Tom Brady waived the white flag and ended Deflategate on Friday, accepting his four-game suspension and sparing the sports world any more noise about PSI, CBAs, gas laws and heavily-accented defenses of Brady and the New England Patriots from guys in Southie. Here are the many, many, many moments that got us here:
1. Jan. 18, 2015: The Patriots thrash the Colts 45-7 in a rainy AFC championship game that was the second most-lopsided affair in that game's history. Brady was 23/35 with 3 TD, 1 INT and a 100.5 QB rating.
2. Jan 19, 2015 (just after midnight): Later that night (early Sunday morning) respected Indianapolis Star writer Bob Kravitz posted the following tweet …
Article continues below ...
… and thus began Deflategate, a saga that would eventually last almost a year-and-a-half to the day, feature multiple court cases, cost millions of dollars, drag Tom Brady's name through the mud nationally but make him even more of a cult hero in a doting Boston in which Brady could never do wrong. It also showed our culture's inability to come up with cool nicknames for scandals, instead relying on the suffix of a hotel that was home to a minor break-in 40 years earlier.
3. Jan. 19, 2015 (morning): Brady laughs off the Deflategate report during his weekly appearance with his personal Pravda, WEEI radio in Boston. “I think I’ve heard it all at this point,” he said, chuckling. “That’s the last of my worries. I don’t even respond to stuff like this.” Well, no one said he was a Rhodes Scholar.
4. Jan. 20, 2015: Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported that the NFL found 11 of the 12 balls used in the first half to be underinflated. These balls were cared for by Patriots employees and volunteers. Mort deleted the tweet months later.
5. Jan. 22, 2015: Bill Belichick throws an amazing press conference in which he completely hung Brady out to dry. “Tom’s personal preference on his footballs are something he can talk about in much better detail than I can possibly provide,” he told reporters. At the time, there was a sense of amazement that Belichick would leave his quarterback to sink under the rumbling waves of controversy. Or did he?
6. Jan. 22, 2015 (hours later): Wearing a pom-pom hat that made him look like a 1950s cheerleader, Brady gets up to the podium (his press conference had originally been scheduled for the day after) and plays dumb, like a congressman taking the fifth. It's a far cry from the laugh-fest he had with the sycophants on Boston radio three days before. Brady does as his crisis-manager would have doubtlessly recommended and denied, denied, denied. No, I didn't alter the football. No, I'm not a cheater. No, I don't know what specific ball pressure feels like even though I prefer my balls inflated to 12.5 PSI. No, I have zero knowledge of anything. Wait, football? What's that? It was as believable a performance as that time Shaq played a genie in Shazaam. After Brady spoke, Belichick's presser seemed genius: He was leaving Brady out to dry but only because he suspected Brady was impervious to such a thing. Belichick was the NFL's bad boy. Brady was the golden boy. He and his reputation would survive this. Oops.
7. Jan. 23, 2015: Some guy named Ted Wells was named to investigate the situation. Super Bowl XLIX was nine days away.
8. Jan. 24, 2015: Belichick gives a hilarious press conference in which he denied being a scientist (thanks for clearing that up). Yet his insistence about how little he knows about PSI is an insult to himself – the biggest taskmaster in the NFL claiming he's not familiar with how balls react to heat, cold, wind, rain, snow and sleet is about as believable as the Spygate excuses.
9. Jan. 26, 2015: Surprisingly, Deflategate didn't dominate Super Bowl week like it did the off week after the championship games. There was talk about it, but with the game to focus on, Deflategate sort of fell off the front page. One key development was owner Bob Kraft throwing his blind support toward his franchise and ripping the NFL and media. “I am disappointed in the way the entire matter has been handled and reported upon,” Kraft said. “I want to make it clear that I believe, unconditionally, that the New England Patriots have done nothing wrong.” Other information to come out include reports of a surveillance tape showing locker room attendants bringing footballs into the bathroom. A videotape does in the Patriots again?
10. Feb. 1, 2015: Russell Wilson throws an interception on the goal line in the final minutes of the Super Bowl to hand the Patriots the Super Bowl.
