ESPN Spygate Story Forces Patriots Fans to Believe Roger Goodell

The exposé says the NFL protected the Patriots during the infamous videotaping scandal.

In order to bury Spygate once and for all, Patriots fans must do something that is considered sacrilege around these parts: take Roger Goodell at his word.

ESPN’s Outside the Lines published a more than 10,000-word investigative piece Tuesday that links the eight-year-old Patriots videotaping scandal to Deflategate. As one NFL owner who was quoted in the report says, “It was time for a makeup call.”

Even though the NFL levied what were then historic penalties against the Patriots for Spygate—docking Bill Belichick $500,000 in pay, stripping the organization of a first-round draft pick, and fining the club $250,000—many influential voices around the league think the investigation was conducted hastily and surreptitiously. The perception is that there’s more to the story than the Patriots filming opponents’ signals from the wrong area, but Goodell obfuscated evidence in order to protect his good friend and confidante, Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Toward the end of the piece, buried deep beneath the rehashing of a scandal that’s nearly a decade old, two NFL owners give Goodell a verbal high-five for pursuing Deflategate as feverishly as he did.

“Roger did the right thing — at last,” one owner said after Goodell upheld Brady’s punishment. “He looks tough — and that’s good.”

“[I’m] Pleased,” said another longtime owner.

The ESPN story contains a mountain of damning anecdotes, including allegations that the Patriots filmed opponents’ signals in more than 40 games from 2000 to 2007, and often raided other teams’ locker rooms for play sheets. But the NFL continues to insist the Patriots’ practices didn’t affect the outcome of a single football game. Goodell wrapped up the investigation in just a little over a week, and ordered his lieutenants to destroy the evidence inside of Gillette Stadium. The commissioner says he did that to ensure the materials wouldn’t be used again, but one senior executive who’s quoted in the report says he thinks “Goodell didn’t want anybody to know that his gold franchise had won Super Bowls by cheating.”

There’s no hard evidence that says the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years because they circumvented the rules. A Panthers source even concedes to ESPN that he has “no tape to prove” his claim that the Patriots filmed Carolina’s practices prior to Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. Matt Walsh, the former Patriots video assistant who’s served as the whistle-blower on Spygate, says he didn’t tape the Rams’ walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI despite an avalanche of conspiracy theorists—most notably, former members of the Rams themselves—who say otherwise. (Though Walsh admits he was present for a portion of it.)

Still, the large volume of noise in this report is difficult to ignore. Reporters Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham spoke to more than 90 sources, including league officials, owners, team executives, and perhaps most strikingly, former Patriots coaches. Arguably the most convincing revelation in the story that points to a Spygate cover-up comes from ex-Rams coach Mike Martz, one of the few sources who opted to speak on the record.

On the day in 2008 now-deceased Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter called for a federal investigation into Spygate, Martz says Goodell asked him to write a statement saying he considered the controversy to be a settled issue. Martz eventually obliged. The Steelers and Eagles released similar statements as well.

Belichick contends he just misinterpreted a league memo about how to legally tape opponents’ signals, but even the most ardent Patriots fans probably don’t believe that’s the case. The report says the Patriots’ videographers were told to disguise themselves as media members, and identify themselves as Patriots TV or Kraft Productions employees if asked by NFL security.  To steal a phrase, it’s “more probable than not” the taping was deliberate.

But how much of a role all of this videotaping played in the Patriots’ success, and how many other teams were doing it remains a mystery. The NFL insists the integrity of the game wasn’t compromised, and then subsequently destroyed the evidence so nobody else could see for themselves.

Siding with the NFL here means siding with the entity that has spent the last eight months trying to destroy Tom Brady’s legacy. It means siding with a dishonest commissioner who’s railroaded Brady, from manipulating his testimony to withholding a witness and evidence from him in the arbitration proceedings.

It means agreeing with the league that equates deflating footballs to steroid use, and slapped Brady with a four-game suspension and docked the Patriots a first- and fourth-round draft pick for a glorified equipment violation.

But if Patriots fans want to erase Spygate, they have no choice. Strange bedfellows indeed.