On Jan. 18, 2015, the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots faced off in the AFC championship game. The Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady dominated, winning 45–7 to advance to their sixth Super Bowl since the 2001 season. While the Patriots prepared for the game, a media frenzy followed Brady and the team as the controversy that came to be known as Deflategate unfolded.
On Monday, more than a year after the scandal began, an appeals court reinstated the four-game suspension that Brady received for his role in the incident, adding yet another development in this eventful saga.
Take a look back at all the twists and turns that Deflategate has taken.
Jan. 18: The news breaks
A few hours after the AFC championship game ended, longtime Indianapolis journalist Bob Kravitz reported that league sources told him the NFL was opening an investigation into whether the Patriots intentionally deflated footballs to gain an advantage over the Colts in the rain-soaked game. The call for an investigation was triggered when Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson intercepted a pass from Brady in the second quarter, and the equipment manager who recovered the ball noticed it felt under-inflated.
The next day, Brady deflected the allegations, telling a local New England radio station that he had “no idea” what the controversy was about. He later proclaimed that he “didn’t alter the balls in any way.” Coach Bill Belichick said he was shocked to hear about the allegations and had no explanation for the under-inflated footballs.
The league later determined that 11 of the 12 footballs allocated to the Patriots were under-inflated, although not by two pounds of air (PSI) as was initially reported.
Jan. 23: The league’s first response
Less than a week after the initial report of foul play, the NFL released the results of its ongoing investigation into Deflategate. The league conducted nearly 40 interviews of Patriots personnel, game officials and relevant experts, and had concluded that the evidence gathered to that point supported the claim that the Patriots used under-inflated footballs in the first half of the AFC championship game.
The league confirmed that before the game the footballs were all tested and found to be of satisfactory inflation, adding that the balls were all properly inflated for the second half and remained that way.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft released a statement that day saying he had provided the NFL access to all Patriots employees for interviews and pledged the team’s full cooperation with the investigation.
That weekend, Belichick held a press conference in which he attempted to defend Brady and the Patriots against the NFL’s findings. He said there was not “any intent” to compromise “the integrity of the game,” and he suggested that rubbing the footballs to break them in could temporarily raise their air pressure level. A representative for NFL football manufacturer Wilson and scientist Bill Nye later debunked his claim.
Brady told reporters that he expected to talk to investigators after the Super Bowl, adding that the whole controversy had been “a lot of wasted energy” for him. The NFL eventually decided that the players would be interviewed after the Super Bowl, which the Patriots won over the Seattle Seahawks, 28–24.
After the Super Bowl, Kraft expressed his displeasure with the NFL’s investigation and said he expected the league to apologize to Brady and Belichick if its results showed no wrongdoing.
“I was really upset,” Kraft told the Boston Herald. “I was trying to take the heat off our guys....It really ticked me off.”
April 28: A conclusion soon?
On April 28, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that the investigation into the situation would conclude soon.
“We have a responsibility to the 32 teams, not just the one team, to 32 teams, and our fans, and the general public here, to make sure things were done fairly,” Goodell said in an interview with CBS This Morning.
About a week later, the Wells Report was released.
May 6: The Wells Report
Investigator Ted Wells, who was hired on behalf of the NFL, released his findings after four months of investigating. He concluded that Patriots personnel had likely deflated balls and that Brady was “at least generally aware” of the situation.
“It is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules,” the report stated.
The report found that officials’ locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski “participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee.” Text messages exchanged between McNally and Jastremski seemed to support this conclusion. Despite McNally and Jastremski’s cooperation, Wells said that Brady refused to turn over his phone records for the investigation. Wells said that he told Brady he would accept printouts of phone records and wouldn’t touch the physical phone, but Brady still declined.
Two days later, Brady delivered his first public comments on the Wells Report, but he did not respond to the allegations in detail.
May 11: The suspension
After weeks of rumblings about potential punishments, the NFL announced that Brady would be suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 season. The Patriots were hit with a $1 million fine and lost their first-round draft pick for 2016 and fourth-round pick for 2017. McNally and Jastremski, at the suggestion of Kraft, were both suspended indefinitely without pay.
Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations, suggested in a letter to the Patriots that the AFC championship game was not the first time that the team had knowingly deflated footballs, citing undisclosed evidence dating back to before the start of the 2014 season.
In response to the punishments, Kraft declared his “unconditional support” of Brady and shared his disappointment for what he called a “one-sided investigation.”
“Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league,” Kraft said in the statement. “Today’s punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.”
May 14: The appeal
The NFL Players Association wasted no time in appealing on Brady’s behalf, filing an appeal three days after the suspension announcement.
Kraft chose not to appeal the penalties imposed upon the team. Though he told The MMQB’s Peter King that he thought the degree of punishment “wasn’t fair,” he later revealed that he hoped his decision to accept the penalties would aid Brady during his appeal.
