by Scott Benson

The cat seems to have gotten the tongues of Chris Mortensen’s ‘league sources’ as the week has progressed, but that’s only cleared the way for some of the NFL’s biggest stars – including noted clean-livers like Brett Favre and Michael Strahan – to jump in on the hi-tech lynching of Pats coach Bill Belichick.

Also jumping on the pile were Hines Ward of the Steelers and Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio, who just happened to find convenient excuses for their own past failings in the growing controversy.

Lastly, the group that believes it has been most aggrieved by Belichick – the self-entitled, self-important media both locally and nationally – has had ample opportunity to devote themselves completely to what has always been their highest priority: revenge.

Let’s review for a moment what we know.

According to this Wednesday report from the New York Daily News, the security staff of the New York Jets apparently stopped a Patriots video assistant and attempted to confiscate his video camera as he tried to enter the New England locker room at halftime of Sunday’s game in the Meadowlands. League officials and Patriots security were on the scene as well, and according to the report, an argument raged for as much as an hour before the NFL took custody of the camera and the tape contained within it.

Clearly, we can assume the incident resulted in a formal complaint to the league by the Jets. It’s hard to imagine we’d still be talking about this – and that league spokesman Greg Aiello would have made any statement at all – if there wasn’t.

Everything – everything – we think we ‘know’ from that point is based on ESPN’s Chris Mortensen (he of the ‘Vick Will Not Be Indicted’ stories this summmer), NFL Network’s Adam Schefter, CNNSI’s Don Banks and their ‘league sources’, who, when they aren’t floating in the bottom of a highball glass in the luxury suites of the RCA Dome, happen to serve on the league’s Competition Committee.

Aiello made a brief statement on Tuesday night following a Mortensen report that Commissioner Roger Goodell had found the Patriots guilty of recording the defensive signals of Jets coaches and could render a severe penalty to New England as early as Friday. The statement denied the Mortensen report and indicated that no decision had been reached. The league has remained silent on the matter ever since.

Unfortunately, few have followed their lead. Naturally, there hasn’t been a lot of distinction between what we ‘know’ and what we ‘think’, or in some cases, what we ‘hope’. Everything’s been in bounds this week, to the extent that NESN sports anchor Hazel Mae repeatedly referred to the NFL’s “decision” and the Patriots “guilt” in her Wednesday evening reports, though according to the league, no such decision had been yet arrived at, and no such guilt had been yet established.

But ol’ Mae was pretty restrained, when compared to most of her colleagues around the nation, and predictably, around New England itself. And as players began their work week yesterday, preparing for games this Sunday, some of the league’s brightest (or maybe dimmest) lights began to comment on the controversy, and in doing so, joined Mae and her brethren in attempts to save Goodell the trouble of actually taking the matter under advisement at all.

The verdict? Guilty. The Patriots organization is guilty of cheating their way to three world championships. Belichick, the center of the controversy (to the extent that he found it necessary to apologize to the entire organization on Wednesday), is guilty of chicanery over the last three decades. The players are guilty of leveraging an unfair advantage to successes they quite likely never would have achieved without it.

The only thing missing was a threatened lawsuit by the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

It has been pure hysteria, fueled once again by a muddleheaded mainstream media that has been jumping through its ass since the early 70’s just for the privilege of being called ‘Woodstein!” by Ben Bradlee. It has been pure farce, fueled once again by a thick tongued, barely literate mainstream media that would rather be first than be right, would rather be edgy than educated, would rather be recognized than responsible.

It has been shameful, fueled once again by craven opportunists who saw only the chance even a score and excuse themselves from the spotlight that Belichick and his Patriots had once left simmering on them, though through their actions on the field, and not in the court of public opinion.

So let’s take roll call, shall we? Because what goes around surely ought to come around. The media shouldn’t be the only ones schooled in taking a number.

First we have Brett Favre, followed quickly by Michael Strahan, citing serious concern about the ethics of the situation. Joseph Ethics, founder of modern ethics (okay I’m making that up), spun wildly in his grave at the comments of this odd coupling of philosophers. However, having seen their collaborative efforts in the past, William Irony, founder of modern irony, rested comfortably.

Next, we have Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers, an impartial observer, who immediately contended (for about the fiftieth freaking time) that the Steelers, and not the Patriots, were the real AFC Champion in 2001. Heard it before, Hines. Ward, all football player between the lines, is apparently a sniveling weasel outside them.

