ESPN chronicles history of shady dealings by New England

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Updated: September 10, 2015

ESPN dropped a proverbial dagger on both the NFL and New England Patriots on Tuesday, offering a detailed and at times shocking glimpse into a host of factors that have been in play behind the scenes for years between the league and its most controversial franchise.

Roger Goodell has been getting hammered (and rightly so) for his handling of Tom Brady’s punishment in response to the Deflategate incident, but in all actuality this was just the latest in a long line of missteps by the Commissioner. And as much as it pains me to dole out compliments to the “Worldwide leader”, Don Van Natta Jr and Seth Wickersham did a stellar job of taking us behind the scenes and into the tense environment that existed around the time of Spygate and the aftermath of Goodell’s first major blunder.

Reading this article, I had a hard time gauging which set of actions was more irrational – the NFL’s swift response in 2007 to the Spygate scandal and its still mysterious decision to destroy all materials the Patriots had collected over the years (including videotapes, diagrams, notebooks), or the brazen cheating program instituted by Bill Belichick that is now believed to have gone on from 2000-2007 and involved the videotaping of opposing teams in 40 games. All parties involved predictably wanted this narrative to go away as quickly as possible, and the rash decisions made by Goodell back then set in motion a convoluted chain of events, the effects of which the NFL is dealing with even to this day.

From a Patriots point of view, Bill Belichick and his teams are famous for being well coached and fundamentally sound. They do all the little things right, from basic formations and special teams all the way down to clock management, and it often feels like your team has to play a dam near perfect game in order to beat them. In some instances, even that isn’t enough.

On the other hand, what the Pats have also become under Belichick is a team that will do anything to stretch the boundaries of the rules, causing suspicion and distrust amongst those who have to compete against New England. Former Patriots like Teddy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison can go on the air and make all the noise they want, play dumb and decry the persecution of their beloved coach and franchise by the media and public, but at the end of the day it’s a fact that for years their team regularly engaged in behavior that shifted the odds in NE’s favor. All it takes is one play to change in the outcome in a game, and any edge that Belichick might’ve gleamed from a walkthrough practice or knowing the signals being used by another team easily could’ve made the difference between winning a close game or losing it.

While Belichick’s reputation as both a legendary coach and serial shady cheat are set in stone, what becomes of Roger Goodell in the coming years is anyone’s guess. The NFL is printing money under his watch, but at the same time the league office has been facing unprecedented media attention and scrutiny due to the comical disciplinary actions decisions being handed out by himself and his minions. Even though Brady was vindicated by a federal judge, Goodell is reportedly now in good favor with the owners (outside of Robert Kraft of course) for taking on New England and trying to make up letting them off the hook so easily back in 2007. A loss in court of a public appeal, but a win in the eyes of the billionaires who sign his paychecks.

It pains me that more folks didn’t follow the lead of Arlen Specter and make the league explain themselves for their tape smashing actions, as forever lost was not only the full extent of what the Pats had done, but also any chance for football historians to try and quantify the level of competitive advantage they gained during those years. Only a select few know where the bodies are buried in this case, and as another exciting (and profitable) season begins tomorrow night at Gillette Stadium, a certain Commissioner and rogue franchise will once again be able to cover their dirty laundry underneath the distraction of America’s favorite pastime.

 

 

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