The source said one of the "K balls," which are used for only special-teams play, went missing, and an NFL employee in charge of collecting balls for charity gave another ball to Jim McNally, who works the officials' locker room at New England Patriots games.
McNally then gave it to Greg Yette, an alternate official who was in charge of putting the K balls into play. When Yette saw that ball did not have the pregame marking that referee Walt Anderson had put on the ball, he became suspicious and alerted NFL officials in the press box, a source told "Outside The Lines."
The man in charge of collecting balls for charity in previous games has been fired by the league for selling the footballs meant for charity for a profit over a period of time, a source told Schefter.
The source said that a different NFL official also handed a ball to an equipment manager to be passed along to Yette later in the game.
The source said attorney Ted Wells and his team of investigators are aware of the chain of events and have video of the exchange with the equipment manager. Wells has been hired by the NFL to conduct an investigation into accusations that the Patriots used underinflated footballs in the first half of their 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts that sent them to the Super Bowl.
The results of Wells' investigation have not been announced. In a statement released late last month, Wells said he expected his investigation to go on for "at least several more weeks" and asked that "everyone involved or potentially involved in this matter avoids public comment concerning the matter until the investigation is concluded. The results will be shared publicly."
Tuesday, "Outside the Lines" reported that McNally tried to introduce the unauthorized ball into the game, but sources didn't know his motivation for doing so. Yette, reached by OTL, declined comment. McNally, approached at his home last week, said "I can't talk to you" and waved a reporter away.
McNally is a game-day employee at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots, who won the Super Bowl over the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 1, came under scrutiny before the AFC Championship Game when the Colts reportedly alerted the NFL during the regular season that the Patriots may be using underinflated footballs after the teams met Nov. 16.
A source told "Outside the Lines" that Mike Kensil, the NFL's vice president of game operations, decided to go down to the officials' locker room at halftime of the Patriots-Colts game to check the game balls, in part because of the suspicions that McNally's actions raised. Kensil did not respond to requests for comment.
It also has been reported that the Colts noticed an underinflated football after an interception by linebacker D'Qwell Jackson in the AFC Championship Game. Jackson said at the Pro Bowl that he didn't notice that the football was underinflated. Also, Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, told "60 Minutes Sports" that Colts general manager Ryan Grigson told league officials in the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game that the Patriots might be tampering with footballs.
One source said Kensil personally checked the PSI (pounds per square inch) levels of all 12 footballs the Patriots had for use on offense and found that 11 of those 12 were underinflated by "1 to 2 pounds." Last month, league sources involved and familiar with the investigation told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that the investigation found the footballs were inflated 2 pounds per square inch below what's required by NFL regulations.
They were reinflated to the league-required level and were returned for use in the second half.
Information from "Outside the Lines" reporter Kelly Naqi was included in this story.
Investigators Talk To Staffer About Pats' Use Of Underinflated Balls
Adam Schefter and Sal Paolantonio have the latest on Ted Wells' investigation into the Patriots using underinflated balls in the AFC Championship Game and a locker room attendant's attempt to introduce an unapproved special-teams football into the game.
Pats Staffer Gave Unapproved Ball To Official
Outside The Lines reporter Kelly Naqi breaks down the news that a locker room attendant for the Patriots tried to hand an unapproved special-teams football to an official during the AFC Championship Game.