Usually we do not focus on NFL stories here unless they have a Cal hook. We were not planning on writing on Ballghazi until we were contacted by Alex Harris, equipment guy at Cal. He had a lot of thoughts on the situation from his experience at Berkeley. So, we thought it'd be interesting to put that out there. I have C+Ped his information below.
For those who may not be knowledgeable, Ballghazi is a reference to the realization that in the 2015 AFC Championship game, the Patriots had apparently deflated the footballs below the legally allowable amount. Oddly, each team gets to handle its own footballs and there are not NFL-managed football, except for the balls used to kick.
By deflating the ball, especially in cold weather, you make it easier for Tom Brady and the other Patriots to handle the ball. It provides an advantage for the players to hold onto the ball. The Patriots beat the Colts 45-7, so you might say, "Who Cares?" It's likely they would have won handily even with the correctly inflated ball.
However, this situation may be more than just one game. Not only did the Colts suspect that the Patriots had done it in their 2014 regular season matchup, it may have been going on for years:
I looked at the last 5 years of data (since 2010) and examined TOTAL FUMBLES in all games (as well as fumbles/game) but more importantly, TOTAL OFFENSIVE PLAYS RUN. Thus, we can to determine average PLAYS per FUMBLE, a much more valuable statistic. The results are displayed in the chart below. Keep in mind, this is for all games since 2010, regardless of indoors, outdoors, weather, site, etc. EVERYTHING.
Basically, if you read that article it says that starting in 2007 (i.e. after Spygate), the Patriots' turnovers decreased to an absurdly low level. Maybe they sought out players who protect the ball, maybe they did something untoward towards the ball. Who knows?
To find out more, we have this information from Alex Harris. Many thanks to Mr. Harris for his awesomeness. GO BEARS!
Confessions From the Equipment Room- An Inside Perspective of Deflate-Gate
Spending 8 years in NFL and college equipment rooms, you tend to learn a skill or two. Unfortunately, I haven't come across a single company that has hired me for my ability to guess someone's shoe size just by looking, or promoted me for my excellence in safely maintaining a helmet. Explaining when to use Magnagrip gloves vs. leather is also a non-starter.
Then came the New England Patriots and Deflate-Gate. At last, for one brief shining moment I have expertise someone may actually want to hear about!
One fun game we used to play in the equipment room was guessing the PSI (pounds of pressure per square inch) of a football just by squeezing it. Having squeezed my share of balls over the years my guesses were almost always within 1 PSI. With the exception of Aaron Rodgers, every single QB has wanted the ball as low as possible in PSI. This allows for greater grip, accuracy, and distance. For ball carriers, a ball with a lower PSI does a great deal to prevent fumbles.
Here is a typical Equipment Guy-QB exchange before every game day:
Step 1: We sit together and go through 30 or so practice balls to pick the 12 best. These balls are worn in the right amount and get the QB's approval.
Step 2: Most QB's will tell you how much pressure they like in the ball and some will actually test each one as you inflate. It is a great honor and sign of trust when a QB doesn't test each one and simply has faith that you will work your magic.
Step 3: The balls are bagged up and brought to the referee's locker room on game day. Here the balls are checked for pressure. If one is not up to snuff it will be inflated. Usually a little extra as punishment.
Step 4: One referee takes a sharpie and puts his initials or a unique symbol on each game ball to ensure that a sneaky equipment guy doesn't hand a doctored ball to the ball boy.
Step 5: The ball boys rotate the balls throughout the game with each team using their balls on offense.
Here is where it all breaks down.
As a people most of us tend to worship athletes. We want them like us. We want them to look at us, smile at us, talk to us. Equipment guys, ball boys and even referees are no different and often are worse. We will sneak you that extra pair of shoes, or run to get you a Gatorade. We will even look the other way at times if we think you will appreciate us for it. We do not want to be the guy who tells you "No."
Of course if you disrespect us we will skip the wash cycle on your workout clothes and put them straight back in your locker. But that is a story for another day.
What I mean to say is if Hall of Famer Tom Brady likes his footballs a certain way, as an equipment guy, I am going to make damn sure he gets them that way. As a ball boy I am inclined to sneak a ball in to help him. If I am a referee I may give the game balls a quick squeeze and give Ol' Timmy Brady the benefit of the doubt.
There isn't any huge conspiracy here but rather human nature. Brady likes his footballs a certain way. They are prepared in that way and nobody really wants to question it. Simple as that. This has been done for years and years and likely will continue despite all the current attention of Ballghazi.
I can tell you stories of staff members forging referee's initials to sneak a good ball in to the game. Or that USC used the same exact "juiced" kicking ball for two years straight. This falls in line with corked bats, steroids and spitballs. We let our heroes cut corners and on some level almost all of us are OK with that. If we can help our heroes succeed,most of us will. We must publicly act outraged when a transgression comes to light but given the chance nearly every one of will do whatever it takes to make our heroes smile.