Tom Brady got the answer he was looking for from Judge Richard Berman, but the fundamental question surrounding his case remains unresolved and there might never be an answer.
Berman delivered a knockout victory Thursday for the Patriots quarterback in his lawsuit against the NFL, as the judge blistered the league for its handling of Brady's appeal of a four-game suspension for allegedly using underinflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game. But one issue Berman did not address in a 40-page ruling was whether Brady actually did participate in, or at least know about, a plan to use purposely underinflated footballs in the game.
It wasn't Berman's task to answer that question, simply to decide upon the fairness of the appeals process. In fact, he made only one passing reference to commissioner Roger Goodell's decision in late July to uphold the suspension.
"An arbitrator's factual findings are generally not open to judicial challenge, and we accept the facts as the arbitrator found them," he said, and then cited a 2002 case, "Westerbeke Corp. v. Daihatsu Motor Co., Ltd."
And that was it. Berman then went on to overturn the suspension because, he said, the league did not give adequate notice to Brady that he faced the possibility of suspension for any improprieties associated with the game or for destroying his cellphone. Berman also cited the NFL's refusal to allow Brady to cross-examine league attorney Jeff Pash, a co-author of Ted Wells' DeflateGate report, and for denying Brady the right to access investigative files, including witness interview notes.
So as Brady and Patriots fans celebrate the court victory and rejoice that he will be able to play the entire season, which begins Thursday against the Steelers at what is sure to be a raucous Gillette Stadium, the central question of the entire controversy is still not answered:
Did he do it?
Brady testified that he had no knowledge of any attempts to underinflate the footballs used in the game and thus circumvent the NFL's requirement that footballs be inflated to no less than 12.5 psi. And Wells concluded in his extensive and exhaustive report, which is said to have cost the NFL more than $3 million, that there was no "smoking gun" to connect Brady to any purposeful violation of the rules.
But Wells felt there was enough smoke to conclude that it was "more probable than not" that equipment staffers Jim McNally and John Jastremski deliberately released air from the footballs and that Brady was "generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski."
Did he do it?
The overwhelming majority of Patriots fans are convinced he did not.
The rest of the country isn't so sure.
And the just-concluded legal wrangling doesn't get us any closer to whether there was a deliberate scheme to have the footballs underinflated, or whether the reason they measured below the 12.5 psi minimum occurred naturally because of the inclement weather during the first half.
Again, no smoking gun, but certainly a lot of smoke. Like the texts between Jastremski and McNally referencing Brady's dissatisfaction with the inflation level of the footballs. And McNally's visit to a bathroom with the footballs that were previously inspected by referee Walt Anderson.
Conversely, the argument that the footballs measuring below the minimum was the result of the ideal gas law must be considered, and at least offers a potential explanation for the underinflation.
But that still doesn't answer the question of why Brady had his assistant destroy his cellphone the day he was to meet with Wells and his team of investigators.
Goodell was rightfully concerned about the possibility that the game's biggest star was violating the rules, but the commissioner proved overzealous in leaping to the conclusion in his appeal decision that there was an actual "scheme" that took place and that tampering with the footballs equated to a player using steroids to gain an unfair advantage.
Berman was buying none of it, and he threw it right back in the NFL's face.
Goodell announced shortly after the ruling that he'll appeal, and there's certainly a chance the NFL can gain a favorable ruling in the appellate courts. There's also a chance Berman's ruling will be upheld, giving the NFL some more egg on its face.
But that ruling still won't resolve the issue of whether Brady did it, or at least knew about and condoned who did it. The feeling here is we'll never know.