Patriots fans, like many football fans around the country, have questions about "soft" footballs discovered at Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts in Foxboro.
But unlike much of the rest of the country, many local fans are asking, "Where was the referee?"
"How could one defensive back feel it and think something is off when the refs touch the balls the whole game and don't know what's going on?" said Salem, N.H., resident Mike LaRosa.
Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson intercepted a pass from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady late in the second quarter of Sunday's rainy American Football Conference championship game. He reportedly brought the ball to his sideline and told an equipment manager that the ball felt underinflated.
Colts officials contacted the NFL, and the game officiating crew tested the balls at halftime, when the Patriots led 17-7. They found that 11 of the 12 balls the Patriots offense was using were inflated below the league minimum of 12.5 pounds per square inch by as much as two pounds per square inch.
The officials reinflated the balls and put them back into play for the second half of the game, according to ESPN.
Don LaRosa, a Methuen resident and Mike's father, said he worried it would cast a pall over the Super Bowl, to be played Feb. 1 in Glendale, Ariz.
"Where are the refs in this?" he said.
Other fans noted that while the scandal is a black eye for the Patriots, who will play the Seattle Seahawks in their sixth Super Bowl since 2001, deflated balls, which are easier to grip and catch, especially in rainy or cold weather, would not have made a difference in the outcome of Sunday's game.
Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount ran for three touchdowns, meaning the ball was not thrown, and the Patriots scored four of their six touchdowns in the second half after the referees reinflated the footballs.
Jerry and Lucy Duquette, of Plaistow, N.H., said they were just glad the Pats won. "What was the score, 45-7? It didn't make a difference," Lucy Duquette said.
The NFL has not released much information aside from saying it still is investigating the complaint. Leaked reports indicate league officials found 11 Patriots footballs underinflated, but all of the Colts' balls met regulations, ESPN reported.
Mike LaRosa said the Patriots' admission in 2007 to video recording opposing teams' play calling signals opened the gate to future cheating allegations.
"We brought this on with Spygate," he said, using the signal recording scandal's popular moniker. "We have to live with every 'gate' that happens. We're paying for our sins."
Andrew Ordway of North Andover said he didn't think much of the scandal and is looking forward to the Super Bowl. "I'm going to watch it, enjoy it, and whoever wins, wins," he said.
According to league rules, each team supplies a dozen footballs for its offense to use during the game. The home team must provide a dozen more as backups, and the visiting team can provide a backup dozen in open stadiums such as Gillette, according to the NFL rule book.
The referee inspects the balls two hours and 15 minutes before the game, checking inflation, size and for irregularities, and then marks them suitable for game play.
The teams' balls are then given to assistants and taken to the sidelines. No one is to alter the balls after the referee inspects them.
Pro quarterbacks have said they are particular about game balls. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told ESPN he wants the footballs he uses in games overinflated and that referees actually have deflated the Packers' game balls.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning described to The New York Times in 2013 a months-long process his team uses in selecting and breaking in balls Manning will use in games, including extensive brushing, buffing, wetting and months of use in practice.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson said he paid $7,500 to have game footballs scuffed up before his team played in the 2003 Super Bowl, according to CBS News.
Former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart on Wednesday morning tweeted, "Every team tampers with the footballs. Ask any QB In the league, this is ridiculous!!"
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