Did NFL Employee Who Stole AFC Championship Game Balls Have Anything to Do with Deflategate?

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There have been a lot of developments in the deflategate scandal this week, and the piecemeal nature in which they’ve come to light has left a lot of sports fans (and sports reporters) confused about what the eff is going on. So we’re going to sort it all out for you right here.

Buckle your seat belts. Here we go.

The first big development came on Tuesday, when ESPN’s Kelly Naqi reported that a Patriots locker room attendant tried to get an unapproved special teams football into the NFC championship game. Approved balls get marked by game officials after inspection. A special teams ball gets a “K” stamped on it. The report cited three sources who said referee locker room attendant Jim McNally handed a ball without the official “K” stamp to alternate official Greg Yette.

At this point, even though the under-inflated football at the center of deflategate was not a special teams ball, it looked like the Patriots were up to no good.

However, on Wednesday another ESPN report came out. This time Adam Schefter revealed that the NFL had fired an employee named Scott Miller whose job description included removing balls from the game so the league can donate them to charity. Instead of giving the balls to charity, Miller had been selling them himself.

At this point it was logical to conclude that one of the balls Miller removed from the game was a special teams ball, and that this had something to do with Jim McNally giving Greg Yette an unapproved special teams ball. But whose idea was it? Did McNally act on his own, or did somebody on the Patriots sideline discover that a special teams ball had gone missing and tell McNally to give the unapproved ball to Yette?

The answer, we learned on Thursday from yet another ESPN report, was neither of those possibilities. It turns out that Scott Miller handed the unapproved ball to McNally and told him to give it to Yette. When Yette noticed the ball did not have the “K” stamp, he notified NFL officials in the press box.

The same report also said that, later in the AFC Championship Game, another NFL employee gave another ball to another Patriots employee to give to Yette. It’s not clear whether this other NFL employee was in on the ball-stealing scheme, or was just doing what Miller told him to do. But so far only Miller has been fired, and either way Patriots employee Jim McNally has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

So what does all this mean for deflategate? Maybe nothing, or maybe something.

It could be that the issue of missing special teams balls is completely unrelated to the under-inflated offensive footballs—that an NFL employee stole kicking balls and that a Patriots employee deflated Brady’s balls.

On the other hand, it’s also possible that the missing special teams balls and deflategate are directly related. Perhaps Miller swapped out one of the approved offensive balls, too. Perhaps the one significantly deflated football from the deflategate scandal was the “other” ball mentioned in Thursday’s report.

However, even if the fired employee had nothing to do with the under-inflated balls, the fact that there was so much tampering means it will be almost impossible to prove that the Patriots were involved in any wrongdoing. How can the league punish the Pats when they themselves are clearly incompetent?

That’s certainly what the Patriots will argue.

Hat Tip – [Pro Football Talk]

Tags: afc championship game, deflategate, New England Patriots, NFL,