Even after winning the Super Bowl, the Patriots still remained dogged by Deflategate.
Late on Tuesday night, Kelli Naqi of ESPN’s investigative sports program “Outside the Lines” cited four unnamed sources who said a team's referee locker-room attendant was on the field in the first half of the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts and attempted to hand an unapproved ball to one of the on-field officials.
ESPN's Adam Schefter, appeared on the show the next day to explain that there were two league employees who handled footballs on the sideline. One has since been fired by the NFL for allegedly stealing and selling the footballs, according to this most recent report. When another sideline employee noticed an official was short one ball, he ran to get a second one, according to Schefter. When the first ball was noticed to be missing, the league employee brought the ball back into the game, and, at one point the locker-room attendant was on the sideline with footballs from two different employees, according to the report. Schefter said this was all recorded on video and will be featured in the NFL's official report.
The locker-room attendant, who is a part-time employee of the Patriots, has worked in that position since 2008, according to the report. He has reportedly already been interviewed by NFL investigators, according to the Washington Post, but the ESPN story does not make this claim.
The head official for the game is tasked with measuring all of the footballs before kickoff and making markings to distinguish between the team’s offensive footballs and the kicking balls. The official’s locker-room attendant is usually not on the field during the game, so when the official picked up on his locker-room attendant handing him a football that did not have the proper markings, he let the NFL’s Vice President of Game Operations Mike Kinsel know, according to ESPN.
Then, at halftime in the blow-out victory for the Patriots, Kinsel personally went into the locker room and took the air pressure of the footballs, not the on-field officials, according to ESPN. The league has not provided a reason for this.
The story, which implies misconduct on the part of the locker-room attendant while relying solely on anonymous sources, comes before the league’s official investigation has been completed. Lead investigator Ted Wells, who was hired by Commissioner Roger Goodell, has represented former New York governor Eliot Spitzer in his federal prostitution trial, as well as Scooter Libby in his federal perjury trial.
ESPN's report stands at odds with previous report by one of their lead NFL reporters, Chris Mortensen. Back on January 21, Mortensen reported that 11 of the Patriots approved 12 offensive footballs were 2 full pounds per square inch under the league minimum of 12.5 psi. Naqi wrote in her report that 11 of the 12 approved offensive footballs were “one to two” pounds under-inflated.
But a report from the NFL Network from February, 1 revealed that only one of the Patriots footballs was two psi under the limit and the rest were only “a few ticks” under the minimum.
On January 26, Fox Sports Jay Glazer reported that an unknown Patriots locker room attendant took a bag of footballs into the bathroom on his way to the field from the officials locker room before the game against the Colts, where he remained for just 90 seconds. The ESPN report added that it is not yet known if the locker-room attendant cited in that report is the same Patriots employee.