11. Feb. 2015 – Apr. 2015: Deflategate gets put on the backburner again. It feels like a sideshow gone wrong. The initial excitement over a pre-Super Bowl controversy turned into a sort of malaise. Yeah, the Belichick Pats are dirty. Yeah, they need gifts to win most of their Super Bowls. On the other hand, they beat the Colts 45-7 in that AFC championship so they could have played with tennis balls and it wouldn't have much mattered.
12. May 6, 2015: Just when everybody forgot about it, The Wells Report is released and all hell breaks loose. It says it was “more probable than not” that Pats personnel, including Brady, deliberately altered, or knew about altering, footballs. There were amazing excerpts of text messages between two clowns, one of whom was nicknamed “The Deflator” (in the greatest moment of Deflategate, the Patriots insisted he earned that nickname because he lost a lot of weight). The phrase “more probable than not” would be key. This wasn't a “beyond a reasonable doubt” case. It basically said there was a greater than 51% chance there were Brady-induced shenanigans going on.
13. May 11, 2015: The NFL drops the hammer, suspending Brady four games without pay, fining the Patriots $1 million (chump change) and – I'm surprised this never earned as much scorn from Pats supporters – two draft picks (a first rounder in 2016 and a fourth rounder in 2017).
14. May 11, 2015 (minutes after the punishment is announced): Deflategate stops being about deflated footballs and begins being a power struggle between the commissioner's office and NFLPA.
15. May 12, 2015: The Patriots unveil a website (wellsreportcontext.com) that reads like a moon-landing truther site. The science is argued and suddenly everybody with an interest in the NFL and an opinion start acting like they're Stephen Hawking. The gist of the rebuttal: There's no proof Brady did anything wrong. Less prominent are genuine denials Brady did anything wrong. It was more legalese than anything. There are fine points to be made in the so-called “Wells Retort,” but none really overturn the “more probable than not” standard. However, if this had been in open court, Brady would have been found innocent quicker than O.J..
16. May 19, 2015: The biggest mistake of Deflategate (beyond, you know, the whole deflating): Robert Kraft comes out and accepts the NFL's punishment.
17. July 28, 2015: Roger Goodell upholds Troy Vincent's suspension and reveals Brady destroyed his phone minutes before he was to be interviewed by Ted Wells. This seemed to be the tipping point in the court of non-Boston public opinion. Would an innocent man destroy his phone?
18. Summer, 2015: Boring legal mumbo-jumbo that causes everybody with an interest in the NFL and an opinion to start acting like they were on the Harvard Law Review. Of the people in the know, the general consensus is that Brady doesn't have much of a case as per the CBA but that a deal was still possible and with a sympathetic judge such as Richard Berman, the judge they pulled, might issue a stay.
19. Sept. 3, 2015: Berman issues a stay exactly one week before the Patriots open up the 2016 NFL season
20. Oct. 2015 – March 2016: A whole lot of court cases and delays and appeals and new judges and statements and people asking, “wait, this is still a thing?” Meanwhile, people in Boston continue to treat the whole affair more seriously than they did while Paul Revere was riding through town.
21. Apr. 25, 2016: Brady's suspension is upheld. Again, ball pressure remains irrelevant. Deflategate has been about the rule of law, commissioner power, CBAs and unions. Brady was the fall guy Belichick set him up to be. This will all come to a head during the next CBA negotiations prior to the 2021 end date.
22. July 13, 2016: The U.S. Circuit Court denies Brady's appeal with barely a few sentences.
23. July 13, 2016: (seconds after the ruling): The only option left for Brady is petitioning the Supreme Court. It is seriously suggested – seriously – that if Brady rides it out long enough for Donald Trump to become president, his buddy might pardon him.
24. July 15, 2016: After 545 days, Deflategate ends. Except in Boston, where they'll be talking about this on sports radio for the better part of the next decade.
25. July 15, 2016 (milliseconds after Brady's announcement): Jimmy Garoppolo begins trending on Google.
Breaking: A league source tells me the NFL is investigating the possibility the Patriots deflated footballs Sunday night. More to come.