PHOENIX — During Super Bowl XLIX, the NFL will have to keep track of nearly five times more footballs than for a typical game — and that will include whether they are properly inflated. The league said there will be “added security,” too.
Amid a continuing investigation probing whether the New England Patriots used illegally deflated balls during the AFC Championship Game, the NFL held its first pre-Super Bowl officiating press conference Thursday. Ball inflation was a prime topic.
Prior to other games, each team prepares and breaks in 12 footballs it will use that day. They are presented to officials two hours and 15 minutes before kickoff for inspection, including an air pressure test.
For the Super Bowl, the Patriots and Seattle Seahawks will each have 54 balls.
“The thing with the Super Bowl is during the first half, we rotate footballs in as much as possible, because then those balls are used for charity and NFL auction,” said Dean Blandino, the league’s vice president of officiating.
“So that’s something that’s been in place for many years at the Super Bowl.”
The awareness over proper ball inflation has become quite heightened since the start of the controversy known as Deflategate. It has brought denials from Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady that they had anything to do with deflating balls, perhaps to gain a grip advantage in the rain against the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago.
The protocol for who oversees the balls before kickoff changes at the Super Bowl, too.
“So we have 108 footballs that we take custody of on Friday,” said Blandino. “The teams do practice with those footballs. They prepare them, and then we take custody of those footballs on Friday.
“We have them in our control, and then they’re brought to the officials’ locker room three hours before kickoff Sunday. We inspect them, we gauge them and then basically approve or disapprove of the football.”
There will be an extra wrinkle Sunday.
“There will be some added security just because of the environment that we’re in for this game,” said Blandino, though he offered no specifics.
“Just some additional security measures from Friday when we take custody to when they deliver them on Sunday,” he offered. “Not quite Stanley Cup (protection for the NHL’s famous trophy), but there will be additional measures.”
The man in control of the balls in the days before Super Bowl XLIX will be Tony Medlin, equipment manager for the Chicago Bears.
“(He) has been doing this for a long time, he has custody of the footballs,” said Blandino, specifying that Medlin will bring the balls to the officials for inspection Sunday before turning them over to the ball boys.
Under league rules, balls must be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch of air pressure.
While the Patriots are still under investigation, the league has determined, “footballs that were under-inflated were used by the Patriots in the first half (against the Colts), (and) the footballs were properly inflated in the second half.”
Were the balls in the AFC title game properly inspected by referee Walt Anderson before the game?
“We did review what happened pre-game, and from everything we reviewed and all the information we have … the balls were properly tested and marked prior to the game,” said Blandino.
Why were the balls checked at halftime?
“There was an issue that was brought up during the first half. A football came into question, and then the decision was made to test them at halftime,” said Blandino, who didn’t reveal how the issues was raised.
“There’s an investigation going on. I can’t get into too many specifics. But really, that’s the chain of events that occurred during the course of the game.”
Might there be halftime inflation checks Sunday?
“We’ll plan accordingly, and if a situation comes up, we’ll adjust,” said Blandino.
He expects the league to consider altering its pregame protocol for handling the footballs in the future.
“I think it’s something that’s going to be discussed by the (competition committee),” said Blandino.
“There’s a lot of different things that can happen with the process. We can test balls at halftime just randomly. … That’s something that will be discussed.”
Source: USA TODAY