Deflategate created more questions about the league’s game-ball protocol than we even knew was possible.
Wait, each team provides its own footballs? And the balls are kept on its sideline? And the officials don’t check the footballs throughout the game?
I’ll admit, I never put much thought into the game balls before this week. So the goal here is to get a better understanding of how game balls are chosen, and of the chain of custody of the football from game’s start to finish.
For that we turn to Jim Daopoulos, a Marlborough native who was an on-field NFL official from 1989-2000 and the NFL’s supervisor of officials from 2001-12.
Daopoulos’s summary of Deflategate after 23 years of NFL officiating experience?
“I can’t imagine where, or when, or how this all happened,” he said.
Q: Tom Brady said they use balls that they practice with during the week. So it’s not like they open a crate of new balls for each game?
JD: That’s correct, and that was changed maybe 10-12 years ago. Because what was happening was the officials were getting the footballs directly from the manufacturer, and then it was the officials’ responsibility to scrub the footballs down — they send a brush sometimes — clean them up, get the red film off the ball. It was just a messy job and the officials didn’t do a very good job at it. And the quarterbacks were basically getting balls that were right out of the box.
“So the competition committee said, ‘We’re going to let the quarterbacks determine which footballs they want, practice with them all week, do what you want with them, as long as the football is not overly scuffed up. Then submit that ball to the officials, and the officials can tell if they’d want to use it for a game, and then they’ll stick a gauge into it and check the weight. Once they do that, that ball has met the requirements, and they put them in a bag, and they stay in that room with them, that locker room, until they leave to go to the field about 10 minutes before kickoff.
“So there’s a 10-minute window where they hand those footballs off to the ballboys, and the ballboys then walk out with the officials and bring them out on the field. So that’s where the confusion is. Where did any of this occur? I can tell you Walt Anderson, probably more than any other referee, is a by-the-rules stickler. I’m sure that the footballs that came in from the Patriots equipment man were right at 12.5 pounds, and the officials are not going to adjust the footballs as long as it’s 12.5.”
Q: Who from the team brings the balls to the officials, and does the testing take place in the officials’ locker room?
JD: “The equipment manager will bring a bag of 12 or 24 footballs — it depends on the weather. The backup balls they’ll keep in the locker room or the replay room during the game. But those footballs come directly from each equipment manager in a bag, and once they go into the officials’ locker room, nobody has access to them except for the officials. So nobody can sneak in there and let the air out or put air in or do anything. There’s usually a security guard in there, so the footballs sit in the officials’ locker room for two hours until they go out onto the field
Q: So the teams don’t warm up with the game balls?
JD: No, they don’t have the footballs. The footballs go out about 10 minutes before the game.
Q: Any chance Walt Anderson didn’t stick a pressure gauge in each of the 24 or 36 footballs? Maybe he just did the squeeze test?
JD: “They have a gauge and they have to check every football. It’s usually given to the youngest or newest member of the crew — it’s almost like a rite of passage into the NFL. During the playoffs, it’s usually an alternate official, so it’s a veteran official that does it. I would not even question whether they did or not. It’s just something you do, like putting your pants on or getting ready for the game.”
Q: The confusion is that we’ve heard stories this week from equipment managers that they would over- or under-inflate footballs and hope to sneak them through inspection.
JD: “I can’t deny that that happens. Somebody may be lazy. I can tell you it’s not the norm. I know there are some guys that probably don’t do it quite as diligently as others, but they’re required to check the air. I don’t even question whether Walt and his crew did that.”
Q: Is there a protocol to check the footballs at halftime or after the game?
JD: “Once the balls are checked, the officials have no contact with them at all. The game goes on, they walk off the field, no one ever looks at a football after the game.”
Q: So how common is it for something like this to pop up?
JD: “In 23 years, this is the first time other than with a kicking football. We used to have some issues with kickers, they do strange things with footballs, and that’s why the competition committee requires the manufacturer to send a package of footballs directly to the officials in their hotel. And then the officials never lose sight of those footballs, so the players don’t have any access to kicking balls, ever.”
Q: That’s a good point. What is the protocol for the kicking balls on game day?
JD: “Those are opened up in the locker room by the officials. They are scrubbed down and checked for pressure, then kept under the watchful eye of the kicking-ball coordinator. That’s an individual who is hired by the league specifically to handle the kicking balls, and that’s all he does. It’s looking like this is the wave of the future. The NFL may have to hire ballboy coordinators to handle all the footballs.”
A lot to catch up on with a week to go
While Deflategate dominated coverage last week, this little Super Bowl thing the Patriots are about to play against the Seahawks was a bit neglected. We’ll spend plenty of time breaking down the game over the next seven days, but here are some of our favorite minutiae about Super Bowl XLIX:
■ Not as many players remain from the “You Mad Bro?” game in October 2012 as you’d think. Only 23 Patriots who were on the roster in that game are still on the Patriots’ active roster this week, and only 21 for the Seahawks. The Patriots had 10 players touch the football on offense that game, and only three are currently on the 53-man roster (not including injured reserve) — Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Brandon Bolden.
Brandon Browner, who delivered a bone-crunching hit on Wes Welker in that game, switched from the Seahawks to the Patriots. Defensive tackle Alan Branch also switched from Seattle to New England.
■ The NFL keeps officiating crews intact for the regular season, but has a system of all-star officials in the playoffs that has led to some communication issues this year. Referee Bill Vinovich, an accountant by day who has been an NFL official since 2001, is working his first Super Bowl. Vinovich also worked the Patriots-Ravens playoff game two weeks ago.
