INDIANAPOLIS – Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is a quiet, laid-back kind of guy who finds himself in an unusual spot — explaining how he unwittingly got thrown into the center of the months-long storm dubbed "Deflategate."
"I had no idea it would end up like this," the 32-year-old said Wednesday. "Twenty years from now, I'm sure they'll still kind of flirt around with it, so I guess it will be cool. Everything else that came out of that was nothing I had anything to do with."
Twenty years? The questions followed him to his first Pro Bowl, into his second season in Indy and now into one of the biggest games of this season — the Colts' rematch with the Patriots (4-0) on Sunday.
"I made a play that helped our team," he said. "If that's the case, I want to be a part of it."
In January's AFC Championship Game in Foxborough, Mass., Jackson undercut Rob Gronkowski's route early in the second quarter, keeping New England from taking a 21-0 lead. The play ended up turning the NFL's offseason upside down.
It embarrassed one of the league's biggest stars in Tom Brady, one of the league's most successful franchises in the Patriots and set off a long debate about whether the ball Jackson got his hands on, or any others Brady threw that day, were underinflated. Or it even mattered.
Jackson still insists he never noticed a difference because he doesn't get his hands on many footballs. The 10-year veteran has only nine career interceptions including the one off Brady.
But Indianapolis officials were suspicious enough to alert the league office before the game began. So when Jackson came up with the ball and the team equipment staff found it to be too light, Jackson found himself in the midst of a circus-like environment that grabbed headlines for months.
Ted Wells' investigation cost the NFL nearly $5 million. Brady's legacy was questioned. The personal relationship between Patriots owner Robert Kraft and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared strained after the league announced Brady would be suspended for four games and then refused to reduce it. Brady took the case to court, where the suspension was nullified, and now the NFL has appealed that decision. Oral arguments are not expected to be heard until February.
"It started a conversation about how the league operates," Jackson said, explaining he supported the players association's defense of Brady. "From my understanding, there was no policy for how he should be punished for his actions. It's only going to help our game."
Sunday, exactly nine months after Jackson's play, New England and Indianapolis (3-2) will meet for the third time in 11 months — and the first time since the furor over a football began.
Jackson said he has no idea where that ball is. "I have not received it. That's the mystery ball," he said. "If you could tell me where it is, you would do me a huge favor."