INDIANAPOLIS — The Deflategate story took another twist on Tuesday night, with ESPN reporting that a Patriots locker room attendant attempted to put an unapproved special teams football into play during the Patriots’ victory over the Colts in the AFC Championship Game.
But the report also created more questions than answers, and did little to clear up the mess that is being investigated by the NFL and independent attorney Ted Wells.
According to the report from ESPN’s Outside the Lines, Patriots locker room attendant Jim McNally, a part-time employee hired by The Kraft Group, tried to give an unapproved football to an alternate official who was in charge of the special teams footballs. The alternate official, Greg Yette, became suspicious when he noticed that the football did not have the proper markings of an approved football, according to the report.
Yette then notified Mike Kensil, the NFL’s vice president of game operations, about the suspicious football, according to the report, and Kensil personally inspected the Patriots’ footballs at halftime, finding that 11 to 12 of them were underinflated by 1 to 2 pounds per square inch. Kensil and the officials then properly inflated the footballs and put them back into play in the second half, per the report.
But did McNally try to introduce a special teams ball into play while the Patriots were on offense? Or during a special teams play? And what would a suspicious special teams ball have to do with the other 12 footballs used on offense? The report was unclear about these issues.
The Patriots wouldn’t have much of an opportunity to tinker with the special teams footballs, or “K” balls. Per NFL rules:
Each team provides anywhere from 12 to 24 footballs to be used during the game, depending on inclement weather. The footballs are given to the officials 2 hours and 15 minutes prior to game time, at which point they are tested with an air gauge, and if they are between 12.5 and 13.5 PSI, the referee puts a special marking on the football and approves it for game use. The footballs then remain in the officials’ locker room, under the supervision of a locker room attendant (in this case McNally), who brings the footballs out to the field 10 minutes prior to kickoff. The NFL has stated that referee Walt Anderson properly inspected all 48 footballs before the game – 24 each from the Patriots and Colts.
But on special teams, the kickers and punters use special “K” balls, which are opened up out of the box only 10 minutes prior to kickoff. Teams do not have pregame access to the “K” balls, and they are kept with the attendants on the sideline.
The report stated that Yette found it odd that the locker room attendant was on the field trying to hand him a football, because locker room attendants don’t typically have ball-handling responsibilities on the sidelines.
But if the Patriots were trying to “cheat” with underinflated footballs, then putting a “K” ball into play wouldn’t work. Since the “K” balls are put into play literally right out of the box, they are harder and tougher to handle than the footballs used by Tom Brady and the offense.
It’s possible the Patriots tried to introduce an underinflated football into the kicking game – they kicked six extra points, a field goal and three punts in the game. But the report doesn’t state at what point and under what context McNally allegedly tried to introduce the unapproved kicking ball into the game.
The game, which the Patriots won, 45-7, was held up for a minute after the Patriots received the third-quarter kickoff. The officials initially spotted the football at the line of scrimmage, but then swapped the ball for another one. The NFL has not given an explanation as to why this was done, other than there was an “issue” with the football.
NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent previously said that Colts GM Ryan Grigson alerted the NFL to the Patriots having underinflated footballs. Per reports from last month, Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted Brady in the second quarter, and he gave the football to a team trainer, who notified coach Chuck Pagano, who notified Grigson, who then told Kensil about the deflation issue.
According to other reports, Gillette Stadium security footage shows a Patriots locker room attendant – it is unclear if this was McNally – took the bag of footballs into a room for about 90 seconds before taking them out to the field. According to one report, the room was a bathroom.
According to the ESPN report, McNally has worked Patriots games for a decade, and has been in charge of the officials’ locker room since 2008. Both the NFL and the Patriots declined comment for the story.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell assigned Wells, an outside attorney who investigated the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal last year, to do a thorough investigation into Deflategate.
Wells and his team conducted over 40 interviews in the days after the AFC Championship game, but have yet to interview two of the central figures, Brady and Bill Belichick. The NFL has not set a timetable for the release of Wells’s report.