Reading with Reimer: Against all odds, new Deflategate book provides greater understanding of strange saga

Cover Image
Photo credit USA Today Sports

I didn’t think there was any way that a Deflategate retrospective could hold my interest. The interminable saga ended just two years ago, with Tom Brady serving his draconian four-game suspension during September 2016. I remember every minute detail and minor player. In fact, I can still explain the Ideal Gas Law, which is an incredible feat for somebody who cheated his way through high school physics. 

Regardless, I decided to pick up Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge’s latest book, “12: The inside of story of Tom Brady’s fight for redemption,” from the spare desk in “Kirk & Callahan’s” office last week. During my time at WEEI, the only free thing I’ve gotten is a calendar. The move was a sad self-esteem boost more than anything else.

In an email exchange, Sherman told me he was skeptical about the idea of a Deflategate book, too. Originally, he and Wedge wanted to provide a complete look at all of the scandals under Roger Goodell, including the league’s lack of progress on CTE.

“As observers of Deflategate, we watched it unfold but did not feel it was a book-worthy story until Brady's Super Bowl comeback,” Sherman wrote. “As the confetti was falling in Houston, we got a call from Hollywood partners, Oscar nominated screenwriters Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson (whom we had worked with on The Finest Hours and Patriots Day). Tamasy told us that although he was not a Brady fan, what we were all witnessing could be an incredible movie and he urged us to write the book, which they would adapt for the big screen. This told us that there was a national appetite for the story and after some consideration, we decided to move forward.”

Prior to the book’s release, two bombshell excerpts were released to the masses. The first one, which is featured in the prologue, details Brady’s anger when Robert Kraft capitulated to Goodell and accepted the league’s sanctions. “What the f***?,” Brady shouted into the phone, according to NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith. 

Smith and lead NFLPA attorney Heather McPhee are quoted extensively in the 285-page book. While they weren’t the central players in the episode, their insights establish the theory that Deflategate was a power grab for Goodell. McPhee represented Ray Rice during the appeal of his indefinite ban, and notes that she recorded copious notes during Rice’s hearing with Goodell, including his admittance of hitting Janay Rice in the elevator that evening. Goodell’s lie about Rice’s candor nullified the makeup suspension. 

At the onset of the controversy, Smith and McPhee say they both tried to figure out why Goodell was targeting Brady. The Patriots were easy –– other owners thought Goodell was too chummy with Kraft, so the reeling commish needed to affirm his independence –– but Brady was more difficult to figure out. Finally, Smith and McPhee came to the realization that Goodell picked Brady to send a message that no player was bigger than the Shield. The NFL wanted to make a statement, which explains why the Patriots were never tipped off about the Ravens’ complaint, Mike Kensil telling the Pats they were in “big f****** trouble,” and all of the leaks from the league office. 

Sherman and Wedge provide a meticulously constructed case, going through seemingly every detail from the Ravens’ original complaint to Brady hoisting the Lombardi Trophy with Goodell at his side. The authors’ credibility is enhanced by the fact they aren’t complete Patriots toadies. They acknowledge the team’s weight loss explanation for Jim McNally’s infamous “deflator” text was ridiculous. 

While the narrative is familiar, “12” provides enough new anecdotes about the ordeal to make it a worthwhile read. For example, McPhee talks about how she believes Brady’s decision to not surrender his phone to Ted Wells was an irreparable mistake. “I knew this was a huge mistake and that it would only piss Wells off,” she said.

On the topic of the destroyed phone, McPhee says Brady was copying his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, who started the practice after the phone hacking scandal in Britain. All of these seemingly innocuous details heighten the reader’s understanding of the strangest sports scandal in recent memory.

Brady is quoted throughout the portion of the book that chronicles his 2016 season, beginning with his secretive training process during his suspension. Robert and Jonathan Kraft are quoted, too, with their (mostly banal) observations mixed into the retelling of the Super Bowl campaign. But there are fascinating tidibts from Kraft's interactions with Brady, including their pregame chat before Super Bowl LI. 

In order to land Brady, Sherman says they hired ex-teammate Matt Chatham, who cooperated with the project, and he relayed their questions to the quarterback. Brady answered them on audio file last season. 

“Getting Brady on the record was a coup for us, as he's never cooperated for a book before,” Sherman wrote.

Belichick didn’t participate in the book, and predictably, neither did the NFL. “I've written books about the CIA and FBI, and had more cooperation from those government agencies than we did the league,” Sherman told me. 

Disappointingly, neither John Jastremski nor McNally are heard from. Sherman tells me they made several attempts to reach them, and are still trying to track them down for future editions. Both equipment guys are prominent characters in the story, especially given the revelation that Goodell offered to erase Brady’s suspension if he would blame the whole issue on Jastremski and McNally. Brady declined.

It is amazing that Jastremski and McNally haven’t spoken publicly since the Wells Report was released. Getting their perspective about the text messages, pre-game bathroom trip (it was alleged McNally deflated the footballs with a pin in the men’s bathroom) and dismissals from the Patriots would fulfill the last proverbial puzzle piece of the story. 

Still, even without Jastremski and McNally, the book still provides an even greater understanding of the story most of us still unfortunately know by heart. It would make a great gift for the diehard Patriots fans who can’t read enough about Super Bowl LI, or better yet, the out-of-towners who actually think the Patriots did something egregious. 

Can somebody put a copy in front of Max Kellerman?