No, we're not quite done yet. I know a lot of people want it to be over, this untidy little scandal called Spygate, but it's not over, nor should it be. We still have plenty of questions left unanswered. But that didn't stop Roger Goodell from trying. With the simple gesture of a furrowed brow and the sly evoking of a parental prerogative, the glib and telegenic NFL commissioner couldn't make the unsettling mess of Spygate go away with a few simple words.
Essentially, the commissioner tried telling us what parents have been telling disagreeable kids for centuries. It's over because I said it's over.
"I think as I stand here today … I don't know where else I would turn," Goodell said after a 3½-hour meeting with former New England Patriots employee Matt Walsh on Tuesday morning. The commish said there were no new bombshells to drop, no surprisingly salacious tidbits to spread, no more blame to thrust upon the slightly tarnished legacy of the Patriots' dynasty or their Machiavellian head coach Bill Belichick.
However, just like those disagreeable kids, I'm not in the mood to quickly dismiss anything just yet, even though the smooth and polished commissioner stood before a room full of inquisitors in New York and tried once again to minimize the colossal damage caused to the NFL's integrity the Patriots created with the Spygate scandal.
If Spygate has come to an end, it's not because the story no longer has legs. It's only because Goodell wants it to go away. But we have tapes that conclusively tell a story that the team broke the rules. We have a coach and an organization that has repeatedly lied before, and now they deserve our suspicions that they probably are lying again when they say they didn't understand rules so clear-cut and simply worded that only a blind man or a fool would misinterpret them.
So let's begin with the first lie and see how it keeps us in a distrustful mood. We're supposed to believe that the genius, Belichick, can read the most elaborate offenses and defenses in football history, but can't read simple English in the NFL rulebook?
In September 2006, the NFL sent out a memo to all teams reinforcing the NFL rule prohibiting video spying. In that memo, the NFL's senior vice president for football operations, Ray Anderson, wrote: "Video taping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent's offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches' booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game."
How exactly can you misinterpret that?
How did he read that memo and think it was OK to covertly tape other teams? Even Goodell said he never believed Belichick's version. So why should we believe him now when the organization issued a statement saying essentially that they are vindicated, and in previous comments told us that Belichick never used any of the confiscated tapes improperly?
Why should we believe him when he says the tapes were only intended to be used against division rivals on their second meeting of the season when there were tapes of the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers and Cleveland Browns, none of whom play in the AFC East? Listening to the various versions of Belichick's "truth," I half expected him to trot notorious old boxing promoter Bob Arum as a team spokesman.
"Yesterday I was lying. Today I'm telling the truth."
Of course there is more to this story, but we might never get to the truth, because it's clear that Belichick isn't the only one whose nose is growing. I don't doubt the Boston Herald's original honest efforts in reporting that the Patriots videotaped the St. Louis Rams' walk-through before the 2002 Super Bowl. Their reporting wasn't fabricated. They didn't just create this story out of thin air. So we have to assume that Walsh (assuming he was the source) was either embellishing his story back then or is he lying now when he told the commissioner there were no videos of that walk-through.
Yes, you better believe somebody's still lying, and it's probably more than one somebody. And even if the Rams were foolish enough to allow Walsh, who was fully dressed in Patriots gear, to roam their sidelines during that Saturday walk-through and have access to their final pregame preparation, please don't try to blame the victims for the scandal. That's like blaming a sexual assault on the victim for dressing too provocatively.
History tells us that we can't trust that the Patriots or Belichick won't bend the rules and break the rules to get any edge possible. So you have to know that all these tapes were being done for the purpose of gaining an unfair competitive edge. If the video wasn't intended to be used during the game, why was Walsh gathering all that information on teams they weren't expecting to meet again? If it wasn't going to be used illegally, why go through the deliberate instructions to Walsh to keep his actions surreptitious?
So no, this story is not over, not even a little bit, no matter how much the commissioner, the Patriots and even some earnest members of the media want it to go away. We need to continue to keep a suspicious eye on them, because they deserve every bit of our misgivings. Spygate is an everlasting stain. It won't ruin the franchise or its great accomplishments, it won't turn Belichick into a phony genius, but it will leave an indelible pockmark that can't be ignored.
No matter what was achieved in the past, and what becomes of the future, the price that must be paid for this scandal is a slight distortion of the Patriots' dynastic legacy.