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PHOENIX — Tom Brady’s boyhood idol, Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, thinks there is no mystery as to how the Patriots ended up playing with underinflated footballs in the AFC Championship game. He thinks Brady ordered it.

Montana said the footballs don’t end up that way unless the quarterback asks for it.

“If I ever want a ball a certain way, I don’t do it myself,” said Montana. “So, somebody did it for him.

“But I don’t know why everybody is making a big deal out of trying to figure out who did it. It’s pretty simple. If it was done, it was done for a reason.”

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Brady has repeatedly denied any knowledge of how the footballs became inflated below the NFL requirement of 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch after being inspected before the AFC title game and meeting specifications then.

“I feel like I’ve always played within the rules,” Brady said last Thursday in Foxborough. “I would never do anything to break the rules. I believe in fair play, and I respect the league and everything they’re doing to try to create a competitive playing field for all of the NFL teams.”

Montana, a four-time Super Bowl champion and three-time Super Bowl MVP, wasn’t buying Bill Belichick’s weird science explanation for the deflation, or Brady’s claim that he had nothing to do with the balls losing air.

“I mean, it’s easy to figure out who did it,” said Montana, who spoke to reporters following a promotional appearance for Papa John’s pizza. “Did Tom do it? No, but Tom likes the balls that way, obviously, or you wouldn’t have 11 of them that way without him complaining, because as a quarterback, you know how you like the ball. If it doesn’t feel like that, something is wrong.

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“It’s a stupid thing to even be talking about because they shouldn’t have the rule anyway. If you want to see the game played at the best, everybody has a different grip, everybody likes a different feel.”

Montana said the rules governing how teams and quarterbacks handle footballs have changed a lot over the years. He blamed kickers for forcing the NFL to have specifications for the balls.

“This rule came from the kickers,” said Montana. “Kickers many years ago did so much to the ball, that it looked so differently, that they decided, ‘We’re going to take the balls right out of the box.’ Quarterbacks, the balls were coming out of the guys’ hands as you’re taking it back. It’s just impossible.

“Now, if you look at the ball, they let you doctor the ball more than anything. The ball is not even the same color as when it comes out of the box. So, what is the difference in the air pressure?’’

Still, Montana intimated that taking air out of the football would help a quarterback throw in wet conditions, like the ones Brady faced in the AFC title game at Gillette Stadium.

“Troy [Aikman] and I were in the back saying, ‘Dang, we weren’t smart enough to think about air pressure,’ ” said Montana. “Because he couldn’t throw in the rain, neither could I. We should have thought about that earlier.”

Brady grew up in San Mateo, Calif., idolizing 49ers quarterbacks Montana and Steve Young. He was in attendance at Candlestick Park when Montana threw his famous pass to Dwight Clark to propel the 49ers to victory in the 1981 NFC Championship game, a play known simply as “The Catch” in football lore.

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If Brady leads the Patriots to victory in Super Bowl XLIX, he can join Montana and Pittsburgh Steelers great Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls.

Montana was complimentary of Brady and his career and did not indicate that Deflategate would or should detract from his accomplishments in any way.

“The guy is a great quarterback,” said Montana. “There is a category that people like to say, ‘the greatest to ever play,’ he is definitely in that category. But I think it’s hard to put anybody up there, no matter who it might be.

“Go back and watch Otto Graham and Sammy Baugh. If you haven’t see any footage, it’s ridiculous the things those guys did back then. I think it’s really hard to compare, but Tom obviously is having a tremendous career.”

Earlier this week, Brady said he will never consider himself on Montana’s level. Montana was asked if he considered Brady on his level.

“I don’t consider anybody on a level,” said Montana. “It’s hard to put anybody up above anybody else.

“The game is so different today from when I played. When I played, it was different from the guys who played before me. Like I like to say in some cases, the ball has even changed shape, right? It’s really hard. I think you just have to enjoy it.”

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Montana said winning or losing this Super Bowl won’t affect Brady’s legacy.

“Can it get any better? The guy is already playing at the top of the level of anybody else,” he said. “I think a win is great for him, but I think if he loses, I don’t think it matters to his legacy at all. The guy has won three and been here six times.”


Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.