The New England Patriots and quarerback Tom Brady have been sanctioned by the NFL for the use of under-inflated footballs during the 2014-2015 AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. According to former Miami Dolphins quarterback A.J. Feeley, the questionable football use may go back much further than that.
Feeley appeared on 97.5 the Fanatic in Philadelphia Wednesday to discuss the upcoming football season and his former teammate Sam Bradford, who will take his place as the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback this season (Feeley played for Philadelphia from 2001 to 2003 before joining Miami). DeflateGate and the four-game suspension for Brady, of course, came up during their discussion, and Feeley turned the topic to the Dolphins' 2004 game against the Patriots in New England, when he stated the Patriots were already playing games with the footballs.
"Prior to Tommy and Peyton Manning going to the league and saying, ‘Let us doctor our balls’ we used to all play with the same balls," Feeley told host Anthony Gargano. "Somehow this beat-up ball from the ball boy was getting thrown in on offense for New England, yet when we were on offense this orange brand new ball was getting thrown in."
In 2006, the NFL began to allow teams to break-in footballs prior to the game, then each team would turn in a set of balls to be examined by the referees, then used by that team's offense during the game. The idea was to allow a quarterback to get a better grip on a football, rather than using a brand new ball that was slick. If Feeley's allegation is accurate, it appears the Patriots may have been looking for ways around the rules in 2004 by using practice footballs whenever they were on offense.
"He’s getting his own balls thrown in on offense," Feeley continued. "That was an issue to me at the time."
It's been 11 years since that game, a game Brady and the Patriots won 24-10, so it is a bit late to be raising the issue now, but, if it is true, it does at least show that New England was not against bending (or breaking) the rules throughout Brady era. This could be some piling on in the wake of DeflateGate, but the fact that Feeley is putting his name on the story at least gives it a little more weight.
Miami won the second game of the 2004 home-and-home series 29-28.