Mike Kensil was the “main source” for ESPN’s inflammatory and ultimately incorrect report that 11 of 12 Patriots footballs used in the first half of the AFC Championship Game “were inflated significantly below the NFL's requirements”, reported WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan Show this morning.
On Jan. 25, I first reported that Kensil, the NFL’s Vice President of Game Operations was the driving force behind the investigation.
Kensil was the Jets director of operations for nearly 20 years. His tenure overlapped Bill Parcells (and Bill Belichick’s) time with the Jets and he would have been part of a Jets front office incensed by Belichick’s 2000 resignation as Jets head coach.
Kensil’s tenure with the Jets ended in 2006, the same year Bill Belichick disciple Eric Mangini became coach of the Jets.
Kensil suspected the Patriots of tampering with footballs long before the AFC Championship Game, a source told me.
Kensil was probing as far back as last summer. The Wells Report backed up the notion there was widespread suspicion in the form of an email from Colts equipment man Sean Sullivan, who wrote “it is well known around the league that after the Patriots gameballs are checked by the officials and brought out for game usage the ballboys for the patriots will let out some air with a ball needle because their quarterback likes a smaller football so he can grip it better, it would be great if someone would be able to check the air in the game balls as the game goes on so that they don’t get an illegal advantage.”
That email, sent to Colts GM Ryan Grigson, was forwarded to Kensil and Dave Gardi, another VP of Game Operations. The email – sent by a workaday guy handing out cleats and footballs – would give terrific cover for anyone in the league who had skin in the game or long-standing suspicions they wanted to act upon.
Kensil’s reported reaction at halftime of the game was that of a man who’d caught someone red-handed.
Greg Bedard of Sports Illustrated wrote in May after release of the Wells Report, “After the Colts informed the league, all 11 of the Patriots’ balls were inspected and found to be below the allowable level. Patriots sources are steadfast—and their belief was conveyed to the league, according to a source—that Mike Kensil, the NFL’s VP of game operations, walked up to Patriots equipment manager Dave Schoenfeld on the sideline after halftime and said, “We weighed the balls. You are in big f------ trouble.” New England and Kraft thought this incident, and others, showed bias by the league and would be explored in the Wells report. But the Patriots’ theories (including another in which they believed the Colts deflated the intercepted ball) were tossed aside, with the report simply calling the sideline interaction a difference in recollection.
The “11 of 12” report was born on the Wednesday evening after the AFC Championship Game. It inferred a calculated effort by the Patriots to deflate footballs since, at that time, the media and general public wasn’t considering the fact inflated items lose pressure in cool weather. And the concept of “two pounds per square inch” sounded like a lot. Anyone who has by now squeezed a football inflated to 10.5 PSI and one that’s at 12.5 realizes the difference is barely discernible. (here is one of about 2,743 videos of demonstrating the difference)
The faulty information passed to ESPN aligned with the bad info that Gardi sent to the Patriots earlier in the week.
“The inspection, which involved each ball being inspected twice with different gauges, revealed that none of the Patriots’ game balls were inflated to the specifications required under Rule 2, Section 1,” Gardi wrote in an email to Robert Kraft. “In fact, one of the game balls was inflated to 10.1 psi, far below the requirement of 12-1/2 to 13-1⁄2 psi. In contrast, each of the Colts’ game balls that was inspected met the requirements set forth above.”
As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk pointed out, “The Wells report notes that not a single measurement of any of the New England footballs reflected a PSI reading of 10.1. In fact, only one measurement of one football was as low as 10.5 PSI. The Wells report also points out that Gardi’s comments about the Colts’ game balls was not accurate. On one of the two gauges used to test the footballs, THREE of the four Colts balls tested were UNDER the limit of 12.5 PSI.”
The Patriots later took up this inaccuracy and the media leaks with the NFL’s head lawyer Jeff Pash, who was part of the Wells Investigation and edited the Wells Report, Pash was dismissive.
“With respect to the internal matters that you have identified in your email,” wrote Pash on Feb. 6, “I think the Commissioner has been unequivocal in saying that the league office has made no judgments and reached no conclusions about why the footballs were under-inflated and who [if anyone] was responsible for that. I have repeated that as well. But I will state again -- There are no prejudgments. There are no presumptions of wrongdoing. We are taking seriously the explanations offered by Coach Belichick and others and are committed to giving them thorough and objective consideration. I am quite certain that I speak for the Commissioner in this respect I know the Commissioner is as displeased by the media activity as you and others are.”
Yet nothing was done by the league to tamp down the hysteria caused by the “11 of 12” report from ESPN. I asked Pash about that in San Francisco on the day the Patriots accepted reluctantly their punishment from the NFL.
After telling me he was amused that I described him as Goodell’s “lead nut-twister in an earlier column,” Pash agreed that Mortensen’s 11 of 12 report was “a flashpoint” but, Pash added, “All the information did get out, including the correct numbers.”
“Four months later,” I countered.
“There were a lot of things that were out there that weren’t accurate,” said Pash.
It was enough of a “flashpoint” that, on Wednesday, Kraft made it a central part of his tirade against the league office.
The Patriots irritation is, was and always will be with the people on the ground in Foxboro and those who led the Wells Investigation. They are the ones the team believes carried out this hit on their franchise and their quarterback’s reputation.
I saw Kensil in March at the Owners Meetings. We had been cordial over the years but never gotten past "How you doing...?"
"I am so pissed at you," Kensil hissed at me during a cocktail party at the Biltmore in Arizona. "Why," I asked. "Tell me what I got wrong." "I can't even speak," he said. "When this is over, we'll talk."