Spygate and the New England Patriots: Much Ado About Nothing

Max IasconeSenior Analyst IMay 9, 2008

Since the beginning of February, Patriots fans have been left to twist in the wind amidst the hurricane of rumors, speculation, and innuendo brought on by the allegations of former video assistant Matt Walsh.

Two days ago, the spygate scandal came to a head when Walsh sent NFL commissioner Roger Goodell eight videotapes of other teams' signals, dating back to 2000, when Belichick first arrived in New England. One of these tapes was made during the AFC Championship game against the Steelers.

However, the much ballyhooed tape of the St.Louis Rams' walkthrough before the '01 Super Bowl was conspicuously absent from Walsh's stash of tapes. Rumors of the existence of this tape have run rampant among many less reputable sources of media (*cough* *cough* John Tomase *cough* *cough*) since Walsh went public with his accusations in February.

It is now apparent that this tape never existed, and that any accusations of foul play on the part of the Patriots during that Super Bowl were misguided and untrue.

All Matt Walsh had to do was issue a statement saying that he didn't have any tape of the Rams. The rumor would have died a quiet and uneventful death right then and there.

Instead, he sat back and watched as a weightless and invalid rumor was allowed to make the rounds among the media. To me, this whole sordid affair reeks of a bitter nobody (Walsh was fired by the Patriots in 2003 after illegally taping conversations between himself and VP of football operations Scott Pioli. Needless to say, there was bad blood there) looking for his 15 minutes of fame, and by the looks of things, he has succeeded beyond any reasonable expectations.

Then again, Walsh did have tapes, and although they were nothing new, I cannot rush to premature judgement on this issue. Who knows? Perhaps Walsh made his accusation out of pure civic virtue. Maybe he had no ulterior motive for his actions.

And maybe the sky is purple and the world is flat. Maybe Pacman Jones is just misunderstood.

But I digress. While it is true beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Patriots cheated, the tactics of Bill Belichick are not an outlier among NFL teams by any stretch of the imagination.

In the words of Bill Parcells, "If you don't expect to have your signals stolen, you're stupid."

Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson has called stealing signals a "common practice." He went on to say that "A lot of other teams around the league do it."

In light of his confession, will Roger Goodell investigate Johnson's accomplishments of the '90s? Of course not, and for a few reasons, the first and most obvious being that it is old news, just like the Super Bowl that occurred seven years ago.

Also, any cheating done by Johnson, and more to the point, Belichick, that hasn't already been punished was done under Paul Tagliabue, who did not enforce any rule banning videotaping in the nature of what the Patriots did.

Any punishment levied by Mr. Goodell in regards to anything that occurred in 2001 (even if Walsh actually had the smoking gun walkthrough tape), is moot in that he would be acting outside of his jurisdiction anyway.

The only thing that causes Belichick's actions to run afoul of league rules is a memo sent by NFL VP of Football operations Ray Anderson prior to the 2006 season, and while it is unfortunate that Belichick chose to disregard that memo, only actions that occurred after Anderson's memo should even be looked at.

So what did we learn from this trying ordeal? Well for starters, we found out that the NFL was more corrupt as an entity then previously thought. We also found out that Belichick was just one in a litany of coaches who stole signals.

One thing that seems to be lost amidst the hoopla of spygate is the fact that Roger Goodell did indeed hand out an unprecedented punishment in light of the Patriots' cheating. Before last year, a team has never lost its first-round pick due to a rule violation. Belichick himself was also fined a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

Frankly, this whole story was blown way out of proportion in this writer's opinion. Belichick went from being a great, albeit enigmatic, coach, to a cross between Stalin, Richard Nixon, and Satan.

The degree to which Bill Belichick has been demonized among the media, both freelance and mainstream, is embarrassing. 

Furthermore, it denotes not the severity of Belichick's offenses, but a lingering resentment towards the Patriots that seems to have been festering around the nation since the team went from being a lovable cinderella, to a consistent and controversial powerhouse.

Mr. Belichick did something wrong, cheated if you will, and he was quickly and succinctly punished for it. Case closed, or so I thought.