“Given the NFL's history of inconsistency and arbitrary decisions in disciplinary matters, it is only fair that a neutral arbitrator hear this appeal,” the NFLPA said in its statement. “If Ted Wells and the NFL believe, as their public comments stated, that the evidence in their report is ‘direct’ and ‘inculpatory,’ then they should be confident enough to present their case before someone who is truly independent.”
Ultimately, Goodell did not recuse himself, and he heard the case beginning on June 23.
Brady, reportedly testifying under oath, maintained his innocence during the hearing. He denied ever asking a Patriots employee to alter the inflation of a ball at any point in his career and said he would disapprove of anyone tampering with game balls.
During the appeal process, the NFL and NFLPA were engaged in discussions about a potential settlement in regards to Brady’s suspension, hoping to reach a finalized decision by Patriots’ training camp. According to later reports, the NFL offered Brady a 50% reduction of his suspension if he admitted culpability in the situation. Brady and the NFLPA refused the settlement and reportedly threatened to challenge in federal court if Brady was suspended for any number of games.
July 28: The (first) decision
In a long-awaited decision, the NFL upheld Brady's four game-suspension on July 28.
Goodell said in his decision that “the evidence fully supports” allegations that Brady took part in a scheme to tamper with game balls during the AFC championship game and “willfully obstructed the investigation” by arranging for his cell phone to be destroyed. The NFL went as far as asking a federal court in Manhattan to uphold and confirm Brady’s suspension.
Brady continued to maintain his innocence in response to the ruling and defended the destruction of his cell phone, saying he habitually disposes of his phones when he purchases new ones.
“The fact is that neither I, nor any equipment person, did anything of which we have been accused,” Brady wrote in a statement. “He (Goodell) dismissed my hours of testimony and it is disappointing that he found it unreliable.”
Brady’s agent, Don Yee, said the appeal process lacked “procedural fairness” and was “a sham,” calling the science in the Wells Report “junk.”
July 30: The battle continues
The next day, the NFLPA sued the league in an attempt to overturn the ruling.
As the case headed to U.S. District Court in New York, both the NFL and NFLPA filed a request for an expedited resolution to the case to avoid the proceedings stretching into the season.
On Aug. 12, Brady and Goodell appeared in federal arbitration court but did not reach a settlement. The NFL reportedly informed Brady that it would not accept any settlement that did not involve his acceptance of the Wells Report as truthful. In turn, Brady said he would not admit guilt in accordance with the findings in the Wells Report and would only accept a suspension for his failure to cooperate with Wells’s investigation.
As additional settlement talks continued to no avail, an official ruling was set to be announced by federal Judge Richard Berman on Sept. 4.
Sept. 30: The (second) decision
A day earlier than expected, Berman nullified Brady’s four-game suspension, clearing him to start in the Patriots’ season-opening game the following Thursday.
“We are grateful to Judge Berman for hearing this matter, but respectfully disagree with today's decision,” Goodell said in a statement. “We will appeal today's ruling in order to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game.”
Brady issued his first statement on the matter on his Facebook page the next day, and thanked Judge Berman for the resolution.
“The regular season starts tomorrow morning and I can’t wait to fully commit my energy and emotion to focus on the challenges of the 2015 NFL season,” Brady wrote. “I want to thank my family, my friends, all of the fans, past and current players and my teammates for the support they have given me throughout this challenging experience.”
Brady went on to have an MVP-caliber season and led his team to a 10–0 start to the year, finishing 12–4 and earning another postseason berth.
The waiting game
As the season progressed, public attention turned back to Brady’s on-field performance. Patriots employees Jastremski and McNally were reinstated—albeit with limitations prohibiting them from handling footballs and other equipment—as normalcy began to return to Foxborough. But off the field, the Deflategate legal proceedings continued.
In September, the NFL filed for an expedited hearing on its appeal of Brady’s suspension nullification. The NFLPA agreed to the motion, and in November, a federal appeals court announced it would hear oral arguments for the case in March.
April 25, 2016: The return
Deflategate reared its head again when a United States appeals court reinstated Brady’s four-game suspension. There’s a chance Brady will appeal this ruling — it would require seeking a stay/injunction and either asking for a re-hearing before the full second circuit or appealing to the Supreme Court.
July 13, 2016: Brady’s hopes dashed
Brady’s petition to have the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rehear his case was denied. Brady’s last hope is an appeal to the Supreme Court, though it appears unlikely the nation’s highest court would hear the case.
July 15, 2016: Brady will not appeal
Brady announced in a Facebook post that he would not appeal to the Supreme Court, ending his legal process in the Deflategate case. “It has been a challenging 18 months and I have made the difficult decision to no longer proceed with the legal process,” he wrote. He will miss the season’s first four games against the Cardinals, Dolphins, Texans and Bills.