Four games. It took four games -- the same four games he was supposed to be suspended -- for Tom Brady to make a mockery of the idea that the PSI of a football had anything to with what Brady could do as a football player.
And the players knew it all along.
But let's back up. This wasn't a sports story. Nah. This was a national story; a topic that transcended the game, jumped the curb on reality and made its way to little old ladies in checkout lines at the grocery store, where Brady was on the covers of magazines normally reserved for Princess Kate. Tom Brady: Cheater.
Where the NFL truly hammered that "cheater" concept home? It handed Brady the same four-game suspension players get for using performance-enhancing drugs. This wasn't just symbolism. This was a direct comparison the NFL pushed as its basis for the suspension. It was no accident. After all, America wants bigger, faster and stronger on the football field just as it loves the home run on the baseball diamond -- but not that way. The NFL tried to make it clear: what Brady did had changed the game.
In the end, a federal judge couldn't fathom that comparison, among other arguments, and overturned the New England Patriots quarterback's four-game suspension. So far, reality is proving the judge correct.
Just look at what fully inflated footballs have done to Brady.
Through their first four games of the 2015 season, the Patriots are 4-0, and Brady is completing 72.5 percent of passes. He's throwing for an average of 346.8 yards per game to go along with 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. And his Total QBR sits at 71.8 -- far better than it was at this time last year.
Not bad for a 38-year-old quarterback in the twilight of his career, right?
The bottom line: Brady didn't just win a court battle, he's also making a mockery of the whole process.
Through a Super Bowl and now four regular-season games, Brady is eviscerating any reasonable perception that Deflategate was a worthy cause and that a preference for the feel of the football was tantamount to, yes, steroids.
With the same balls that are now thoroughly checked by league officials every time the Patriots take the field -- it's a 23-step process, folks -- Brady is dissecting defenses, slinging touchdowns and exposing coverages. And he's making it look easy.
And let's remember that we thought Brady was toast after four games last year -- a time when he could have been using deflated balls. It's a reminder that a slow start this year wouldn't have meant anything, either. Either way, it's not about the ball.
Right before the Deflategate ruling came down, I ran into a former All-Pro offensive lineman who simply, and casually, asked, "Why is the NFL intentionally trying to take down the face of the league over something so ridiculous? What do they gain?"
It's a great question. And I really don't have an answer for it. It could have been a simple meeting. We know you QBs like the footballs a certain way, but don't mess with them. Done? Done.
The players, the guys who have seen it all when it comes to forms of "cheating," shrugged their shoulders at this one. It was really no different than the various playbooks that always seem to travel well, game plans found in opposing-team locker rooms, pick routes, players taking a dive on defense to slow down the no-huddle or even stolen signals. Plus, we can't forget about the visiting-team hotel staff who operate as if they were on the club's payroll with master keys to all the rooms.
"This stuff happens. It happens a lot in the NFL and nothing is protected when it comes to forms of gamesmanship in the world's most competitive pro league. Coaches, players, janitors in the team facility. They are all in on it. Find a way, any way, to gain the slightest edge." Matt Bowen
Hey, the hospitality is always great and the hotel staff wears big smiles when you check in. But make sure you don't leave that playbook in the room on road trips. You never know who is sneaking around late at night.
This stuff happens. It happens a lot in the NFL and nothing is protected when it comes to forms of gamesmanship in the world's most competitive professional league. Coaches, players, janitors in the team facility. They are all in on it. Find a way, any way, to gain the slightest edge.
Maybe Brady and the Patriots' equipment staff got away with one here. I don't really know, nor do I care. And the majority of players and coaches I've spoken with since this thing started taking over our lives in January share that same belief.
But you can bet we'll be watching Sunday.
"Unless Indianapolis does something to stop him, New England is going to try to put 100 on the scoreboard," a defensive coach told me this week.
And Brady will do that with regulation footballs, the same ones now hand-checked by the league every time he takes the field.
ESPN.com NFL analyst Matt Bowen played seven seasons in the NFL.