Acknowledging that he would rather be discussing the upcoming Super Bowl, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said he didn't give the game balls a thought during his team's win over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game.
"I didn't alter the ball in any way," Brady told a roomful of reporters at a Thursday news conference. He described the routine he goes through before every game to select footballs that have been conditioned by the Patriots' equipment staff.
"To me, they're perfect," Brady said of the selected balls. "I don't want anyone touching them or rubbing them, putting air in or taking air out."
He continued, "That happened, obviously, on Sunday night. I didn't think anything of it."
Brady said that the NFL has not yet spoken to him about the condition of the footballs. Repeating what he said Monday morning, the quarterback said he hadn't heard of the allegation until being told of it by a radio station.
When asked to declare whether he is a cheater, Brady said, "I believe in fair play." He later added, "I feel like we won the game fair and square."
NFL rules require teams to provide their own balls for their offenses to use, and that they be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. Officials inspect the balls about two hours before game time — but an official in Sunday's game briefly interrupted the Patriots' offense to take one ball out of play, apparently because he suspected it wasn't properly inflated.
It's not clear what condition the Colts' footballs were in. But ESPN reported Wednesday that the league found that "11 of the New England Patriots' 12 game balls were inflated significantly below the NFL's requirements."
To a reporter's question asking why he wouldn't be able to detect a 2-psi difference in the footballs, Brady answered, "I get the snap, I drop back, I throw the ball. I don't sit there and squeeze it."
Brady compared breaking in footballs for use in a game to the process of breaking in a baseball glove. The idea is to use equipment that's comfortable and familiar, he said.
The question of whether the balls were properly inflated — and whether they might have been tampered with, to give the Patriots an edge — came up shortly after the team decisively beat the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, earning a berth in the Super Bowl, which will be played on Feb. 1.
The possibility has served as a talking point for sports fans as they await the biggest game of the NFL season, between the Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. Many have also wondered how much difference a small change in a football's inflation could make.
"Particularly during that game which was very rainy, it's hard to hold the ball, it's hard to catch the ball," materials scientist Ainissa Ramirez told NPR's Geoff Brumfiel earlier this week. "So by making it a little softer, it's easier to catch the ball."
Brady spoke hours after New England head coach Bill Belichick said he had "no knowledge" of how the team's footballs were inflated for last Sunday's game — and he never has.
"In my entire coaching career, I have never talked to any player or staff member about football air pressure," he said at a news conference Thursday morning.