Patriot Games

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“The Patriots have fully cooperated and complied with the requirements of the commissioner’s decision. All tapes, documents and other records relating to this matter were turned over to the league office and destroyed, and the Patriots have certified in writing that no copies or other records exist. League policies on in-game videotaping and audio communication will continue to be closely monitored and strictly enforced with all 32 teams.” NFL Spokesman Gary Aielllo – September 20, 2007

That’s an excerpt from a statement released by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office yesterday afternoon. Let the record show, I called it.

I won’t bother you by rehashing the details of the spy game, Bill Belicheck and our New England Patriots became enmeshed in when former Pats Defensive Coordinator Eric Mangini dropped a dime on his former employer. We all know the particulars and have heard the conspiracy theories shouted from grassy knoll to book depository. When word came down last week that Goodell had reviewed the details of that surrendered tape and had levied major fines against the coach and the team, as well as yanked a Number One Draft Pick away from a team that has built its success on the backs of Number One Draft Picks (and one lucky Number 6), I figured the story was over.

Then, mere hours before the Pats would take the home turf to face the San Diego Chargers in a game that had invited playoff caliber media attention, the word dropped that the NFL was continuing its investigation. When read on paper, the situation seemed dire. Multiple sources reported that Goodell had ordered that the Patriots turn over all videotapes, documentation and notes related to any espionage activity and that if they did not comply, there would be staggering repercussions. At first blush, it seemed as if Goodell was relenting to criticism that he wasn’t tough enough on Belicheck – that the Coach should be suspended. We all worried. When would the other shoe drop?

As I posted in Sean’s Blog, I saw Bob Costas interview Goodell at the Pats-Chargers half time and I realized by his tone that all he is doing is posturing. He was saying what needed to be said (letting everyone know that he was going to take a hard line approach) while secretly, as I began to suspect, he simply wanted this all to go away. Although some members of the mainstream media apparently suffer from extreme naiveté (an ailment that surprisingly afflicts large numbers of sports media and NFL insiders including loud mouth running backs), the fact is coaches and teams in the NFL will bend and push rules as far as they can go to gain an edge. It is what it is. The technology may have changed, but the tactics have remained the same.

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Don’t for an instant think that NFL corporate had no idea this type of gamesmanship was being practiced in the league. They turned a blind eye to it and would have continued doing so had Mangini not run home to tell Mom. That done, and the allegations leaked to the mainstream media, Goodell had no alternative but to act. And he acted appropriately, coming down hard but not going too far. He knows that should he perform a full sweep of the Pats then he is going to have to do the same throughout the league and what he uncovers could prove disastrous to the league’s PR. We already have one NBA. We don’t need another.

Anyone that doubted Goodell’s intentions, just had to ponder his order. “Turn over everything that has to do with spying.” How do you enforce that? If you don’t know what they have – or what you are looking for – then you don’t know if you have received everything. It’s an empty threat that only seems pregnant with possibility.

I wouldn’t be surprised if in Belichek’s meeting, Goodell mapped the whole thing out. “I’m gonna’ hit you and the team with a stiff fine. I’m gonna’ take a Draft pick. I’m going to hold you up as an example. I’m going to issue an edict that you turn over everything you have. But I’m not going to suspend you. It’s bad for the league if we start kicking these closets open.” Who knows how many Pac-Man Joneses would come spilling out.

I called that yesterday and this morning, as evidenced by that lead quote, I discover that I’m right. As I said in Sean’s post, I think Goodell doesn’t have to act unless someone presents undeniable evidence proving more wrong doings. So Belichek just needs to stay squeaky clean and he should be all set. If Bill throws Estrella back on the field again, or wires the stadium with Nanny Cams and Baby Monitors, than it’s a whole new world of hurt. He’s smarter than that.

I know there has been a lot of talk about the Patriots legacy being tarnished. Again, that’s naiveté at work. If people stopped and really thought about it, what did they do wrong? They simply gathered info in a bid to assemble a database on coaching tendencies so that they had a DNA footprint of coaches as they moved through the league. They’re in the business of war and they are simply gathering intel on the enemy by any means necessary (within reason).

That said, they didn’t crack the code that somehow provides clairvoyant advice to the players as to what play is coming up on every down. As far as I know, Chad Pennington’s Minority Report is still a mystery to all. And even if they had somehow found a way to read the tea leaves and pluck the next Hail Mary, they still have to execute the play. It’s an affront to the monster effort put forth by those talented players, our gladiators, who lay their bodies on the line week after week for our entertainment.

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There is a wide gulf between usurping authority and cheating. Cheating is scoring the Teacher’s Copy of the Final Exam and acing every question. Bill Belichek merely broke the rules. As for this tarnishing the team, its wins or its legacy – to me, it’s only tarnished in the minds of the haters anyway.

All of the noise we heard in the last week and a half was coming from the Belichek and Pats haters – disgruntled employees or fans of sad sack organizations in second-rate cities who languish under the greedy grip of owners who would rather shell out top dollar for one Franchise Player while pocketing the rest and leaving their team to barely squeak into the playoffs year after year. Teams that care more for collecting $19.95 on the Souvenir Program rather than kicking in the collaborative two cents to better their Program. Losers always hate Winners. Yes, now we know what Yankee fans feel like. Who knew it felt so good to root for Jeter!!!

It’s just a tad suspicious that these contrarian voices raised an octave after the Pats dismantled the Chargers in a week where absolutely everything the team did was under a microscope. If they were going to lose a game, it should have been that one. This should have been the Milloy/Buffalo game all over again and Tom Jackson should have appeared on ESPN saying “I told ya so. These guys hate their coach.” But that didn’t happen. With all the pressure in the world, Atlas Shrugged and the Pats dismantled the Chargers.

Surprisingly, the same industry wags that should know better, decided to grab the red light and spout off about how Belichek was still finished. Pity poor Chris Collinsworth who set himself up as this year’s Tom Jackson when he came on during the Sunday Night Football telecast and lambasted the coach for his activities and posited that if he were Goodell, he would banish Belicheck from the league indefinitely should he find any additional evidence. With my disdain for Collinsworth deeply rooted, I don’t know which I look forward to most in the post-season – The Pats Dynasty Making 4th Coronation or the Belicheck “F@$k You, Chris” to Collinsworth when he approaches the coach with his heart-felt congratulations.

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All that noise you hear is the deafening cries of jealousy over a well run program. I think Tom Brady said it best, “There are a lot of classless individuals out there.”

Well, we don’t have to listen to them.

As for the charges levied at Mangina by the Ravens, I think what we are now seeing is what we all expected – the fraternity of coaches chasing the rat from the cupboard. This is going to be a tough year for Mangina. His team is sure to be dismembered the next time the Pats run into them (who will the Jets fans cheer when Rodney Harrison turns Kellen Clemens into the next Pennington)? With Mangina inevitably out a job, and no coach willing to take a chance on a guy who will likely list their playbook on eBay should he need a new feedbag, all Mangina did was kick a raging bull and secure a future commentator spot on ESPN.

Some genius!!!

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