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Wells report disregards Anderson’s “best recollection” on a key piece of evidence

Earlier today, I spent way too much time hunting-and-pecking my way through an item regarding the problems with the two pressure gauges used to measure the Patriots footballs at halftime of the AFC title game. I spent so much time focused on the nuances that I didn’t give proper attention to perhaps the most obvious problem of all.

To summarize, the NFL had two air pressure gauges available at the game. One had a Wilson logo on the back and a long, crooked needle. The other did not have a Wilson logo, and a shorter, straighter needle.

The gauge with the logo and the longer needle generated higher measurements of the Patriots footballs at halftime, ranging from 0.3 PSI to 0.45 PSI higher for each of the 11 footballs. If that gauge -- the one with the logo and the longer, crooked needle -- were used to set the PSI for the balls before the game began, the measurements from that gauge are the right measurements to rely upon at halftime. And those measurements show that there was no tampering, because most of the footballs fell within the 11.52 to 11.32 PSI range for halftime, as predicted by the Ideal Gas Law.

Referee Walt Anderson didn’t clearly recall which gauge he used to set the pressure in the Patriots balls at 12.5 PSI before the game. Page 52 of the Wells report reveals that it was Anderson’s “best recollection” that he used before the game the gauge with the logo and the longer, crooked needle. In other words, Anderson recalls using the gauge before the game that, based on the halftime measurements, leads to a finding of no tampering.

So how did Ted Wells get around the “best recollection” of Walt Anderson? Wells persuaded Anderson to admit that it’s “certainly possible” he used the other gauge. And the company hired to provide technical support for the Wells report concluded based on a convoluted explanation appearing at pages 116-17 of the report that it is “more probable than not” that Anderson used the other gauge.

In other words, the Wells report concludes on this critical point that it’s “more probable than not” that Anderson’s “best recollection” was wrong.

Why should Anderson’s “best recollection” be doubted? He knew that there was a concern about tampering with the footballs. He presumably was paying more careful attention to the process of getting the balls filled with air before the AFC title game than he normally does.

So which gauge did you use, Walt, realizing that there could be a question later about the inflation of the footballs?

“Well, my best recollection is that I used the one with the long, crooked needle.”

Is it possible, Walt, that you used the other gauge that was available? You know, the one that for whatever reason measures the air pressure at 0.3 to 0.45 PSI lower?

“Well, I don’t know about that. . . .”

Isn’t it possible, Walt?

“Well, it’s certainly possible.”

That’s how investigations that start with a predetermined outcome and work backward unfold. (Holy crap, I think I’m beginning to agree with Don Yee.) And that’s why Wells should have concluded based on the scientific evidence that the question of whether tampering occurred in connection with the AFC title game is inconclusive.

Regardless of whether certain executives in the league office wanted the Patriots to be found guilty of cheating or whether Wells personally believed based on the non-scientific evidence that cheating must have happened, something prevented Wells from making a truly objective assessment of the scientific evidence. And a truly objective assessment of the scientific evidence should have led to this conclusion: It’s unclear whether tampering occurred.

This doesn’t mean the Patriots should be exonerated. The texts between Larry and Curly and the potential involvement of Tom Brady a/k/a Moe Howard requires further examination regarding whether there was a pattern of deliberate efforts to get the footballs below 12.5 PSI at kickoff on a regular basis. And Tom Brady should be presumed guilty at best and suspended indefinitely until he gives up his text messages and emails at worst for his failure to cooperate with the investigation.

But as it relates to the AFC title game, the scientific evidence was resolved not simply by a coin flip, but by a coin flip that Walt Anderson recalls as landing heads, and that someone else decided was actually tails. If discipline is going to be imposed on the Patriots or any individuals, it needs to be based on something other than whatever did or didn’t happen before the AFC title game.