Next up is Jack Del Rio, coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who (just a coincidence I suspect) chose to reflect on his 2005 playoff loss to the Patriots and – given what we now ‘know’- raise his eyebrows over mysteriously malfunctioning communications equipment at Gillette. Jack stopped shot of mentioning the delay in that playoff game while league officials labored to correct the problem, before ordering BOTH TEAMS to put away the gear until it could be fixed. Del Rio, once a fearless NFL linebacker, has apparently morphed into a mouse – a simpering, excuse making mouse.

But the opportunists who thrust themselves under halos while dancing on the perceived grave of a superior rival were nothing compared to the media that leapt on this chance to get even with Belichick for never once kissing their ass, despite their antiquated expectation that they are entitled to nothing less.

The examples are too many to mention. My index finger is on the 15 day disabled list from all the links I clicked on (and then slammed shut) over the last four days. The common thread among all of them was the profuse use of “if its true”, and “they could” and “might be” and every equivocation under the sun, though in each case, the qualifier was quickly followed by harsh, brutal judgment that wasn’t qualified at all. In any respect of the word.

One that sticks out, though, was written by former Herald columnist Howard Bryant, now working for ESPN, the home of angry, sloppy drunk ‘league sources’. In a Wednesday column, Howard led the field, now crowded less than 24 hours later, by creating a sidewalk hustler shell game by claiming that unless Goodell came down on the Patriots, and hard, he would forever be branded a patsy of Patriots owner Robert Kraft. In order to be considered a strong and independent arbiter, Goodell had no choice but to dock the Patriots cash, draft picks, and even suspensions. If he didn’t, in the mind of Bryant, he was as tainted as the Pats are thought to be.

Bryant cries for justice while uncomfortably acknowledging, in a all-too-brief disclaimer, that it is still not known what, if anything, is on the tape that now sits in league headquarters. I guess it doesn’t matter, as Howard (who pithily compares Belichick to another Bryant, Kobe, he of alleged rape fame) has already decided the punishment. The evidence, in Bryant’s world, is secondary to the ‘statement’ he demands be made. A statement of fairness. A statement of justice.

Vigilante justice.

Closer to home, leading the way in their own ‘we know what’s best for you, and it damn sure isn’t Bill Belichick’ campaign, are the Seventeen Percenters on Morrisey Blvd., who saw fit to run a front page story, positioned above the fold, about how Belichick’s actions (as defined not by Goodell, of course, but by the owners of the printing press) have affected the youth of the six-state region the Globe ‘serves’. Lots of tales of abject disgust and disillusionment, as you might expect. This is the kind of thing that drives teens to despair, suicide, or even worse…..becoming Yankees fans. You have to watch that kind of stuff – that’s the next generation of Yawkey Way customers we’re talking about here. Who will speak for the children?

Naturally, the Seventeen Percenters summoned Mom, otherwise known as sports columnist Jackie MacMullan, to write a finger-wagging, tsk-tsk of a column that asked, plaintively, why? How about we start with ‘what’, Jackie? As in ‘what’ you know, today, as you write the column?

Ah, why wait? We know he’s guilty, even if Goodell doesn’t. After all, as Jim Donaldson said, it’s all in the delivery. We might be entitled to forgive a lovable rogue like Ron Meyer, regardless of his folksy transgression. But a surly despot like Belichick? Hang him, and while he’s twisting there, remind everyone – he brought it all on himself. He could have given us the access we wanted, filled out notebooks with every juicy, catty detail we craved, the respect we deserve, but instead, he dismissed us. Us! Us, who fill their stadium seats, us, who sell their merchandise, us, who buttress their charitable endeavors. Us, who MAKE them.

And Bill Belichick is the arrogant one.

Finally, I leave you this afternoon with a tidbit from Jessica Heslam, media reporter for the Boston Herald (which hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory here either, with its cartoonish photoshops and screaming headlines), who described the scene at Belichick’s terse meeting with the press on Wednesday:

One smiling, beat reporter sat with his laptop open with a picture of Richard Nixon in the background facing toward the podium where Belichick was speaking, according to a locker room spy.

Nixon, huh? That’s funny, I was just reading the Thursday article from a local beat reporter, and damn if he didn’t mention Nixon too. Come to think of it, he hasn’t always been friendly to Belichick or the Patriots. He seems like kind of a pain in the ass, frankly, one of these guys who seems to always be reaching for something to be negative about. Maybe I should just go ahead and name him, since he’s really made no effort to, you know, get along. What’s my incentive for waiting until I have some sort of factual basis to go on? I might be inclined to forgive this sort of thing – or at least defend the concept of due process – if he had just played ball a little bit. But eff him – he did it to himself. So here goes.

It’s……it’s……it’s pathetic, is what it is.