Just when you were starting to root for Tom Brady and his cheating cohorts.
Not that this should surprise you, but a massive ESPN Outside The Lines investigation by Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham reveals that, yep, the Patriots are horrible, cheating scoundrels and that Deflategate was just a way for Roger Goodell to get even after his kid-gloves handling of Spygate.
There are too many great excerpts, but here are just a few:
As the Patriots became a dynasty and Belichick became the first coach to win three Super Bowls in four years, an entire system of covert videotaping was developed and a secret library created. “It got out of control,” a former Patriots assistant coach says. Sources with knowledge of the system say an advance scout would attend the games of upcoming Patriots opponents and assemble a spreadsheet of all the signals and corresponding plays. The scout would give it to Adams, who would spend most of the week in his office with the door closed, matching the notes to the tapes filmed from the sideline. Files were created, organized by opponent and by coach. During games, Walsh later told investigators, the Patriots’ videographers were told to look like media members, to tape over their team logos or turn their sweatshirt inside out, to wear credentials that said Patriots TV or Kraft Productions. The videographers also were provided with excuses for what to tell NFL security if asked what they were doing: Tell them you’re filming the quarterbacks. Or the kickers. Or footage for a team show.
A former member of the NFL competition committee says the committee spent much of 2001-06 “discussing ways in which the Patriots cheated,” even if nothing could be proved. It reached a level of paranoia in which conspiracy theories ran wild and nothing — the notion of bugging locker rooms or of Brady having a second frequency in his helmet to help decipher the defense — was out of the realm of possibility. There were regular rumors that the Patriots had taped the Rams’ walk-through practice before Super Bowl XXXVI in February 2002, one of the greatest upsets in NFL history, a game won by the Patriots 20-17 on a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal. The rumors and speculation reached a fever pitch in 2006. Before the season, a rule was proposed to allow radio communications to one defensive player on the field, as was already allowed for quarterbacks. If it had passed, defensive signals would have been unnecessary. But it failed. In 2007, the proposal failed once again, this time by two votes, with Belichick voting against it. (The rule change passed in 2008 after Spygate broke, with Belichick voting for it.) The allegations against the Patriots prompted NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson to send a letter to all 32 team owners, general managers and head coaches on Sept. 6, 2006, reminding them that “videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited from the sidelines.”
But the Patriots kept doing it. In November 2006, Green Bay Packers security officials caught Matt Estrella shooting unauthorized footage at Lambeau Field. When asked what he was doing, according to notes from the Senate investigation of Spygate that had not previously been disclosed, Estrella said he was with Kraft Productions and was taping panoramic shots of the stadium. He was removed by Packers security. That same year, according to former Colts GM Bill Polian, who served for years on the competition committee and is now an analyst for ESPN, several teams complained that the Patriots had videotaped signals of their coaches. And so the Patriots — and the rest of the NFL — were warned again, in writing, before the 2007 season, sources say.
Goodell assured Specter that “most teams do not believe there is an advantage” from the taping, a comment contradicted by the outraged public and private remarks of many players and coaches, then and now. “Even if Belichick figured out the signals,” Goodell insisted, “there is not sufficient time to call in the play.”
The senator seethed that Goodell seemed completely uninterested in whether a single game had been compromised. He asked Goodell whether the spying might have tipped the Patriots’ Super Bowl win against the senator’s favorite team, the Eagles. Goodell said that he had spoken with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and then-head coach Andy Reid and that “both said the outcome of the [February] 2005 Super Bowl was legitimate,” an assertion contradicted by the private feelings of many senior members of the team.
When Spygate broke, some of the Eagles now believed they had an answer for a question that had vexed them since they lost to the Patriots 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX: How did New England seem completely prepared for the rarely used dime defense the Eagles deployed in the second quarter, scoring touchdowns on three of four drives? The Eagles suspected that either practices were filmed or a playbook was stolen. “To this day, some believe that we were robbed by the Patriots not playing by the rules … and knowing our game plan,” a former Eagles football operations staffer says.
A lot of this is rehashing much of what had already been reported. But, lots o’ new stuff, too. Great, impressive report from ESPN, which dropped this dandy on the best work day of the year!