Former Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, a veteran of nine years in the NFL, says Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is one of his heroes. He also says that playing with an under-inflated football is an advantage — if you can get away with it.
Whitehurst, who plays for the Tennessee Titans, weighed in on the NFL’s “Deflategate” controversy on Friday during a panel discussion featuring former Clemson athletes. Eleven of the 12 footballs the Patriots provided for last week’s 45-7 AFC championship win over the Colts were found to be under-inflated by NFL rules, setting off a national conversation on cheating, physics and pounds per square inch.
“Who knows how it happened?” Whitehurst said. “I’m not judging how it happened. (Brady) is one of my heroes. I would say, if you can play with a deflated ball, I’d certainly want to do that. I’d certainly explore those opportunities. It’s something you mess around with in college when it’s a little easier to get away with. But I’ve never experienced that in the pros.”
Whitehurst, who played at Clemson from 2002-05, said that a football deflated under the NFL minimum of 12.5 PSI is easier to handle.
“I do know the balls are easier to throw, you know?” he said. “They are easier to throw deflated. You can dig your fingers into it a little more, no doubt about it.”
Whitehurst says he believed Brady when he said he had nothing to do with tampering with the footballs.
“I have to give Tom the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
College football has its own history with football-tampering. Southern Cal was fined $25,000 and reprimanded by the Pac-12 in 2012 after it was discovered the Trojans’ student mangers deflated balls during the first half of a loss to Oregon. Southern Cal fired the student manager it blamed for taking the air out of the balls.
“To say that a lot of people try to skirt the rules is probably accurate,” said Citadel equipment manager Kevin Yeager.
Yeager said NCAA rules governing footballs are much the same as the NFL’s: Balls must be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch, and each team provides its own footballs. They are turned over to the game officials two hours before kickoff to be checked and marked.
“I try to bring my footballs in right at 12.5 pounds,” Yeager said. “It’s a little bit easier ball to throw and grip, easier to catch and carry.”
Yeager said that an opposing team, outside of the Southern Conference, once sprayed a tacky substance on its footballs to improve the grip.
“As a whole within our conference, everybody knows what the officials look for and what they are going to do, and that’s what they go with,” he said.
Yeager said colleagues in the NFL tell him pro quarterbacks are “very picky” about the condition of footballs used in games.
“They are very hands-on with that,” he said. “From the laces to the seams, they are very picky about how its stitched and everything else. Even the quarterbacks here for the Medal of Honor Bowl were picky about the balls during practice and what not.”
Veteran SEC official Penn Wagers, a Summerville native, said he has not seen many college teams try to fudge the football.
“If they spray stick-em on it, one of the crew will tell me about it,” he said. “We’ll throw the ball out and I’ll say to the coach, ‘What’s going on here? Don’t play games.’ And we have times when the kicker will want certain balls. But no, the punter can’t have his own special ball.
“One time the ball went out of bounds on third down, and the punter came out on the field with his own ball. I said, ‘Put that ball back over there.’ But that’s the one time I’ve had to do that in 40 years of officiating.”
At the high school level, air pressure requirements are the same as the NFL and college football, but officials don’t have gauges to check the balls. Prior to kickoff, coaches from both teams present footballs to officials for inspection. If a ball doesn’t feel or look right to officials, it can’t be used.