Just when we thought the New England Patriots' football deflation situation was cooling down, Bill Belichick pulled everybody back in on Thursday morning. In a statement that lasted about seven minutes, the Patriots' head coach went into explicit detail regarding his involvement (or lack thereof) in the process that left 11 of New England's 12 footballs deflated under the league limit in the team's 45-7 AFC championship win over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday.
Belichick opened his statement by saying that when he came into the team facility on Monday, he was "shocked" to learn of the news reports indicating that the Patriots' game balls had been deflated.
"I’ve learned a lot more about this process in the last three days than I knew, or had talked about, in the last 40 years that I’ve coached in this league," he said. "I had no knowledge of the various steps involved in the game balls, and the process that happened between when they were prepared and went to the officials and went to the game, so I’ve learned a lot about that. Obviously, I understand that each team has the opportunity to prepare the balls the way they want, give them to the officials, and the game officials either approve or disapprove the balls, and that really was the end of it for me, until I learned a little bit more about it the last couple days."
Belichick then said that throughout his coaching career, his philosophy has always been to make things as difficult as possible in practice, and that every player who's ever played under him would say that the balls used in practice "are as bad as they can be."
"Anytime players complain about the quality of the footballs, I make them worse, and that stops the complaining," Belichick recalled. "So we never use the condition of the footballs as an excuse. We play with whatever or kick with whatever we have to use, and that’s the way it is. That has never been a priority for me, and I want the players to deal with the harder situation in practice than they’ll ever have to deal with in a game."
Then, Belichick shifted the focus from himself to his quarterback, which was certainly an interesting move.
"I’m trying to coach the team, and that’s what I want to do. I think we all know that quarterbacks, kickers, specialists have certain preferences on the footballs. They know a lot more than I do. They’re more sensitive to it than I am. I hear them comment on it from time to time, but I can tell you -- and they will tell you -- that there’s never any sympathy whatsoever from me on that subject. Tom [Brady]’s personal preferences on his footballs are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide."
Brady addressed the media later on Thursday afternoon, and said that he didn't alter the balls in any way.
"Everyone's obviously trying to figure out what happened," he said. "I was as surprised as anybody when I heard about this Monday morning."
Former NFL coach John Madden, whose Oakland Raiders of the 1970s were well-known to take any available license with the rule book, recently told Frank Cooney of The Sports Xchange that the spotlight should be shining on Brady in this matter.
"That would have to be driven by the quarterback," Madden said Wednesday. "That's something that wouldn't be driven by a coach or just the equipment guy. Nobody, not even the head coach, would do anything to the football unilaterally, such as adjust the amount of pressure in a ball, without the quarterback not knowing. It would have to be the quarterback's idea. I can see -- and you hate to make examples of what you can see because that sounds like you are accusing someone -- but I can see that being between the quarterback and the equipment guy.
"He is the affected, he is the only guy," Madden said of the quarterback in these situations. "I heard some of the pundits saying the ball is easier to catch, but that would never, ever, ever be done for that unless the quarterback wanted it. You wouldn't do something for a receiver to catch the ball if the quarterback couldn't throw it. So it's going to be done for the quarterback."
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson recently said that he paid somebody $7,500 to alter the footballs used in Super Bowl XXXVII in a specific fashion. Johnson completed 18-of-34 passes for 215 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, and the Buccaneers beat the Raiders handily 48-21. Rich Gannon, the Raiders' quarterback in that game, threw five picks.
With the league investigating the matter further, Belichick sounded very much like a man that wanted to move on to talk about Super Bowl XLIX. After saying that he would take steps to insure that no further deflation incidents would ever happen again under his watch, Belichick tried to add a global perspective to the matter.
"It’s really unfortunate that this is a story coming off two great playoff victories by our football team and our players, but we’ve been cooperative with the NFL investigation. We’ll continue to do so, and we’ll turn all our attention and focus to the Seattle Seahawks. They are a very talented, tough football team. We’ve spent the last four days with our preparations and so forth with the trip. Those are coming to a conclusion, we’re wrapping that up, and we’re starting our preparations today for the Seahawks and practicing through the weekend ... we’ll have a good, solid opportunity to get ourselves ready to go before we head down there.
"Again, I have no further comment on the NFL investigation, and I’ve told you all I know about the subject from my perspective. So that’s where we are."
Belichick then fielded several questions on the scandal by simply saying that he knew nothing further beyond what he'd already said, and that's where it's left ... for now.
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