New England Patriots locker room attendant Jim McNally provided officials with an unapproved special-teams football during the first half of the 2015 AFC Championship game on Jan. 18, according to a report. The incident occurred during the same game the Patriots allegedly deflated footballs meant for in-game use to gain a competitive advantage, sparking independent investigator Ted Wells’ investigation into what became known as “DeflateGate.”
McNally is a longtime Patriots locker room attendant tasked since at least 2008 with supervising the officials’ locker room, multiple sources told ESPN’s “Outside The Lines.” The 48-year-old purportedly handed an official a “K ball,” or special-teams football, that was not inspected and approved for use before the game. Alternate official Greg Yette noticed the football lacked the proper mark that distinguishes approved footballs and was reportedly surprised that McNally was out on the field, as locker room attendants aren’t usually called upon to handle game balls after kickoff.
Yette passed his suspicions along to Mike Kensil, the NFL’s vice president of game operations, according to ESPN. The sources could not identify when during the first half McNally attempted to insert the football into play. His purported actions were at least partially responsible for Kensil’s decision to inspect the 12 game balls the Patriots provided for in-game use, 11 of which were found to be underinflated.
NFL investigators have already interviewed McNally in connection with the incident. McNally has yet to comment on the situation. It’s unclear if McNally is the same Patriots locker room attendant who purportedly removed the Patriots’ approved game balls from the locker room and brought them to a nearby bathroom for 90 seconds at some point before kickoff, as Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported and Pro Football Talk later confirmed.
“DeflateGate” became a major storyline ahead of the Patriots’ appearance in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 1. League officials acknowledged days before the game they had interviewed nearly 40 individuals as part of an investigation into alleged wrongdoing, but had yet to determine if the Patriots deliberately cheated. The league has yet to provide a timetable for when its investigation will be complete.