Brady didn't do it.
That's the argument lawyers for the New England Patriots’ famed quarterback hear every day. Fans have been outraged since the National Football League suspended the two-time Most Valuable Player over accusations that he and the team underinflated footballs to make them easier to throw and catch. On Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will hear Tom Brady’s case against his four-game suspension.
In the meantime, Brady's lawyers are getting blitzed by supportive fans—traders, bankers, lawyers, physicists—filing armchair amicus briefs with theories and spreadsheets refuting the NFL and the Wells Report, the 139-page summary of the three-month investigation into “Deflategate.” Their defenses, detailed with charts, diagrams, and video, include backyard reconstructions triumphantly exposing the report as a sham, painstaking analyses complete with X and Y axes, and arch observations on the moisture variable. A UCLA cognitive science major with a master’s in “human factors” offered up an 11-minute video to explain his blog post on “The Statistical Improbability of Deflate Gate.”
“And then you have Patriots season ticket holders who have anointed themselves experts” on the air inside, and outside, the footballs, said David Greenspan, co-chair of the sports group at the law firm Winston & Strawn, who shared with Bloomberg News a number of the 100 or so documents, some of them from "crackpots."
Some of the Deflategate truthers kind of admit it. “Hey, sports fans are nuts,” said Matt Courey, whose seven-page e-mail to the NFL Players Association cited the Ideal Gas Law and included several graphs. On the X axis was the amount of time the footballs in question were in the warmer air of the locker room, while the Y axis showed the corresponding pressure changes.
Courey, who nurtured his 25-year Patriots obsession growing up in Canton, Mass., has spent 14 years running a trading desk at a financial services firm. The 36-year-old offered a simple explanation for spending 10 hours analyzing the Wells Report.
“I’ve spent years of my life invested in the team, so I wanted to know if this guy’s a cheater,” he said of Brady. “Plus, I enjoy arguing. I enjoy being proven wrong. That’s another phrase for learning.”
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, said union officials, too, have received dozens of e-mails and reports criticizing the science used in the Wells Report. “There is certainly no lack of interest and passion,” he said.
Ben Taylor, 32, said he likes to read up to 10 research papers a week for fun. He spent a whole weekend poring over the data in the Wells Report on a mobile phone while traveling in the back seat of a car. He then forwarded his findings, which he detailed in a May 22 blog post titled “The Statistical Improbability of Deflate Gate,” to Brady’s lawyers, because his mother told him that might help her favorite player on her favorite team.
Finance professional and Patriots fan Mark Linnen was curious about the appearance of Daniel R. Marlow, a physics professor at Princeton and the former chairman of the department, in the Wells Report as a "special scientific consultant." He asked Marlow to explain his support of the report's methodology. Marlow responded that he had been asked by the NFL not to comment and referred all questions to a league spokesman. The spokesman told Linnen he would forward his findings to the NFL's experts.
“They wielded his name like a cross in a graveyard full of vampires,” Linnen said.
The American Enterprise Institute, ever skeptical of regulatory overreach, found several problems with the report in a 16-page report of its own, and drew the same conclusion as Linnen. “It relies on an unorthodox statistical procedure at odds with the methodology the report describes,” the authors said.
Courey, the trader, said the investigators’ methodology was all wrong. “If you think Brady ordered this, or was generally aware, not only is he a cheater but he’s stupid,” he said. “Every day I look at data in 250-page offering memorandums, sifting through the noise to figure out what’s driving the numbers. There’s no statistically significant evidence that suggests the balls were deflated.”
Karen Williamson spent hours digesting the Wells Report as an exercise in intellectual curiosity, armed with a graduate degree in astronomy from Boston University and a healthy skepticism of the importance of sports.
“Some people like to play video games. I like to solve puzzles,” said Williamson, 65. “I was curious. I trust science.”
The more she read, the more incredulous she became. Williamson fired her findings off to Jeff Kessler, a partner at Winston who helped bring free agency to the NFL. She cited the investigators’ conclusion that referee Walt Anderson must have used a particular pressure gauge before the game—even though, as the report states, his “best recollection” was that he used a different gauge that would have yielded different results. In her 11-page e-mail, Williamson called the reasoning “deceptive and nonsensical.” Her graphs and charts focus on the differing outcomes you get when each gauge is used.
“In all honesty, I wasn’t doing this to try and support Tom. But after I read the report, it was so blatantly a witch hunt that I have become an avid defender of him,” she said. “If there’s something I can’t stand in this life, it’s hypocrisy.”
Williamson almost didn’t forward her findings to Brady’s lawyers.
“It was kind of like, who am I?” she said. “But then I thought, if there was just one thing in there that would help, I would kick myself if I hadn’t shared it.”
Kessler has been forwarding all Brady-related e-mails to Greenspan, who in turn has younger attorneys on the clock separating the crackpots from the jackpots. Greenspan was already looking at the curious incident of the pressure gauges when Williamson wrote in demanding justice. There might just be something to it.