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Cheating returns just in time for Super Bowl 42

I really dislike the term "Spygate." In fact, adding the word "gate" to any supposed conspiracy or act of wrongdoing seems to trivialize news reports on such subjects. It makes them sound about as mature as all the "Bennifer" or "Bradjelina" stories we get shoved in our collective faces. Sports journalism seems to have officially fallen into the gutter along with Ryan Seacrest and the E! Channel.

I mean seriously, how else do you explain the last two days? Stories are breaking left and right that the Patriots, the supposedly greatest team since Jesus and the Disciples, have been cheating for years, and even cheated prior to winning their first Super Bowl against the Rams in 2002. All these stories breaking less than 72 hours from Super Bowl 42, where the Pats are looking to make history.

Likely, most of you out there have what most Patriots fans don't have: A life. So, for all of you, I'll give you a quick recap:

  • It started Friday afternoon when respected Republican Senator Arlen Specter called on Roger Goodell to appear before congress and explain why Goodell and the NFL destroyed all the tapes the Patriots made when they were cheating. These tapes came into the NFL's possession after Bill Belichick was caught cheating against the NY Jets in Week One. Goodell said he would appear before congress, but made his position on the Pats cheating very clear:
  • Late Friday afternoon, a source surfaces that many reporters have desperately sought to name since Belichick was caught cheating back in September. His name is Matt Walsh, a former employee of the Patriots from 1996 to 2003. Walsh worked in the Patriots video department, and has finally gone on record to state that the Patriots have been doing this kind of cheating for a while. Walsh went on to say that the NFL did not try to contact him as they were attempting to get to the bottom of the Patriots cheating scandal.
  • Saturday, a story breaks from the Boston Herald that the Patriots taped the St. Louis Rams' private walk through prior to their legendary Super Bowl meeting, won by a last second FG by our own Adam Vinatieri (then with the Pats). For those of who who don't know what a "walk through" is, it's when the team comes out and "walks through" their game plan for a game. There are no helmets or pads, but players line-up in formations and simulate how they will run their offense or defense. To tape such a walk through is 1) So against legal rules it isn't even funny, and 2) Provides the other team with a tremendous competitive advantage. They can see which formations have certain personnel, and where that personnel will be after the ball is snapped.
It's a whirlwind, I know. And though I often take shots at good old Greggggggg Easterbrook at ESPN, his write-up on the recent events surrounding the Patriots is the most complete of any out there. I also have to acknowledge that, unlike all the noted hacks out there (Peter King, ESPN's entire online staff, etc.) Greggggggg was the only one still harping on Belichick's cheating well after Goodell's punishment. Gregggg even got a scolding from ESPN's ombudsman, a scolding that ombudsman needs to now apologize for, because Gregggg was indeed right to keep harping on the story, as these recent revelations show.

So, why did all this come out now? Gregggggg explains:

So, if you are a New England supporter, or simply a sports fan, wondering, "Why is all this coming out right before the Super Bowl?" the answer is, "Because the NFL would not answer the questions until Goodell was in front of the media this week." Some of this information might have emerged weeks or months ago, had the NFL not acted as if there were something to hide on the tapes.
Did the Patriots win this game by cheating?

So, what do we make of all this?

Well, I said earlier this year, after Belichick was caught cheating (again, not "spygate"; call it what it is: Cheating), that the 2007 season was a tainted season for the Patriots. If they go 19-0, good for them. The season might as well have a * next to it for in the eyes of most fans the 1972 Dolphins will still be considered the best team in pro football history. You see, when you get caught cheating, it taints everything you accomplished before getting caught and everything after. It's why, for most NFL fans, Shawne Merriman is a running joke. It's why we all laugh collectively when we see the NFL pathetically try and market this 'roided up loser to us.

But what's at stake here is not the 2007 season. 2007 is already a lost cause. Even if the Giants somehow shock the world and beat the Patriots, the 2007 season has been an utter disaster for the NFL. Superficial idiots will point to record ratings and attendance at games and say I'm wrong. Sorry guys, but when you have Pacman-gate, Dog-gate, and Spy-gate all happen in one season, it leaves a big, fat black mark on the face of your league. Add to this the fact that a team caught cheating has a chance to go 19-0, and football starts to look more and more like Major League Baseball by the second.

