By Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Staff
Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.
Commissioner Goodell is satisfied. Satisfied that the New York Jets’ tripping incident (“Thighgate” I think they’re calling it now) has been resolved fairly and judiciously, just as he was satisfied two weeks ago with the Broncos videotaping incident. He even let his old team determine their own punishment. He bravely stepped into the fray, said “OK with me” as he turned away. Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Roger.
So in both cases, a rogue employee acted alone, and each met with the kind of swift justice you see only in Sheriff Goodell’s Old West. There’s a lesson here for Bill Belichick: always have a scapegoat at the ready. Taking full responsibility for what happens in your own organization? Well that just don’t fly here in Dodge City.
Spygate is never, never going away. The past few weeks prove it. Whenever one of these incidents crop up, the Patriots will always be the go-to analogy, the jumping-off point for comparison, even a target, if at all possible.
After the Denver incident, ESPN’s Mike Sando wrote “The Rams have a right to feel cheated” about Super Bowl XXXVI, because now that a former Patriot employee has been fired for a taping a walk-through, that must be proof the Patriots actually did tape the Rams’ walk-through. You know, the long, damaging, slanderous and ultimately baseless Matt Walsh investigation aside.
“I’m more comfortable removing the word allegedly,” Sando wrote, which is good, because nothing turns the wheels of justice faster than a comfortable journalist.
The next night, Mike Florio teased on NBC that his Monday notes column would explore why the league should re-open the Spygate investigation. Florio wussed out on the promise the next day, but the damage was done: the allegation was already out there, and that’s all that’s needed to advance the myth. Besides, as Florio knows all too well, nothing sparks visits to his site faster than a good “Spygate” allusion.
Even when the Patriots are being praised, Spygate is referenced. “All of a sudden, in a competitive sense, Spygate doesn’t seem so important,” Peter King wrote Monday, stating the Patriots’ amazing record from 2007 to now shows that taping defensive signals had minimal impact on the game. That’s nice of King to say, but this is exactly what Belichick said back in 2007, a claim that’s been supported by opposing coaches such as Bill Cowher. Where were you then, Peter?
Of course, King has to add this caveat:
Understand I’m not attempting to minimize what the Patriots did wrong. Roger Goodell was right to take away a first-round pick and whack the Pats $750,000 for the misdeed.
Thanks, Pete. I’m sure your steadfast allegiance is duly noted by the good commish.
Gregg Easterbrook was beyond effusive in his praise of this year’s Patriots in his column yesterday, but again, still brings it all back to Spygate:
But this being the Patriots, there’s a dark side. In 2007, Belichick admitted to years of what seemed to everyone except him as cheating. If New England returns to the Super Bowl, the sports world might have to relive Spygate — including the unresolved questions of why Belichick wouldn’t come clean until forced, and why he never really apologized. If the Patriots win this year’s Super Bowl, people might wonder if they are cheating still. Probably not, but considering the elaborate, systematic nature of their previous clandestine efforts, this can’t be ruled out. Many football enthusiasts, including in the league front office, might not mind if the Patriots are knocked off early in the playoffs, and Spygate: The Sequel doesn’t happen.
Even when he’s winning decisively, Bill Belichick can never win. He tried doing it the Colts way in 2007 – with a high-profile, overwhelming offense leaving no doubt in opponents’ minds how they were defeated – and got blamed for running up the score and not shaking coaches’ hands more convincingly for the cameras. Now he’s back with a team more reminiscent of the 2001-2004 squads, with scrappy overachievers spouting the “team” mantra, and suddenly rivals are back questioning how they got beat. “Wait a second, that guy’s not a first-round pick. They must be cheating…”
Spygate was the product of a green commissioner feeling his oats. He wanted to show who’s boss, and so he massively overreacted to a minor issue, and it’s that massive overreaction that’s given Spygate its disproportionate weight*.
* Here’s where rival fans will tell us how taping defensive signals is the sole reason for every New Cheatland Cheatriots victory under Bill Belicheat. We get it: you’re not fans. I won’t get into the vagaries of why taping signals in a non-designated area is cheating but taping them elsewhere isn’t. I’ll just say if you think that’s why your team lost, you truly don’t understand football. But still, this paragraph is devoted to you, all the way down to leading it off with an asterisk. Enjoy!
Even so, Goodell didn’t use the term “cheating” when laying down his punishment, and he even stated that it was Belichick’s dis-ingenuousness that led to the stiffer penalty:
“I think I’m pretty well on the record here. I didn’t accept Bill Belichick’s explanation for what happened and I still don’t to this day.”
This is what bothers me about the Denver and New York decisions. Maybe it’s simply Goodell finally learning his lesson and nipping these “scandals” in the bud, before they become a major waste of time, money and resources, and for which there will never be a definitive conclusion. But Goodell really took Josh McDaniels and Rex Ryan at their word?
Perhaps McDaniels didn’t know anything about Steve Scarnecchia filming the walk-through, but seriously, just a one-day investigation? That’s all you devote to a guy who tries to fashion his team after Belichick’s, controlling every facet of his organization?
By contrast, Belichick admitted filming signals was by his order, and the ones doing the filming did so right out in the open in team gear. McDaniels passes the buck, and Goodell takes it on its face.
And Ryan, who claimed no knowledge of what happened on the sideline when Nolan Carroll got tripped, is clearly lying. He watched the whole thing happen in front of him, rather than watching the ongoing return. And the Green Man Group lineup along the sideline is so clearly coached. There’s bound to be mounds of video evidence of it, and it isn’t even illegal, so why lie about it? All of a sudden, Mr. Refreshing Candor clams up.
But Denver and New York don’t meet the threshold for long, drawn-out investigations. For that recipe: take one stubborn, taciturn coach; add a vengeful media that smells blood in the water; toss in a grandstanding senator with a not-so-secret agenda to tweak the NFL toward benefiting his corporate constituency; fold in the aforementioned green commissioner with an itchy trigger finger; and mix in three Super Bowl wins.
It’s simple: Denver and New York haven’t beaten anybody in any meaningful game for over a decade (well, four decades in the Jets’ case), so nobody thinks they cheated.
I’m not even asking for penalties here. Maybe the judgments handed down are the correct ones. I just want due process, and by that I mean a season-long inquisition rife with innuendo, false accusations, and irrational proclamations, taking up every waking moment of a team’s fandom and media, the exhaustion eventually leading up to that team’s loss in the sport’s centerpiece game.
Then again, the Jets don’t play in February.