None of his other six crewmen for the Super Bowl have worked with him, however, and they come from five different crews from the regular season.
Both replay officials worked with Vinovich in the Patriots-Ravens game, however.
■ This trip to the Super Bowl will make a nice dent in the Seahawks’ wallets.
Since Washington doesn’t have state income tax, the state of Arizona is going to hit up the Seahawks on the “jock tax,” or taxing them at the state income rate of 4.54 percent for the number of days they work in the state of Arizona (it will be 10 this year — eight for the Super Bowl, and two for their regular-season meeting with the Cardinals).
Since Massachusetts has a 5.15 percent income tax, any Patriots who are Massachusetts residents will get a full tax credit for time worked in Arizona (seven days this week).
So for example, according to numbers crunched by sports tax accountant Robert Raiola of O’Connor Davies (@SportsTaxMan), Richard Sherman will pay about $19,500 in extra taxes this week based on his $10 million salary and playoff bonuses, and if Russell Wilson gets a big contract extension later this year paying him $20 million, he would pay almost $39,000 in taxes.
Players on the winning team get $97,000, and those on the losing team get $49,000.
■ Percy Harvin clashed with Seahawks teammates and earned himself a trade out of Seattle, but he’ll be rooting for his former team next week. Since Harvin played between 3-7 games with the Seahawks this year (five), he is entitled to half of a playoff share.
He got $22,000 for the Seahawks’ appearance in the NFC Championship game, and will earn another $48,500 if the Seahawks win next week and $24,500 if they lose.
■ The American Gaming Association for the first time estimated how much money will be illegally wagered on the Super Bowl, and came up with $3.8 billion. Approximately $100 million is legally wagered.
■ What has suddenly become the most important job at the Super Bowl? Who will be taking care of the footballs on the sideline.
The equipment manager and ball boys this year will be from the Chicago Bears, who were chosen before the events of last week. The NFL rewards one team each year by allowing its equipment team to work the Super Bowl.
Messy in New Orleans
Down on the Bayou, a sordid family affair straight out of a Tom Wolfe novel played out publicly last week. Saints owner Tom Benson, 87, announced a major change in his succession plan for the Saints and the NBA’s Pelicans in the event of his death, transferring control of the teams to his wife, Gayle, instead of his adopted daughter, Renee Benson, and his grandchildren, Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc.
The trio filed a lawsuit on Thursday to prevent the transfer, claiming Benson’s “health and mental capacity have significantly declined” and he has “fallen under the undue influence” of Gayle, whom he married in 2004.
“Their allegations regarding my mental health are completely meritless and their allegations against my wife equally unfounded,” Benson said in a statement. “The false accusations in this suit further support the actions I have taken in changing the succession and transfer of ownership. There is a small sign that sits on my desk and simply states, ‘Tough times never last; but tough people do.’ Make no mistake, I will be back in the office tomorrow morning working hard, as I do every day, to ensure that the Saints and Pelicans are positioned for long-term success.”
Terrific news this week when the NFL announced that all three London games in 2015 will kickoff at 1:30 p.m. London time, or 9:30 a.m. East Coast time, like the Falcons-Lions game did Oct. 26. Yes, that means a 6:30 a.m. West Coast kickoff, but come on, who doesn’t want to watch real football in the morning instead of the hot air of the pregame shows?
As the NFL mulls expansion across the pond, the plan that makes far more sense, in our view, is to hold a rotating “London Game of the Week” to be played on Sunday mornings instead of permanently moving a team there, which presents many logistical challenges. “Breakfast at Wembley” would be a fantastic way to kick off 14 straight hours of football on Sundays.
In the 2015 season, the Jets will face the Dolphins on Oct. 4, the Bills play the Jaguars on Oct. 25, and the Lions play the Chiefs on Nov. 1, all at Wembley Stadium.
The Buccaneers have a big decision coming up with the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft — Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston? But based on the quarterbacks coach they just hired, the Bucs’ minds may have already been made up. They hired University of Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, who runs a spread-option attack that is much more suited for Mariota’s dual-threat abilities than Winston, who is more of a classic pocket passer . . . Deflategate wasn’t the only NFL investigation last week. The league is also investigating the Browns about illegal text messages from the press box to the sideline during games, which is expressly prohibited. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had concerns that “a high-ranking personnel member texted from the press box to the sidelines about play calls.” In 2006, then-Falcons coach Jim Mora was fined $25,000 for using a cellphone during a game . . . Time will tell if Doug Marrone made the right decision in opting out of his contract as coach of the Bills. He received a $4 million buyout from Buffalo and is earning a double salary this year as the offensive line coach and assistant head coach in Jacksonville, and escaped Buffalo with his reputation intact after getting the Bills to 9-7. But if Marrone doesn’t get another head coaching job in another year or two, he might be kept awake at night wondering if he shouldn’t have walked away from his only chance to be top dog . . . The 49ers hired a couple of familiar names last week, signing Eric Mangini to a three-year deal to be defensive coordinator under new coach Jim Tomsula, and former Dolphins and Raiders coach Tony Sparano as his tight ends coach . . . The Browns’ new offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, is the son of former Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo.
Quote of the week
“You’re a hell of a player.” — Bill Belichick to Andrew Luck after going out of his way to seek him out during the postgame handshakes last Sunday night.