Ted Wells, an NFL appointed attorney, released a 243-page report detailing his investigation into whether the New England Patriots deflated balls in their playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 18. He concluded, "It is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate attempt to circumvent the rules." He cited the involvement of Jim McNally and John Jastremski and said of quarterback Tom Brady, "It is more probably than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski."

Wells concluded, "It is unlikely that an equipment assistant and a locker room attendant would deflate game balls without Brady's knowledge and approval."

Why does the deflation of some footballs matter? The game was a blowout, with the Patriots winning by a score of 45-7. Would regularly inflated balls have altered the result? The report states that there was "no deliberate attempt by the Patriots to introduce a non-approved kicking ball during the AFC Championship Game." The report specifically exonerates Patriot owner Robert Kraft and the coaching staff.

So is this much ado about nothing, a media feeding frenzy?

It matters because professional sports are venerated because of the understanding by the fans and press that they are watching real contests, with uniform equipment and rules. Games are decided by coaching decisions, schemes and genuine athletic skill and desire. This is why fans invest time and money in manifold ways to support the sport. Once this central proposition comes into question a sport risks being seen as a scripted and predetermined entertainment like wrestling.

The NFL now dominates American culture. Television ratings for games are unmatched by any other form of entertainment. One month into the season, Nielsen ratings for nighttime television viewing saw the top rated seven shows as nighttime NFL football. Forty million people play fantasy football. Stadiums are packed. Memorabilia sales are brisk. Content consisting of highlights, features, analysis and commentary runs on every platform -- the Internet, television, radio.

Every so often a football related issue transcends the narrower genre of hard core football fans to become a national topic of discussion. "Deflategate" hit the third rail of public reaction. The public was outraged that America's favorite pastime could involve a form of cheating.

A primary responsibility of the commissioner is to reassure the public about the integrity of the sport. Equipment alteration shakes public confidence. Tom Brady has been a hero to the public, as good a quarterback as the game has seen, and a genuinely positive person. Owner Bob Kraft is a paragon of excellence and character. The Patriots are a nationally recognized exemplar of excellence. There is a larger issue here -- the integrity of the game. The spotlight now turns on commissioner Roger Goodell, and what action he will take.

-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.

How Super Bowl Losers Fare Next Season

 

2015 Seattle Seahawks

Lost Super Bowl XLIX to Patriots 28-24 on Feb. 1, 2015.
2015 regular season: 10-6, second in NFC West.
2015 playoffs: Won at Minnesota 10-9 in wild-card game. Lost at Carolina 31-24 in divisional round.
Notable: Overcame 2-4 start to earn wild-card spot.

 

2014 Denver Broncos

Lost Super Bowl XLVIII to Seahawks 43-8 on Feb. 2, 2014.
2014 regular season: 12-4, first in AFC West.
2014 playoffs: Lost at home to Colts 24-13 in divisional round.
Notable: Broncos were the AFC's only unbeaten team at home in the regular season and the only NFL team with its offense and defense ranked in the top five.

 

2013 San Francisco 49ers

Lost Super Bowl XLVII to Ravens 34-31 on Feb. 3, 2013.
2013 regular season: 12-4, second in NFC West. 2013 playoffs: Beat Packers 23-20 in wild-card game. Beat Panthers 23-10 in divisional round. Lost at Seattle 23-17 in NFC championship game.
Notable: 49ers reached the Seahawks' 18-yard line in final minute of NFC championship game, but Seattle held on with an interception in the end zone.

 

2012 New England Patriots

Lost Super Bowl XLVI to Giants 21-17 on Feb. 5, 2012.
2012 regular season: 12-4, first in AFC East.
2012 playoffs: Defeated Houston Texans 41-28 in divisional round. Lost at home to Ravens 28-13 in the AFC championship game.
Notable: Tom Brady passes for 320 yards but throws two interceptions in Ravens' territory.

 

2011 Pittsburgh Steelers

Lost Super Bowl XLV to Packers 31-25 on Feb. 6 2011.
2011 regular season: 12-4, second in AFC North.
2011 playoffs: Lost to Broncos 29-23 in the wild-card game.
Notable: The playoff loss at Denver is also the peak of Tebowmania. The Broncos win on the first play of overtime as Tim Tebow connects with Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard touchdown pass.

 

2010 Indianapolis Colts

Lost Super Bowl XLIV to Saints 31-17 on Feb. 7, 2010.
2010 regular season: 10-6, first in AFC South.
2010 playoffs: Lost at home to Jets 17-16 in the wild-card game.
Notable: The playoff loss to the Jets is Peyton Manning's final game as a Colt.

 

2009 Arizona Cardinals

Lost Super Bowl XLIII to Steelers 27-23 on Feb. 1, 2009.
2009 regular season: 10-6, first in NFC West.
2009 playoffs: Defeated Green Bay Packers 51-45 in wild-card game. Lost at New Orleans 45-14 in divisional round.
Notable: The playoff loss to the Saints is the last game of Kurt Warner's career.

 

2008 New England Patriots

Lost Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants 17-14 on Feb. 3, 2008.
2008 regular season: 11-5, second in AFC East.
2008 playoffs: Missed playoffs.
Notable: The Patriots lose QB Tom Brady for the season to an ACL tear sustained in the opening game when hit by Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard.

