Thursday’s stunning admission by Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson that he alerted the NFL to concerns about the inflation of Patriots footballs before the AFC title game made a confusing situation even more confusing.
The NFL has insisted, publicly and privately, that there was no sting operation. But if Grigson shared concerns about underinflated footballs with the league office before the AFC title game and if the league office didn’t tell the Patriots about those concerns before the AFC title game, it’s fair to suspect that someone wanted to catch the Patriots in the act.
NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent has said that Grigson contacted V.P. of game operations Mike Kensil (pictured) during the AFC championship, after a football that had been intercepted by linebacker D’Qwell Jackson allegedly seemed to be underinflated. That makes Kensil, a former Jets employee with a reputation for having an anti-Patriots bias, a prime candidate to have gotten the phone call from Grigson before the game.
What if Kensil decided he was going to handle it on his own, that he was going to catch the Patriots in the act?
That would explain the failure of the game officials to make a written record of the PSI measurements of the Patriots and Colts footballs before the game. If they didn’t know that there were concerns about the Patriots’ footballs, they would have had no reason to generate a paper trail.
It also would explain the NFL’s strong insistence that there was no sting operation. A sting operation entails coordination and planning; if Kensil got the call from Grigson and Kensil didn’t share the information with his colleagues, Kensil’s goal may have been: (1) to prevent the Patriots from getting a warning about the concerns regarding air pressure; and (2) to nab the Patriots red handed.
This doesn’t mean the Patriots are innocent. But given Grigson’s admission and the bizarre tale of footballs being taken from the game for private sale, it’s obvious that the NFL will indeed need clear, hard proof of tampering in order to justify punishing the Patriots.
The chain of custody is far too sketchy and the security procedures for the footballs are far too incomplete to justify a finding that mere evidence of underinflation means that Patriots are guilty of tampering. While circumstantial evidence has sent many a man to prison, the circumstances in this case have become far too complicated to permit a conclusion of cheating, absent a smoking gun or a confession.