Brady: You know, looking back, it’s hard to believe Ballghazi seemed like such a big deal at the time. Like, there was even an argument about what to call the whole thing. Can you believe some people wanted “Deflategate”? Anyway, what I’m saying is, it wasn’t like now.
V.O.: In 2015, the NFL discovered that the New England Patriots had been illegally deflating game balls to suit the preferences of quarterback Tom Brady. After a lengthy investigation, the Patriots were fined and docked draft picks. No one involved was suspended.
Brady: These days, they’ll just let you straight-up customize a ball. No questions asked. You want it at 11 PSI? Why not? You want a big Papa John’s decal slapped on it? Thanks for supporting our sponsors. But back then, no one really understood the kind of hoops quarterbacks would jump through to doctor their balls. Hell, we all just laughed when we finally found out Russell Wilson went through four packs of Bubble Yum in the fourth quarter of that Super Bowl. Poor guy. Darius Butler always had hands like oven mitts.
Kolber: Malcolm Butler.
Brady: Malcolm Butler, right.
Kolber: It was a different time. They used to suspend players for smoking.
Brady: Oh, absolutely. There were some offseasons I was terrified I was going to piss hot, but I guess it never happened. Pretty much everyone was in the same boat. It couldn’t last like that. Commissioner Gordon was the hero this league needed.
Kolber: Tom, I’d like you to tell me about Jim McNally.
Brady: Oh… oh. Christ. It still makes me uncomfortable, you know, just hearing that name. Sorry. Jim McNally. We always called the guy “Bird”… okay, anyway. So, you know how the neighbors always say, when they find out their neighbor abducted children or ritually sacrificed skinny nearsighted brunettes or, you know, did some horrific thing, “He always seemed like just a regular guy,” or whatever? It wasn’t like that at all with Jim. Jim was weird. Jim was… we all made fun of Jim behind his back, you know? That thing where teammates would always leave me hanging on the high five? Big running joke. I did that to Jim once and he was just crestfallen. Slater saw him on the exercise bike later, long after everyone else had left the field, just spinning those wheels and crying, big Knowshon Moreno tears rolling down his face.
Kolber: Wow. Looking back, do you wish you’d been nicer to him?
Brady: I’ve asked myself that more times than you know. Really, I have, but honestly? I don’t think it would have made a difference. I knew from the start that something was off. We all did, but… you know, you have your jokes, you say he’s the guy most likely to come to work with an automatic rifle, but you never really think it’s going to turn out like it did.
Kolber: Right, and I think we all at least feel like we know this story, but can you just take us through what happened, from your perspective?
Brady: I mean, it really all started in 2014. Obviously, whatever else was going on, it all kind of comes back to the balls. By this point, of course, Jim had been deflating them for me for years. He was a creepy dude, but I’d given so many other guys the opportunity and none of them were delivering. And it’s hard to get the kind of consistency Jim gave me, you know? It’s hard because you never talk to these guys directly, so you can’t be sure they’re understanding exactly what it is you want. I was lucky, too, that I had a solid guy like Jastremski I could count on to keep him on task. At first, anyway.
Kolber: You started to have trouble with McNally?
Brady: Yeah, little stuff at first. Jastremski let me know about all the trash-talking, obviously. Like I said, John’s a good guy. That started after that Thursday night Jets game. Not a big deal, just two guys messing around. It was funny, even. Watermelons, balloons, you know. Everyone’s seen the texts. But when we came back for the 2015 preseason, after the investigation and the fines and all, that’s when Bird really started to go off the rails. We were still deflating balls, of course. Who’d have thought we had the balls to… heh, sorry, the nerve to keep doing it after getting caught. But suddenly, Bird wasn’t just sending surly texts to John. He was texting me directly instead. Demanding shoes, he had a thing about shoes. It was weird. I don’t know how many pairs I bought him over the years, but he always wanted another. His closet must have looked like it belonged to a basketball-playing Imelda Marcos. But yeah, jokes about the balls too. Before long, they were coming in pretty much every day. I’d be about to head out for pregame warmups and I’d get something like “Hey Tom, look up at the blimp, there’s your football.” And the actual air pressure was just all over the map.