 

2007 Chicago Bears

Lost Super Bowl XLI to the Indianapolis Colts 29-17 on Feb. 4, 2007.
2007 regular season: 7-9, fourth in NFC North.
2007 playoffs: Missed playoffs.
Notable: Devin Hester ties the NFL single-season record with four punt returns for touchdowns.

 

2006 Seattle Seahawks

Lost Super Bowl XL to Steelers 21-10 on Feb. 5, 2006.
2006 regular season: 9-7, first in NFC West.
2006 playoffs: Beat Cowboys 21-20 in wild-card game. Lost at Chicago 27-24 in divisional round.
Notable: The playoff win against Dallas is perhaps best remembered for Tony Romo's botching the hold on a short field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter.

 

2005 Philadelphia Eagles

Lost Super Bowl XXXIX to Patriots 24-21 on Feb. 6, 2005.
2005 regular season: 6-10, fourth in NFC East.
2005 playoffs: Missed playoffs.
Notable: Midway through the 2005 season, the Eagles suspend Terrell Owens for detrimental conduct, and he never plays for the team again.

 

2004 Carolina Panthers

Lost Super Bowl XXXVIII to Patriots 32-29 on Feb. 1, 2004.
2004 regular season: 7-9, third in NFC South.
2004 playoffs: Missed playoffs.
Notable: The Panthers compile a five-game winning streak at one point, but a 1-7 start is too much to overcome.

 

2003 Oakland Raiders

Lost Super Bowl XXXVII to Buccaneers 48-21 on Jan. 26, 2003.
2003 regular season: 4-12, third in AFC West.
2003 playoffs: Missed playoffs.
Notable: The Raiders' 2003 home finale becomes a memorable NFL moment as Brett Favre throws for 399 yards and four touchdowns on the night his father dies.

 

2002 St. Louis Rams

Lost Super Bowl XXXVI to Patriots 20-17 on Feb. 3, 2002.
2002 regular season: 7-9, second in NFC West.
2002 playoffs: Missed playoffs.
Notable: A hand injury to Kurt Warner leads to friction between his wife, Brenda, a nurse, and coach Mike Martz.

 

2001 New York Giants

Lost Super Bowl XXXV to Ravens 34-7 on Jan. 28, 2001.
2001 regular season: 7-9, third in NFC East.
2001 playoffs: Missed playoffs.
Notable: The Giants play the last NFL game before the 9/11 attacks, returning from a Monday night game in Denver just hours earlier.

 

2000 Tennessee Titans

Lost Super Bowl XXXIV to Rams 23-16 on Jan. 30, 2000.
2000 regular season: 13-3, first in AFC Central.
2000 playoffs: Lost at home to Ravens 24-10 in divisional round.
Notable: The Titans defense allows no touchdowns in the final three regular-season games, and in the playoff loss, it gives up just one as Ravens score TDs on special teams and interception return.

 

1999 Atlanta Falcons

Lost Super Bowl XXXIII to the Broncos 34-19 on Jan. 31, 1999.
1999 regular season: 5-11, third in NFC West.
1999 playoffs: Missed playoffs.
Notable: Atlanta scores more than 20 points just once its first 10 games of the 1999 season.

 

1998 Green Bay Packers

Lost Super Bowl XXXII to the Broncos 31-24 on Jan. 25 1998.
1998 regular season: 11-5, second in NFC Central.
1998 playoffs: Lost at San Francisco 30-27 in the wild-card game.
Notable: Playoff loss to the 49ers comes on what San Francisco fans call "The Catch II" as Terrell Owens grabs a 25-yard touchdown pass from Steve Young in the end zone on the final play.

 

1997 New England Patriots

Lost Super Bowl XXXI to Packers 35-21 on Jan. 26, 1997.
1997 regular season: 10-6, first in AFC East.
1997 playoffs: Beat Dolphins 17-3 in the wild-card game. Lost at Pittsburgh 7-6 in divisional round.
Notable: This was Pete Carroll's first season as Patriots coach, replacing Bill Parcells, who had gone to the Jets.

 

1996 Pittsburgh Steelers

Lost Super Bowl XXX to Cowboys 27-17 on Jan. 28, 1996.
1996 regular season: 10-6, first in AFC Central.
1996 playoffs: Beat Colts 42-14 in the wild-card game. Lost at New England 28-3 in divisional round.
Notable: This is Jerome Bettis' first season in Pittsburgh after being traded from the Rams, who consider the Bus to be expendable because they drafted Lawrence Phillips.

 

1995 San Diego Chargers

Lost Super Bowl XXIX to San Francisco 49ers 49-26 on Jan. 29, 1995.
1995 regular season: 9-7, second in AFC West.
1995 playoffs: Lost at home to Colts 35-20 in the wild-card game.
Notable: The playoff loss to the Colts features Indianapolis quarterback Jim Harbaugh throwing for two touchdowns and running for another.

 

1994 Buffalo Bills

Lost Super Bowl XXVIII to Dallas Cowboys 30-13 on Jan. 30 1994.
1994 regular season: 7-9, fourth in AFC East.
1994 playoffs: Missed playoffs.
Notable: The Bills return to the playoffs in 1995, but they have not qualified since 1999.

previous next