NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL came down hard on its biggest star and its championship team, telling Tom Brady and the Patriots that no one is allowed to mess with the rules of the game.
The league suspended the Super Bowl MVP on Monday for the first four games of the season, fined the New England Patriots $1 million and took away two draft picks as punishment for deflating footballs used in the AFC title game.
"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," Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, wrote to Brady.
The Patriots lose next year's first-round pick and a fourth-round choice in 2017.
Brady would miss the season's showcase kickoff game on Sept. 10 against Pittsburgh, then Week 2 at Buffalo, a home game against Jacksonville and a game at Dallas. He will return the week of a Patriots-Colts AFC championship rematch in Indianapolis.
Brady has three days to appeal the suspension. His agent, Don Yee, said "the discipline is ridiculous and has no legitimate basis" and that Brady will appeal.
"And if the hearing officer is completely independent and neutral, I am very confident the Wells Report will be exposed as an incredibly frail exercise in fact-finding and logic," Yee said.
The league also indefinitely suspended the two equipment staffers believed to have carried out the plan, including one who called himself "The Deflator."
The fine matches the largest the NFL has handed out, to Ed DeBartolo Jr., then the San Francisco 49ers' owner, who pleaded guilty to a felony in his role in a Louisiana gambling scandal in 1999.
Vincent told the Patriots the punishment was handed out regardless of whether the flatter footballs — which can be easier to grip and catch — affected the outcome of the blowout win over the Colts. Vincent said the flattening of balls probably began much earlier.