Tying up all of Spygate's loose ends
HAMILTON, N.Y. -- Notes on Spygate and lessons from a scandal, on a damp, graduation weekend at Colgate University:
Now that it's over, whom should we believe? The commissioner, Roger Goodell, doesn't believe New England coach Bill Belichick "misinterpreted'' the rules about videotaping opponents' coaching signals. Nor do I.
Belichick is the smartest coach I've ever met. I remember him showing me around the football library in his Massachusetts home a few years back (he has since turned his voluminous collection over to the Naval Academy), and I noticed "The Art of War,'' by Chinese author Sun Tzu, written 2,600 years ago. I asked if he'd read it -- he had -- and what he'd learned from it. Belichick sort of rolled his eyes and said, "You know, don't fight a battle when the ground is muddy. Stuff like that.'' The point I took away: He read everything he thought might help him or be of value to his job, but he could think for himself, too.
It is inconceivable to me -- and, obviously, to Roger Goodell and former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh, too -- that Belichick would misinterpret the rule about videotaping. For the record, here again is the NFL bylaw Belichick said he "misinterpreted'' for seven years:
Any use by any club at any time, from the start to the finish of any game in which such club is a participant, of any communications or information-gathering equipment, other than Polaroid-type cameras or field telephones, shall be prohibited, including without limitation videotape machines, telephone tapping, or bugging devices, or any other form of electronic devices that might aid a team during the playing of a game.
Belichick has said repeatedly he thought he could tape signals as long as the tapes weren't used to aid the Patriots during the same game. In his Friday interview with Armen Keteyian of CBS News, Belichick said when the league sent out the crystal-clear memo in September 2006 about no videotaping of any sort, he "should have gone to the league and said, 'Look, are we OK doing this even though we're not using it in the game?' That was an error on my part.''
But the first memo is so clear, it's impossible to think it could have been misunderstood, and the second memo is far more explicit. Still, Belichick told Keteyian the team still videotaped more than half its games until being caught 12 months later.
Now, about the he-said, she-said stuff from Walsh, about disguising what he was doing when he was shooting opposing coaches on game day: It sounds credible. It makes for a good story, but I don't know if it's true or not because the Patriots apparently have in their possession an audiotape that Walsh surreptitiously made of a conversation between himself and New England VP Scott Pioli. So I'm not trusting a fired employee on every one of his remembrances, either. But really, does it matter? Does the play-by-play of how this was done matter? And Belichick firing back at Walsh -- does that matter?
In the grand scheme of things, only one thing matters: The Patriots, over eight seasons, videotaped coaching signals in violation of NFL rules and were sanctioned more harshly than any other team in NFL history, and their reputation -- Belichick's in particular -- will be forever tarnished.
Video spying is over. With the league instituting coach-to-defensive-captain communication last month, offensive and defensive coaches no longer will have to send any signals by hand -- unless they choose to. Some teams will still signal in substitutions soon after one play ends, but the benefit of knowing the signals for that is virtually meaningless.
Veteran quarterback Trent Dilfer told me now that videotaping "will be irrelevant. Now the offense will have no way of stealing signals anymore, because they'll be done the same way the offense sends in signals -- from the coach to a player on the field [through a microphone and speaker]. What are you going to steal now?''