Kolber: And it just got worse from there?
Brady: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it was already well past the point of being funny. I was looking into getting a restraining order. Just creepy the way he’d fixated on messing with my balls, but never any obvious threats, until… okay, so Giselle drove down to New York for a shoot one weekend. Took the kids with her. You probably can’t imagine what this is like, Suzy, but when you’re all alone in that enormous house, just you and rooms and rooms of luxurious open space… it’s spooky, I guess, is what I’m getting at. So about three in the morning, I’ve been getting these texts for months now, and I wake up to the sound of my phone going off and I’m just like “Oh for the love of God, would you stop.” More annoyed than anything. I roll over, try to go back to sleep, you know? And I hear the text tone again and curiosity gets the better of me, so I look. It’s…
Kolber: Take your time.
Brady: It just says, “Did you check the tire pressure before she left?”
Brady: I lost it, man. Next thing I know, I’m dialing Gisele, my hands are shaking, it’s just ringing and ringing and I’m imagining her Audi smashed into the median on I-90, tires blown out… and then she picks up. She must have thought I was out of my mind. I guess I kind of was. I tell her to go back to sleep, and I’m… well, I just blow up. I text him back, tell him he’s finished, that I’m going to destroy him, I must have called him every name in the book. And then I just waited. I wasn’t going back to sleep anytime soon, so I just sat in bed, staring at my phone. I don’t know how long I waited, it could have been minutes, hours, I don’t know, but eventually another message popped up. “Bleep”… you know, it didn’t actually say “bleep,” but I can’t say it on TV, “Bleep you, Tom.” And then another. “You need to get a grip.” And then nothing. And he wasn’t at the building on Sunday. No one had seen him. I asked Jastremski, I asked everyone. But the game ball was just right for the first time in weeks.
V.O.: That Sunday, Brady shattered the single-game passing record against the Philadelphia Eagles, throwing for 581 yards in a shootout win. But the team’s jubilation at his magnificent performance was to be short-lived.
Kolber: Take us back to the evening after that game. What happened?
Brady: Well, I’m out at the club with Gronk and Danny, and out of nowhere, for the first time in days, I get a text from Bird… from McNally, saying, “I’m sorry, Tom. I’m about to make it right. Please let me come back.” And of course I ignore it, right? I don’t have anything to say to this guy. Whoever handled my balls today did a great job, so what do I need this idiot for? But not thirty minutes later, Jastremski is calling me. “Tom,” he says, “you’ve got to come quick. It’s Edelman. I’m at his place, I’m in his driveway, just get here.”
Kolber: To his home?
Brady: Yeah, and as I’m pulling up I just see flashing lights everywhere. Squad cars, an ambulance… I get out of the car and I’m looking around and I’m like, “Where’s Julian?” I don’t even understand. I can’t see him anywhere. Jastremski finds me and he doesn’t say anything, he just points to the driveway, down at the ground… Christ, man…
Kolber: It’s okay. Go on.
Brady: The… the coroner said later he’d been run over twenty to thirty times, probably at a very low speed. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, just… it didn’t look like it could ever have been a person. And there, written on the pavement next to him… I don’t know if Bird used a brush or what. I don’t know. But it said, in these big, crimson block letters, “I MADE HIM FLAT FOR YOU TOM.”
Kolber: And you haven’t heard another word? Not for five years?
Brady: Not one word, not one call. Not even another text in five years. It’s eerie, you know, when you live with harassment like that around the clock for months, when you see one of your friends killed, even… I don’t know. I don’t miss it, obviously. I hope he’s just died somewhere out there and no one knows it. But it’s hard in a different kind of way to have it all suddenly stop and not know why. To go back to living like it never really happened, but without any closure or any real sense of security. Honestly, Suzy, every time my kid has a birthday and there’s someone making a balloon animal… it just makes me nervous, you know? I’m not sure I’ll ever get over that. Sometimes, it just feels like too much pressure.
V.O.: Eighteen months after Edelman’s murder, the police called off their search for Jim McNally. No official reason has ever been given. The whereabouts of the former locker room attendant remain unknown.