PHOENIX - The schedule of exhibits and activities for this year’s NFL Experience, the league’s annual interactive playground held in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, were set long before the term, “Deflategate” -- for better or worse -- entered into our general consciousness. But among the obstacle zones, passing clinics, and autograph sessions that attracted thousands of fans to the Phoenix Convention Center on Sunday, it was the booth for Wilson Sporting Goods Co. that was of particular relevance, since fans could watch the creation of the company’s league-regulated footballs from scratch.
Pressurization and all.
The process took on greater prescience at the Phoenix Convention Center, where the Experience is being held through next weekend. For at few times in the game's history have fans cared so much about what goes into the creation of a football, never mind debating just how levels of air pressure can play a role in giving a quarterback a significant advantage.
After workers inserted the balls’ bladders then sent it to a second stage where they were laced up, the products passed through a hissing machine that loosely resembled a pair of paint can-sized tubes, injecting up to 120 pounds of air pressure into the footballs before bringing it back down to its regulation weight.
“The inside of that canister is the size we want the ball to be,” Wilson representative Jim Jenkins said, “so it’s going to stretch. Goes to 120 pounds for one minute, then back down to 13, and then when it comes out, see how nice everything looks? All the seams are perfect, laces are perfect. That’s what that does right there and it comes out 13 pounds per square inch.”
The finished products, a few dozen identical Super Bowl XLIX-branded balls, sat in a metal crate, every last one with the very same PSI measurement, according to Wilson. Jenkins even confidently offered a friendly wager with his inquisitor if he were somehow proven wrong.
But every single one?
“Put it this way,” he said, “between 12.5 and 13.5. That’s the legal limit by the NFL.”
That is, of course, a range that Patriots fans, not to mention their detractors, have become all-too-familiar with over the past week, when the NFL officially launched an investigation into whether or not the team, including quarterback Tom Brady, were deflating footballs below the legal limit. A mid-week report from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen stated that 11 of 12 balls used in last Sunday’s AFC Championship game win over the Indianapolis Colts were off by as much as two PSI. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Brady responded to the allegations last Thursday with little more than “What Me Worry,” followed up by Belichick’s last-straw denial in a surprise press conference on Saturday afternoon.
"We simulated a game day situation in terms of the preparation of the football and where the footballs were at various points in time during the day, or night, as the case was Sunday,” Belichick said. “I would say that our preparation process for the footballs is what we do. I can’t speak for anybody else. It’s what we do. That process, we have found raises the PSI [pounds per square inch] approximately one pound. That process of creating a tackiness, a texture – the right feel, whatever that feel is, it’s just a sensation for the quarterback, what’s the right feel. That process elevates the PSI approximately one pound based on what our study showed, which was multiple footballs, multiple examples in the process, as we would do for a game. It’s not one football.”
Of course, the majority of Patriots fans bought it. Time will tell if the NFL bought it.
But Bill Nye the Science Guy didn’t. And neither did Jenkins.
“Not going to say,” Jenkins said when asked what he thought about Belichick’s explanation before immediately relenting with a laugh. “That’s BS. That’s BS, man.”
So, how would it happen? Jenkins, who freely admitted he’s a Browns fan from Cleveland, where Belichick isn’t all that highly-regarded to this day, shook his head.
“Only the New England Patriots know.”
Jenkins suggested “maybe in a year or two” the PSI would fluctuate after being introduced to different environments, which seems to fly in the face of the dozens upon dozens of amateur science experiments that took place throughout New England last week. He did, however, relent that the ball’s pressure may change if you put it in a freezer, then unfreeze it.
So, it indeed appears as if though Wilson is also calling foul on the New England Patriots.
"Well it couldn't unless something happened to a bladder, but that really doesn't happen and there's no other real way,” Wilson’s director of experiential marketing Molly Wallace said. “All we know is what we can control is when it leaves the factory it's within an NFL spec, within the PSI of 12 1/2 to 13 1/2 pounds of pressure for every single NFL team.”
Stitched, sealed, and delivered.
Wilson doesn’t seem to be putting any stock into atmospheric factors playing a role in the NFL’s latest “scandal.”
Boston.com's Steve Silva contributed to this report.
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