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Nearly six months before the NFL's season-opening weekend turned into the latest spy story, Saints coach Sean Payton saw it coming.It happened March 27 during the league meetings in Phoenix. Coaches on both sides of the ball were lobbying to approve a proposal to allow one defensive player to hear signals through a wireless helmet, much like the quarterback's ability to receive hands-free signals from his coaches. As an offensive-minded coach, Payton was asked why he would want to help the defense. "Then we don't have to worry about the whole espionage stuff," Payton explained. Since offenses were granted the wireless connection in 1994, it has become much harder to steal plays. Today, the only precaution coaches usually take is to shield their mouths with those massive playcards. But on defense, where teams still rely on elaborate hand signals, it's more difficult to protect sensitive information. That's why most franchises supported the idea of wireless defensive communication -- in fact, 22 of the league's 32 teams voted in favor of the proposal. But in the NFL, a rule change must garner at least 75 percent of the votes. Thus, if just two more teams had supported the measure, it would have passed, meaning there would've been one less cameraman needed on the Patriots' sideline Sunday. The concern of the teams voting down the proposal: What would happen if the defensive player designated as the wireless communicator was injured and had to come off the field? Since only one participating player can have a wired helmet, his backup might not be the first choice to be that designated player. The solution? Prepare backup helmets, wired for sound, for the next players in line if the first player is hurt. An NFL spokesman said the concept of wiring defensive huddles is likely to return to the table at next year's owners' meetings in West Palm Beach, Fla. After the Patriots' episode, odds are good that defenders will be wired in 2008.
-- Greg Garber
|Bill Belichick's Patriots might be flying solo in this spy story.|