A judge has overturned a four-game suspension imposed on New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady by the NFL for his alleged role in the "Deflate-gate" controversy.
The ruling was a stunning legal victory for Brady, one of the sport's biggest names, who had repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in connection with the intentional deflating of footballs before a January playoff game.
A league investigation had found that Brady was probably "generally aware" that Patriots employees had purposely deflated the balls.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had suspended him for the first four games of the 2015-16 season over the incident at the AFC championship game, which the Patriots went on to win over the Indianapolis Colts.
But Judge Richard Berman determined that Goodell had gone too far with the punishment.
"The Management Council's motion to confirm the arbitration award is denied and the Players Association's motion to vacate the arbitration award is granted," Berman wrote in a 40-page decision.
"Brady's four-game suspension is vacated, effective immediately."
NFL investigator Ted Wells found Brady uncooperative when asking questions about the game.
In the appeal hearing in June, Brady was found to have destroyed a cell phone but said he typically does that to preserve family privacy. He is married to Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen.
Berman explained his decision by saying Brady's game suspension had been based on "several significant legal deficiencies."
Among them, he said Brady had been given "inadequate notice" of potential disciplinary action and his alleged misconduct, and been denied equal access to investigative files, including witness interview notes.
Berman intervened after the two sides were unable to reach a settlement.
The league will appeal the decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, Goodell said in a statement. "While the legal phase of this process continues, we look forward to focusing on football and the opening of the regular season," the commissioner said.
In the meantime, Brady can take the field in next week's home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had been banned until an October 18th clash with the Indianapolis Colts, which would have cost him nearly $2 million in salary.
Shortly after the decision, the Patriots posted a picture on Twitter of Brady pumping his fist in the air during a game. There was no accompanying text.
In a statement, National Football League Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith called the ruling a "victory for the rule of law" and said Goodell's handling of the matter was "unfair, arbitrary and misleading."
The decision came in the seventh month of a standoff between the NFL and the players union.