FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Saying his team "followed the rules to the letter," New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick described in detail how his team prepares its footballs on game day and defended his players from chatter that they made it to the Super Bowl by cheating.
In an unscheduled availability on Saturday afternoon, eight days before the Patriots will play the Seattle Seahawks for the NFL championship, Belichick revealed the results of an internal study into how the footballs are prepared to quarterback Tom Brady's liking.
Most of the steps are designed to make them tackier for a better grip, he said, but the process could also affect the pressure inside the ball.
"There have been questions raised, and I believe now, 100 per cent, that I have personally and we have as an organization have absolutely followed every rule to the letter," Belichick said. "At no time was there any intent to compromise the integrity of the game."
The Patriots reached the Super Bowl for the sixth time in Belichick's tenure when they beat the Colts 45-7 in the AFC championship on Sunday. But later that night, Indianapolis TV station WTHR reported that some of the game balls provided by New England for the use of its offence weren't sufficiently inflated.
The NFL has confirmed that it is investigating and the Patriots vowed to co-operate. Belichick said earlier in the week that he didn't know how the game balls were prepared, deferring to Brady; Brady also denied doing anything improper.
But in the slow news off-days before Super Bowl week, the allegations received disproportionate attention — and Twitter hashtags such as "Deflategate" and "Ballghazi" — along with comparisons to the videotaping scandal of 2007, when the Patriots were hit with unprecedented penalties after Belichick was caught recording opposing coaches sending in signals from the sidelines.
Belichick denied that there is a pattern of rule-breaking or even of pushing the rules to their limit.
"It was wrong. We were disciplined for it. That's it. We never did it again. We're never going to do it again," Belichick said of the scandal that came to be known as "Spygate." ''And anything else that's close, we're not going to do it either."
A football lifer who only seems happy on the sidelines, if at all, Belichick is known for an absolute attention to detail that helps prepares his team for every imaginable situation.
But instead of getting ready for the Super Bowl — his sixth as the Patriots' head coach — he said he has spent far too much time the past week studying science and learning about how varying conditions can affect a football's pressure.
"I'm embarrassed to talk about the amount of time that I've put into this relative to the other important challenge in front of us," he said. "There are a lot of variables. I'm not saying we're trying to land a guy on the moon, but there are a lot of things that are hard to get a handle on."
But Belichick seemed most emotional when he came to the defence of his team. Among the questions he and his players have been asked this week is whether they cheated to be in the Super Bowl.
Belichick rested on his record, which includes a 12-4 mark in the regular season, an 11th division title in 12 seasons, a fourth straight trip — and ninth overall — to the conference championship game, and a chance for a fourth NFL title in his tenure.
"This team was the best team in the AFC in the regular season, we won two games in the playoffs," he said. "That's what this team is. I know that because I've been with them every day."