Chris Simms has always had a fascination with footballs. As a towheaded seven-year-old, he played catch in the backyard of his leafy New Jersey home with his famous father, Phil, then the starting quarterback of the New York Giants. Little Chris thought all the footballs in their home were the same until, one day, his dad started oohing and aahing over a particular ball, holding it in his hands like it was a precious piece of art and admiring it as if it was a rare find.
“Now this ball has been broken in perfectly,” Phil told his son, showing him the slightly scuffed ball. “See how you can grip it really well.”
From that day forward, the younger Simms became something of an expert in analyzing footballs. After starting two seasons at the University of Texas, Simms played six years in the NFL, mostly as a backup. But through his stints with Tampa Bay (2004-06), Tennessee (2008 and ’10) and Denver (2009), his pregame ritual never changed.
“Before every game I ever played in the NFL, I went over to the opposing team to check out their game balls and see how the other quarterbacks liked their footballs,” Simms said. “I wanted to know how Peyton Manning liked his ball or how Brett Favre liked his. And I never, not once, felt a ball that wasn’t inflated to regulation standards. I’d thrown footballs almost every day of my life and I didn’t need a pressure gun to know what a regulation ball felt like. And doctoring balls just never happened. That’s what makes what went down last Sunday so shocking.”
During last Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, 11 of the New England Patriots' 12 game balls weren’t inflated to NFL standards in their 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Specifically, the footballs were deflated two pounds per square inch below the league minimum of 12.5 pounds per square inch. The NFL bloodhounds are now on the scent, interviewing key personnel in New England. The league says its investigation likely will conclude by Friday.
In a news conference Thursday morning, New England coach Bill Belichick denied any knowledge or role in the situation. "In my entire coaching career, I never talked to any player or staff member about football air pressure,'' he said.
Brady reportedly addressed his teammates privately Thursday, according to NBC News, saying he prefers the footballs "a certain way."
Then later Thursday, in a news conference, Brady said he "didn’t alter the balls in any way'' and that he had "no knowledge of any wrongdoing.''
So what is the competitive advantage of using a deflated ball?
“A deflated ball will really help your grip if you’ve got smaller hands, especially if the ball is wet and slippery,” said Greg McElroy, a backup quarterback for the Jets and Bengals from 2011-13. “But every quarterback is different and has different things they like in a football. I like high laces. Andy [Dalton] likes his footballs to be worn in. Evidently, Tom Brady likes deflated balls.”
In fact, in November 2011, Brady proclaimed his preference for deflated footballs in an interview with WEEI radio in Boston. Former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli has described Brady’s hands as "enormous." But even with large hands, it’s typically easier to throw a softer ball than a harder one.
“If it’s cold, the ball is going to get hard and that makes it tougher, so I get [deflating] it,” said Doug Williams, a nine-year NFL veteran who was the MVP of Super Bowl XXII. “If it’s in the rain, you’re going to want to get as much grip as you can. Most of the time in the rain, you can’t get a good grip and you don’t want to spin it off your hand too much because it’s going to slip. You’re going to have to shot-put it a little bit. So I understand, I just never heard of that.”
One NFL coach, who requested anonymity, strongly believes New England has crossed a line between trying to gain a competitive advantage and cheating.
“There was one year we played them up there and it snowed,” the coach said. “They sprayed their shoes with silicone so that the snow wouldn’t cake up on their cleats. We didn’t know to do that and they kicked our ass. That’s smart on their part. This is different. In this case, there’s a specific rule that says this is what the ball is supposed to be. If you do something outside of what it’s supposed to be, that’s cheating. You know you did that. That’s serious. That’s very serious to me.”
Several former quarterbacks, current coaches and current general managers all shared a similar theory with B/R about what they believed happened on Sunday.
“I think this has been going on all year with Tom [Brady] and the equipment guys,” said one quarterback, echoing the statements of others. “It’s become unspoken. The equipment guys know that Tom likes a softer ball and so they do this trying to make him happy. The equipment guys secretly take some air out of the balls after the referees have inspected them before the game. It’s just this time, they got caught.”
“I’m not sure if Belichick even knew,” said another coach. “I don’t think our coaches have any idea about that stuff. That’s something that the quarterbacks take care of with the equipment people. That’s all.”
“All I know is that 11 out of 12 balls isn’t a coincidence,” McElroy said. “I’m sure New England would have won that game with a Nerf ball the way they dominated, but someone needs to be held accountable for doctoring those balls.”
Bleacher Report's Jason Cole contributed to this report.