Why did the NFL handle Steelers' deflated balls story so much differently than deflate-gate?

Fifty-five minutes.

That’s all it took, by our math (give or take a minute or two), for the time that elapsed between Fox’s Jay Glazer issuing his report on Sunday that the New York Giants suspected the Pittsburgh Steelers of using underinflated footballs in Week 13 and when the NFL responded with a statement intending to douse the story before it ever became one.

“The officiating game ball procedures were followed and there were no chain of command issues,” the statement read. “All footballs were in compliance and no formal complaint was filed by the Giants with our office.”

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had little to say about underinflated footballs on Sunday. (AP)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had little to say about underinflated footballs on Sunday. (AP)

Truly blinding speed. At least by underinflated-football-story standards. Recall how long it took for the NFL to make a statement in regards to the New England Patriots’ version of deflate-gate?

Five days. Ample time for the embers to smolder. And at that point, the league announced that it was launching an investigation led by NFL executive Jeff Pash and attorney Ted Wells, he of the eventual “Report” fame whose inconclusive work helped cost the NFL millions of dollars to pillory Tom Brady and help justify the eventual punishment that was dropped on the star QB’s head.

Don’t hold your breath on Ben Roethlisberger receiving the same caliber witch hunt. The league made its peace with a 32-word statement scrawled out on PR chief Brian McCarthy’s iPhone in under an hour. Might as well have written: “Nothing to see here!” and called it a day.

Even Ben scoffed at the report, in his own flippant style.

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Doesn’t sound like a man who is worried about the posse arriving anytime soon. And why should he? Roethlisberger is smart enough to know that the league is trying to quash this thing before it starts.

Maybe there’s nothing to this thing. Perhaps on a cold day, a few balls lost some air. The NFL might not have known that this phenomenon occurred before deflate-gate, but it most certainly does (candidly, anyway) now. Hey, whatever did it find in those random spot checks, anyway?

Point being: The matter here is not the guilt or the innocence of the Steelers. It’s the matter of due process.

The NFL’s statement makes it clear that, beyond any new or compelling evidence, this story is dead in its eyes. That wasn’t the case a little less than two years ago when reports came out about the Indianapolis Colts having similar suspicions about the Patriots. Night turned to day four more times before the league announced its stance on the matter. Go ahead and dream up whatever you want about what the NFL higher-ups were doing during that time. Meanwhile, the Patriots, who were already suspected of being a team that plays fast and loose with the rules, were left to squirm under the white-hot media glare as that story mushroomed by the day without clarity from the NFL.

Even if the facts in the cases were materially different, which they most likely were, the point remains that there will be no further action in the Steelers case now. Even though the Giants — even without submitting a “formal complaint,” as the league pointed out — still had their suspicions. New York head coach Ben McAdoo said as much after Sunday night’s victory. And besides, why would a complaint need to be formal? Shouldn’t the NFL want to seek the truth with the same vigor it did against Brady and the Patriots?

“All footballs were in compliance” isn’t exactly the most evidentiary, revealing statement of all time. So right now, we don’t know what went on. But we know that Glazer didn’t make the story up and that the NFL’s insistence on clarifying the point about a “formal complaint” not being issued feels like a diversionary tactic.

The NFL knows it can’t say that the Steelers’ balls just deflated because, well, that’s what happens in cold weather. In doing so, it would be admitting that its whole premise on Brady’s guilt in deflate-gate was a farce. And it knows that the Giants told the league about the footballs; call it an informal awareness if you so choose.

The NFL has two things working in its favor with this story. One is that with the story breaking less than an hour before kickoffs on Sunday, there was a natural, built-in distraction (and the NFL statement that followed brilliantly helped). And two — and perhaps more germane to the days to follow — the fatigue from fans and media alike over the first deflate-gate was enough to kill off any desire for a second such story to dominate the headlines. It would be like suggesting a start of another lockout tomorrow. Few are voting yes for it.

So there might be smoking guns galore or much ado about nothing when it comes to the Steelers and their reportedly squishy balls. But we’ll never know because the NFL isn’t looking further into it and most of you don’t care. The clear losers here are justice, fairness and Wells’ bankroll.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!