As a fan, the person who comes off looking really skeezy here is Goodell. It's possible guys like Matt Walsh are blowing smoke out of their ass; that Goodell is right in saying this is something that only happened this season. But if Goodell is wrong, he should be fired on the spot, because fans are going revolt. If it is proven that the Pats did indeed cheat in their Super Bowl against the Rams, and that they've cheated all throughout the Belichick era, it taints not just the Patriots organization, but the entire NFL.

What this creates is the perception that Goodell and the NFL destroyed this material so as to cover up any repercussions against the league. Whether true or not seems irrelevant at this point, and based on Easterbrook's column, the amount of material destroyed (only six tapes, none older than 2006) makes the hush-hush, no comment stance of the NFL all the more puzzling. As Easterbrook states:

Goodell's remarks were puzzling in several respects. First, if the Patriots were guilty only of occasional sideline taping, this would seem to merit a letter of reprimand. So why were the Patriots hit with the harshest fine in NFL history? When the scandal first broke, Goodell used extremely strong language about New England's sins. Now, he was implying the whole thing was no big deal.

Next, Goodell did not clarify whether the league had asked only for sideline tapes taken during games or whether this was all the Patriots volunteered. If New England gave the league only video taken from the sidelines during games, plus notes developed from such videos, there would be no evidence of really serious cheating, such as clandestine taping of other teams' walk-throughs.

Finally, Goodell declared that the materials the league destroyed contained no evidence of Super Bowl cheating. But the material went back only to 2006. The Patriots' Super Bowl wins came in 2002, 2004 and 2005. Of course the material contained no evidence of Super Bowl cheating! Did the league ask just for materials dating to 2006, or was that all the Patriots volunteered? Either way, it is more than curious that the league inspected one tape from this season and the rest, materials from a year when the Patriots did not appear in a Super Bowl.

Roger has some explaining to do, big time.

Listen, the league has been in bed with the Pats all season, starting with their deal at Gillette Stadium to their marketing around New England's potential undefeated season. It has been an uncomfortable deal for us fans from the beginning. Knowing all this, it gives people like Goodell a good motive to sweep the "Jets, Lies, and Videotape" under the rug and hope fans forget about it.

As a Colts fan, I already feel pretty cheated about the whole thing, and it stems farther than all this videotaping crap. In 2003, Rodney Harrison played huge in an AFC Championship Game between the Colts and Pats. He intercepted Manning in the endzone, and was in on numerous big plays. It came out earlier this season that Rodney had shot up with HGH prior to the game. This means he cheated, tainting his accomplishments in the game, and the game itself. He took the HGH so he could heal faster and play. Without the HGH, he likely would not have been on the field, and Indy would have won. Rodney did the same thing again in 2004; another Pats playoff victory over Indy.

Stuff like this bothers me, but eventually you get over it. And, whether Pats fans know it or not, their championships in 2003 and 2004 are indeed tainted because of Rodney's antics. And if it is determined that they did all this videotaping during those games, it taints them even further. I could get all red faced and pissed off, but life is too short, and football (while great) is just not worth it.

The fallout from all these recent discoveries could end up being nothing. Matt Walsh could be a disgruntled employee just making crap up to diminish whatever accomplishments the Patriots will make tomorrow. It's likely the networks will make passing mention of the allegations, but spend most of the time lauding Belichick, Brady, and the Patriots "dynasty." However, if these allegations are true, and Belichick has been cheating for as long as Walsh and others have suggested (including against the Rams in the Super Bowl), the consequences for the NFL are damning. Forget Belichick, who if found guilty of all this better not set foot anywhere west of the Mass Turnpike, it's the league that could be tarnished forever if this stuff is true.

As with all things, I'm willing to wait this out and see what comes. One thing is for sure: Goodell is a damn fool if he thought we fans were going to forget Belichick's cheating and its impact of the NFL. Fans forget nothing. And woe betide Mr. Goodell if he tried to cover something up from us, his paying customers. Surprisingly, Greggggg sums it up perfectly at the end of his article:

When news of the second act of Spygate hit the sports world Friday, there was considerable backlash. Many radio and TV analysts initially reacted angrily, as if to say, "This is our private universe. In our private universe, everything is perfect. Keep reality out." But if you love athletic competition, if you want sports to be important and generate lots of money and attention, the games must be honest. Any indication of dishonesty should be deeply unsettling.