ESPN’s Outside the Lines charges that the New England Patriots Deflate-gate controversy involved not only the balls snapped to Tom Brady but one used by Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
An important new allegation has emerged in the controversy surrounding the Patriots-Colts AFC Championship Game, the scene of Deflategate: Jim McNally, 48, who runs the officials’ locker room at Gillette Stadium, tried to give an unapproved ball to the official in charge of special-teams footballs during the first half. ESPN’s Outside the Lines reports that Walt Anderson, the referee for the game, had already inspected and marked all the footballs, including ones used on offense and the others specifically designed for kicking, known as “K” balls, but McNally approached an alternate official, Greg Yette, and handed him a football without Anderson’s mark on it.
A source told ESPN that Yette, surprised that McNally came on the field, as officials’ locker room attendants usually don’t handle any footballs during the game, called Mike Kensil, the NFL’s vice president of game operations, who sat in the press box. Kensil descended to the officials’ locker room at halftime to check the footballs used in the game; it is not clear how much of his motivation came from McNally’s actions and how much was derived from the Colts’ suspicion of the footballs after linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a pass in the first half. Interestingly, although Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, told 60 Minutes Sports that league officials were apprised of the issue by Colts general manager Ryan Grigson in the second quarter, Jackson said at the Pro Bowl he never noticed the ball he intercepted was underinflated.
Investigators for Ted Wells, the attorney the NFL hired to look into Deflategate, have interrogated McNally, who has worked at Patriots’ games for ten years and has run the officials’ locker room at Gillette Stadium for at least six years. McNally works part-time for Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft’s The Kraft Group, which employs NFL game-day workers.
Whether McNally is the same employee who reportedly grabbed a bag of footballs and took them into a bathroom for 90 seconds before the game remains unclear; according to FoxSports.com’s Jay Glazer, Wells’ investigators possess a video of that incident. Wells has remained largely silent, only saying in late January that the investigation would proceed “at least several more weeks” and requesting that “everyone involved or potentially involved in this matter avoids public comment concerning the matter until the investigation is concluded. The results will be shared publicly.”
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s head of officiating, has decided not to comment as yet. In early February, McNally simply replied, “I can’t talk to you,” when an Outside the Lines reporter accosted him at his home.
Kraft has taken a strong stand, saying, “I want to make it clear that I believe unconditionally that the New England Patriots have done nothing inappropriate in this process or are in violation of NFL rules…. I would expect and hope that the league would apologize to our entire team” if the NFL’s investigation “is unable to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs.”