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NFL Will Follow Strict Steps for Handling of Super Bowl Balls

The NFL already has strict rules on how game balls are handled in the days before the Super Bowl. But there will be added security this year.

With the NFL still investigating whether the New England Patriots purposely deflated footballs en route to the Super Bowl, league officials are taking extra security measures to make sure there isn’t any mishandling of balls in the days leading up to Sunday’s game.

That’s on top of the already stringent chain-of-custody rule put in place for every Super Bowl — which, until this year, most people didn’t care or think about.

Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, acknowledged Thursday that the controversy known as Deflate-Gate prompted the beefed-up protections. But he wouldn’t describe those steps in any detail.

“There will be some added security just because of the environment we’re in for this game,” he said at a news conference. “But there’s really no change in terms of the protocol for the Super Bowl.”

Under normal circumstances — any game besides the Super Bowl — each team provides 12 balls to officials 2 hours and 15 minutes before game time. Those balls are tested to make sure they conform to proper dimensions, including air pressure.

Just before the game begins, the balls are given to ball attendants and brought to the field. It is the home team’s responsibility to give balls to the attendants.

The NFL has said that its officials followed that protocol during the cold, rainy AFC Championship game on Jan. 18, in which the Patriots were accused of somehow getting underinflated balls on the field during the first half, perhaps as a way for quarterback Tom Brady to get a better grip. The Patriots have denied any wrongdoing, but because of the controversy, the protocol likely will be reviewed by the league’s competition committee during the offseason, Blandino said.

For the Super Bowl, each team provides 54 balls, which they are free to practice with and break in before Friday, when all of them are handed over to the league. At that point veteran Chicago Bears equipment manager Tony Medlin will take charge of the balls, Blandino said.

On Sunday, three hours before kickoff, the game balls will be delivered to the officials’ locker room, where they will be inspected. Then the balls will be returned to Medlin, who will bring them to the field and give them to ball attendants.

Asked whether officials will test balls mid-game, as they did on Jan. 18 after receiving a complaint, Blandino said there were no such plans. “If a situation comes up, we’ll adjust, but we’re just going to go through the normal protocol,” he said.