The best game of the weekend wasn’t the contest between the Patriots and New York Giants on Sunday — it was the game of “Catch Me If You Can” contested on Friday and Saturday, featuring NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, league spokesman Greg Aiello, Sen. Arlen Specter and some assistant golf pro working the greens at a country club in Hawaii.
Reports out of Boston Saturday claimed that a member of the Patriots’ video staff taped a walkthrough practice of the St. Louis Rams prior to Super Bowl XXXVI, a game in which the Rams, a two-touchdown favorite, were upset by the Patriots 20-17. The NFL, which has already fined Belichick and the Patriots $750,000 and stripped the team of a first-round draft pick for videotaping an opponent’s sideline, sent Aiello out to do damage control. And try as I might, I still can’t stop laughing every time I read Aiello’s line, even 48 hours later:
“We were aware of the rumor months ago and looked into it. There was no evidence of it on the tapes or in the notes produced by the Patriots, and the Patriots told us it was not true.”
Hang on … let’s check that again. Did he really use, as an explanation for pursuing no further investigation of the Patriots’ illegal spying activities, these words: “The Patriots told us it was not true”?
Well, there it is! Open and shut! I mean, what more need is there for investigation, when the defendants in the accusation say they didn’t do it? Can you imagine Goodell or Aiello on the bench in the Scott Peterson case three years ago?
Peterson: “I didn’t do it.”
Judge Roger: “Not guilty! Now let’s destroy all the evidence we have in the case so no one ever looks at it again!”
Or how about President Goodell, instead?
Osama bin Laden: “I did not order the attacks.”
President Goodell: “The man said he did not order the attacks! Cancel the Afghanistan invasion!”
You know, if the commish had been in charge back in 1970, Charlie Manson wouldn’t be rotting in Corcoran today — he’s been saying he didn’t do it for nearly 40 years!
The hilarity of the NFL’s explanation aside, to both the media and to Sen. Specter, who is demanding answers as to why Goodell ordered the videotapes surrendered by the Patriots destroyed, the revelation that New England may have cheated during its previous championship seasons could be absolutely devastating to a league that has prided itself on its integrity. While baseball suffered through a steroids era enabled by administrators and owners who conveniently looked away as needles punctured posteriors on a nightly basis, the NFL thumped its chest about its testing program and harsh punishments for cheaters. Now, however, the league’s premiere franchise may be on its way toward Chicago Black Sox status, depending on how much dirt the club’s former video staffers are willing to turn over.
Matt Walsh, the Patriots’ video assistant-turned-golf club pro, suggests that he has information that would have blown the lid off the Patriots’ dynastic run long before the team was busted for videotaping the New York Jets’ sideline in September. He has chosen not to go public, but if pressed by Congress or by a subpoena, he may have evidence that Goodell couldn’t destroy in his blatant attempt at protecting his league’s brand.
At the very least, we now know the scope of the NFL’s “investigation” of the Patriots when Goodell was barking loudly about what he called New England’s “calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules … and promote honest competition.”
That is, there was no investigation. The NFL never talked to Walsh, nor any other video staffers about what they’d been ordered to tape, and the only “evidence” they got from the Patriots was what the club chose to offer: six videotapes and some accompanying notes from the 2006 season.
But what about the ’05 season? Or any of the team’s three Super Bowl championship seasons? Perhaps a real investigation into the team’s videotape procedures during that time period would have brought the allegations about the Rams’ walkthrough to light, thus avoiding the embarrassment of this weekend.
But Goodell didn’t want evidence. In fact, he wanted evidence destroyed so that his league’s shiny image would remain intact.
Then again, maybe this is all for nothing. After all, the Patriots said they didn’t do it.