The most decorated player of his generation is now among the desecrated.
Three-time Super Bowl MVP and four-time champion Tom Brady is suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 season for his role in the deflation of footballs used in the AFC Championship Game in January and conduct that was "detrimental to the integrity of the NFL," the league announced Monday.
The NFL also fined the Patriots $1 million, the largest team fine in league history, and docked them a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth-rounder in 2017.
According to the league's announcement of the discipline, NFL executive president Troy Vincent imposed the punishment and commissioner Roger Goodell authorized it.
"We relied on the critical importance of protecting the integrity of the game and the thoroughness and independence of the Wells report," Goodell said in a statement.
That 243-page Wells report, released last week, found it was "more probable than not" that Patriots personnel were involved in "a deliberate attempt to circumvent" league rules and that Brady "was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities . . . involving the release of air from Patriots game balls."
Vincent's statement also alluded to Brady's refusal to provide investigators with information from his cellphone.
"Your actions as set forth in the report clearly constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the game of professional football," Vincent wrote in a letter to Brady informing him of the suspension. "Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public's confidence in the game is called into question."
Although the Wells report found that Patriots coaches and management had no knowledge of the practice of deflating footballs, Vincent cited the Patriots' previous violations for videotaping opposing teams' signals in 2007 when determining the team discipline.
John Jastremski and Jim McNally, the two Patriots employees at the center of the Wells report, were indefinitely suspended without pay by the team last week. Neither can be reinstated without Vincent's approval.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who said last week in a statement that he would accept any discipline, said the punishments "far exceeded any reasonable expectation" in a statement Monday. He added: "Tom Brady has our unconditional support. Our belief in him has not wavered."
Brady will appeal his suspension, his agent said. "The discipline is ridiculous and has no legitimate basis," said Brady's agent, Don Yee, in a statement.
If the suspension stays, his first game back will be in Week 6 (the Pats have a bye in Week 4) against the Colts, the team the Pats beat in the AFC title game and the team that alerted the league to the deflated footballs.
The only AFC East game Brady will miss under the current suspension is a Week 2 game against the Bills. The Patriots open the season at home against the Steelers on Thursday, Sept. 10, the first game of the NFL season. Brady will be available for both games against the Jets in Weeks 7 and 16 as well as Week 10 against the Giants.
Last year's second-round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to start the season.
Word of the discipline spread around the league quickly with many players taking to social media to express their views.
Eli Manning was in the middle of a presentation at an event for Guiding Eyes for the Blind in White Plains, N.Y. when news broke and the Giants quarterback was told the news by reporters as he came off the stage.
"Any time you lose a starting quarterback for four games and draft picks, it's a pretty big statement," Manning said. "Obviously the NFL is serious about not messing with the integrity of the game no matter how big or little the issue is . . . I think it's about integrity and you have to follow the rules. If someone's breaking rules, I understand you're going to get punished for it."