Tom Brady must now live with the dreaded asterisk next to his name, something that no amount of Super Bowl wins, MVP awards or passing records can ever completely remove.
A legacy of greatness for possibly the greatest quarterback who ever lived is now sullied with the unseemly revelations included in attorney Ted Wells' long-awaited report on the Patriots' use of deflated footballs during the AFC title game. The report casts a pall on Brady's reputation that even four championships, including the one he earned a little over three months ago, can't quite fully erase.
And once NFL commissioner Roger Goodell designate Troy Vincent -- the NFL's executive VP of football operations -- weighs in with potential punishment for what sure looks like Brady's knowledge of and willful intent to break the rules, the quarterback's standing will be sullied even further. Vincent needs to send a strong message with a meaningful sentence: a minimum six-game suspension.
Wells acknowledged in his report there was no "smoking gun," no direct evidence that Brady orchestrated the deflation of the footballs in the run-up to the Patriots' 45-7 win over the Colts on the way to Brady's unprecedented sixth Super Bowl appearance. But that may be only because Brady himself wouldn't surrender potentially incriminating evidence, including emails, text messages and telephone records.
Nevertheless, Wells had gathered enough evidence from other sources, in particular two locker room attendants who texted one another about Brady's desire to have the footballs he used in games deflated to under the minimum 12.5 pounds per square inch (PSI). The attendants -- Jim McNally, the officials' locker room attendant, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant for the Patriots -- said enough to investigators through interviews and their own text conversations for Wells to conclude that "it was more than probable than not" the footballs were purposely deflated.
Wells also concluded "it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls."
Wells said in his report that Brady "denied any knowledge of or involvement in any efforts to deflate game balls after the pregame inspection by the game officials." The attorney added that Brady claimed that "he did not know McNally's name or anything about McNally's game-day responsibilities." Wells concluded that "we found these claims not plausible and contradicted by other evidence. In fact, during his interview, Jastremski acknowledged that Brady knew McNally and McNally's role as officials locker room attendant. Similarly, McNally told NFL security that he had been personally told by Brady of Brady's inflation level preference."
These are damning conclusions drawn by Wells, whose meticulous 243-page report included interviews with Brady, numerous Patriots coaches and officials -- even a Princeton University physics professor -- providing an exhaustive look into the matter. And Brady's unwillingness to fully cooperate in the investigation leaves him open to more second-guessing than any throw he has ever made. If he had nothing to hide, then why not give Wells and his investigative team access to records that might help resolve the issue? The fact that Brady would not surrender texts, phone records or emails suggests that there was plenty to hide.
Wells was hired to investigate a very narrow set of circumstances -- the reasons behind the deflated footballs in the AFC title game, as well as whether the Patriots introduced an unauthorized kicking ball in the previous week's game against the Ravens (the report found no evidence that they did). What wasn't examined was whether there was a pattern of abuse when it came to the possibility that deflated footballs were used in previous games.
We'll never fully know the answers, but when it comes out in Wells' report that McNally referred to himself in a text message as "the deflator," and when the circumstantial evidence certainly points in the direction that this was not the first time Brady used deflated footballs, it certainly looks like it happened before. Perhaps a lot more.
It is important to note that Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose team was caught illegally taping the Jets' defensive signals in the 2007 regular season and was punished severely by Goodell, was exonerated in the Wells report. Neither Belichick nor his coaches, nor Patriots owner Robert Kraft, were found to have any knowledge of the deflated footballs.
This was all on Brady.
The NFL may still level severe punishment on the organization in the form of a fine and/or the removal of one or more draft picks. But the real target of the league's disciplinary decision should be the quarterback. Brady needs to be suspended. Unfortunately for the 37-year-old, a former sixth-round pick who grew into the most accomplished passer of our time, no punishment can ever undo the damage to his legacy.