Playing with underinflated footballs isn't the only football-related controversy related to New England's win against Indianapolis in the AFC Championship. During the game, a Patriots locker room attendant handed an official an unapproved ball, according to a report from Kelly Naqi of ESPN.
According to the report, a New England attendant -- who was assigned to the officials' locker room -- tried to give the official who monitors the kicking footballs a ball that wasn't approved approved during pre-game inspection. The official noticed the ball did not have the correct markings for a kicking ball, three sources told ESPN. The official was reportedly suspicious because typically a locker room attendant is not involved in handling footballs during the game.The official notified NFL management about the situation.
It's unclear whether the attendant gave the official the unapproved football intentionally or what the motives were. The NFL assigns an official to monitor kicking footballs. The balls are approved by the referee before the game then controlled by an NFL official. Unlike footballs used during the game, teams are not involved in the handling of the kicking balls.
It is unknown whether the attendant is the same one who was reportedly investigated for handling New England's footballs before the game. A Patriot attendant reportedly took a bag of footballs into a bathroom for 90 seconds.
The situation with the unapproved kicking ball likely wouldn't have received much attention if not for New England also being investigated for playing with deflated footballs. The four sources did not indicate what the motive may have been, and the ball was never cycled into play.