Update, 10:05, Jan. 22, 2015: Patriots coach Bill Belichick denied any knowledge of tampering with game footballs at a press conference on Thursday morning.
"I have never talked to an employee about football air pressure," Belichick said. "That is not a subject I have brought up."
There’s still a lot we don’t know about so-called "Deflategate" and the NFL says its investigation is continuing. But New England Patriots fans and critics are wasting no time weighing in with their reactions — and the word “rematch” is trending on Twitter.
The NFL says it’s investigating whether the Patriots deliberately tampered with footballs used in Sunday’s 45 to 7 defeat of the Indianapolis Colts. The league says 11 of 12 footballs the Pats provided were underinflated, possibly giving New England an advantage.
Underinflated footballs are supposed to be a little easier to grip. But Brian Aylward, head football coach at Tewksbury High School, one of the top ranked teams in the state, says there are also disadvantages to underinflation.
"If some of that air is let out it’s harder to spin the ball and throw the way the Patriots throw it," Aylward said. "It doesn’t make much sense to me."
While admitting he’s an ardent Pats fan, Aylward says it’s hard to believe that the referees wouldn’t notice underinflated footballs until the game was well underway. That leads Aylward to the same conclusion many Pats fans drawing — that Deflategate is just something non-Pats fans want to believe is a big deal.
"Anything Patriots, when you get out of New England, they want to drum up some kind of controversy," Aylward said. "The way that that game went the other day, they could’ve been using basketballs or soccer balls, and it wouldn’t have made a difference."
In hearty agreement is Brian St. Pierre, head football coach at St John’s Prep in Danvers, another top-ranked team.
"Tom Brady’s still a great quarterback whether the ball's perfectly inflated, a little under, a little over," St. Pierre said. "I think it’s more a nice talking piece, some more drama, but I don’t think it’s that big a deal."
St. Pierre played eight seasons in the NFL. He says quarterbacks might pummel a football or put dirt on it to make it feel broken in.
"I think it’s pretty common practice for quarterbacks to try and get the ball to feel a certain way in their hands,” he said.
But St. Pierre says quarterbacks know refs are going to inspect the ball, so there are lines they don’t cross.
But even if the deflated footballs were unintentional, damage has already been done, says Pats Pulpit writer Alec Shane.
"This is not a big deal in and of itself," Shane said. "Deflated footballs, overinflating, scruffing them up, that itself is not a big deal. But because it’s attached to a team who already has a history of being 'cheaters,' dishonest, deceitful, whatever you want to call them negatively, people will take that and run with it, no matter what it is.”
The NFL slapped Pats coach Bill Belichick with the maximum fine of $500,000 in 2007 for secretly recording an opponent’s defensive signals. The team was also fined another $250,000 for so-called “Spygate.” Shane says this year’s Super Bowl was supposed to be the Pats' opportunity to vindicate themselves and move forward.
"But now, regardless of the outcome of the game, the Deflategate storyline will forever be attached to it, will forever take over it, and even if the Patriots win, there are going to be plenty of people that don’t really care that they won, all they’ll know is that the Patriots possibly deflated a football," he said.
New England fans will still root for the team, and they should, but Shane says they’re in for a whole new round of defending the team against critics who say the Patriots are cheaters.