity to rub up or break in the Super Bowl game balls, in order to improve the grip.
"I think it's a non-story, quite frankly," Gannon said. "I don't think it's the reason we lost."
The Times reported that Johnson made his admission "several years ago," before the Bucs celebrated the 10th anniversary of the 2002 team, the franchise’s only Super Bowl winner. But Johnson now finds himself very much connected to the current controversy that centers on whether the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots broke league rules by partially deflating the balls they used in Sunday night’s 45-7 AFC Championship Game rout of visiting Indianapolis.
The NFL is in the midst of investigating whether the Patriots cheated, with ESPN reporting Tuesday night that the league’s preliminary findings were that 11 of the 12 balls New England used on offense were significantly under-inflated -- 2 pounds per square inch under what is required -- perhaps in order to make them easier to grip and throw.
Johnson completed 18-of-34 passes against the Raiders in the Bucs’ defensively-led 48-21 rout of Oakland, finishing with 215 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Gannon had one of the worst days in his long NFL career, throwing five interceptions on 24-of-44 passing, for two touchdowns and 272 yards in the 27-point defeat.