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(Reuters) - A growing storm over the New England Patriots' alleged use of illegal balls during a playoff win that clinched a Super Bowl berth is threatening to overshadow what could be a classic matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady spent his entire 30-minute news conference on Thursday answering questions about the NFL's probe into the matter, while coach Bill Belichick did the same during his 11-minute stint with the media.
"I feel like I have always played within the rules, I would never do anything to break the rules," said Brady, who threw three touchdown passes during Sunday's game in wet conditions where a firm grip on a slippery ball could have helped.
"I believe in fair play, I respect the league and everything that they are doing to try and create a competitive playing field for all the NFL teams."
The focus on the Patriots, who routed the Colts in Sunday's AFC Championship game, will surely intensify when they arrive in Arizona on Monday to a crush of reporters that will grow each day of the week-long frenzy ahead of the Feb. 1 Super Bowl.
The NFL's investigation, which is being referred to as "deflate-gate," is reportedly due to wrap up on Friday.
Under NFL rules, no alteration of game balls, which must be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch, is allowed once they are approved. According to media reports, 11 of the Patriots' 12 game balls were significantly below the required levels.
"When I pick those footballs out, at that point, to me, they're perfect," said Brady. "I don't want anyone touching the balls after that. I don't want anyone rubbing them, putting any air in them, taking any air out. To me, those balls are perfect and that's what I expect when I show up on the field."
Belichick repeatedly said he had no explanation for what happened but did admit to having learned more about the rules in the last few days than in 40 years in the league.
"Knowing that now, in the future we will certainly inflate the footballs above that low level to account for any possible change during the game," said Belichick.
"We will take steps in the future to make sure that we don't put ourselves in that type of potential situation again."
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Additional reporting by Simon Evans in Miami