Earlier today, a report from ESPN's Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham detailed the connection between Spygate and Deflategate. Though it's a lengthy piece and largely just a re-telling of what we already knew, it is worth a read and is laced with some interesting new information and the backdrop of Deflategate as we look back at Spygate.
In short, the article explores the long-held beliefs of other NFL teams that the Patriots cheat, and explained how when New England was actually caught cheating in 2007, commissioner Roger Goodell was perceived as having covered it up and going easy on the team, something that has resonated among owners and team executives since then. Because of that, Goodell saw Deflategate as an opportunity to come down hard on the Patriots essentially as a make-up call for Spygate, according to some people in the league.
You can give it a read to get into all of that even more, but like I mentioned, a lot of it is a re-telling of the Spygate story that we already knew, added in with a few new details. And one such detail - one that had been assumed by many but, to the best of my knowledge, had never been declared - pertains to the Indianapolis Colts. That is, that the Patriots videotaped the Colts' offensive signals.
The cameramen's assignments differed depending on the opponent. For instance, [Patriots videographer Matt] Walsh told investigators that against Indianapolis he was directed to take close-ups of the Colts' offensive signals, then of Peyton Manning's hand signals. Mostly, though, the tapes were of defensive signals. Each video sequence would usually include three shots: the down and distance, the signal, and, as an in-house joke, a tight shot of a cheerleader's top or skirt. The tape was then often edited, sources say, so that [Bill Belichick's personal assistant Ernie] Adams' copy contained only the signals, in rapid fire, one after another. According to investigators, Walsh once asked Adams, "Are the tapes up to standards?"
"You're doing a good job," Adams said. "But make sure that you get everyone who's giving signals, even dummy signals."
Considering the fact that the videotaping seemed to be a pretty extensive project and span a number of years, we don't really know at what point the Patriots were videotaping Manning's signals, but it is well-known that the Patriots were the Colts' biggest obstacle to making it to and winning more Super Bowls in the early 2000s, this will raise some red flags for Colts fans. What this shows us is that the Patriots were cheating against the Colts long before the (alleged) deflating of footballs in last year's AFC Championship game.
At the same time, however, you can count me among the group that is skeptical how much of an advantage stealing Manning's signals would have to the Patriots. Stealing defensive signals is one thing - it gives the offensive coordinator plenty of time to relay the opposing team's play in to the quarterback. But for stealing Manning's hand signals to provide an actual advantage, someone on the defense would need to be well-versed enough in studying the signals that he could adjust the defense on the fly on the field. It's entirely possible, but I find it much less likely to impact a game than videotaping defensive signals, for instance.
Regardless of how much of an effect it had on the games, it's still cheating, and knowing what I do of Bill Polian and Peyton Manning, they'd be very upset no matter what level of impact it had on the game. Even if it had zero impact, the Colts still would not have been happy about it - and that's an understatement. Maybe that background is part of the reason why Manning was always so cautious and paranoid when visiting Gillette Stadium to face the Patriots.