Five hundred days have passed since Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a Tom Brady pass in the first half of the 2014 AFC Championship Game. Jackson handed the ball to David Thornton, the Colts director of player engagement, who handed the ball to Colts assistant equipment manager Brian Seabrooks, who instructed an equipment intern to check the air pressure in the ball. The intern measured it at approximately 11 PSI. Seabrooks then handed the ball to equipment manager Sean Sullivan. Days prior, Sullivan had crafted an e-mail to his GM, Ryan Grigson, stating that he and others around the league believed the Patriots tampered with footballs after official inspection. Sullivan told Grigson the Colts must remain vigilant. Grigson forwarded the email to NFL VP of Operations Mike Kensil and asked him to be on the lookout during the game. Sullivan, believing he had his smoking gun, alerted Kensil. Within an hour Kensil was stalking the Patriots sideline, telling team employees, “You're in big (bleeping) trouble.”
Actually, Mike, it turns out that everybody was.
That intern’s needle plunge (deep breath) . . . spawned a legal fight whose costs are probably pushing $30 million, led to a suspension and a stain on the greatest quarterback in NFL history, created a blight on the NFL commissioner from which he won’t recover, exposed a fracture within the league’s ownership, ushered in a new low in the relationship between the NFL and NFLPA, introduced us to Ted Wells’ mustache, the nickname Dorito Dink, Bill Belichick’s affection for the movie My Cousin Vinny and the pressures of being a courtroom sketch artist.
Oh, and it may have gotten Mike Kensil shipped to China.
I don’t know how it is for you, but for me it’s something that wasn’t there at all, suddenly appeared, and is now a part of my everyday life. Some days more than others. It’s a hemorrhoid, is what it is. (Sorry.)
Deflategate has made all of us conversant in the Ideal Gas Law, Article 46 of the CBA, a very narrow slice of labor law, the interesting relationship between the NFL offices and their favorite Washington law firms, and the term “industrial justice.”
It brought to prominence -- at least here in New England -- the work and words of legal cognoscenti like Michael McCann, Daniel Wallach and Stephanie Stradley.
It’s shown -- perhaps as no other story could have done -- the transformation of “traditional” media from one rooted in objectivity to one demanding “takes.” It’s also shown how changeable “takes” can be. The “cheating Patriots” dog whistle that brought a million snarky posts into existence last January and February have yielded now to a time where the number of people that care or believe the Patriots cheated is trumped by the number who view Goodell and the NFL as the bad guys here.
For me, a few moments really stand out.
-- Brady’s impossibly awkward press conference when the NFL’s leaked info at 11 of 12 footballs were underinflated by two PSI.
-- Belichick’s Saturday press conference before the team’s departure for the Super Bowl -- the Mona Lisa Vito one that I’ll personally remember as the “I JUST SAID THAT, TOM!” press conference.
-- Ted Wells’ angry conference call.
-- Wells’ and Goodell’s evasiveness and indignation when I suggested the notion of a sting.
-- NFL lawyer Jeff Pash mentioning in San Francisco last May that he enjoyed my column when I described him as Goodell’s “little nut-twister.”
-- Kensil telling me at the 2015 owner’s meetings that he was “so angry” at me and promising we’d talk when it was all over.
-- Kensil telling me at the 2016 owner’s meetings that he doubted we’d ever be talking.
-- Brady in front of his locker last September after his suspension was overturned by Judge Richard Berman, getting emotional when talking about the impact the entire process had on John Jastremski, Jim McNally and Brady’s family.
-- Four trips to New York to stand on the sidewalk outside a Manhattan courthouse -- three in the heat of summer. Knowing each time that, while I wasn’t covering world-changing events, I was front row for something that people really cared about and wanted information on. Fast.
-- Goodell refusing to answer the question of what a PSI violation was at the Super Bowl in San Francisco.
-- A highborn NFL suit acknowledging the league didn’t care about PSI anymore, only the “process” and “chain of command” related to the footballs on game day.
After 500 days, the only question that matters now is the only one that should have mattered then:
“Is there any proof the Patriots tampered with footballs after inspection prior to the AFC Championship Game?”
The answer is no.