Friday, September 14, 2007
Tape runs out on Patriots; Dungy calls incident 'sad'
ESPN.com news services
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When he stands on an NFL sideline for
16 Sundays and a few more each year, Bill Belichick is an
undisputed master, with a single-minded and cerebral approach that
helped him win three Super Bowls during what might still be a Hall of Fame career.
It's everywhere else that he's had trouble.
The New England Patriots coach tried again Friday to move on
from the sideline spying scandal in which he was fined $500,000 and
ordered to forfeit a top draft choice -- the latest misstep in a
year of distractions for the coach who preaches about avoiding them.
"It's over, and we're moving on," Belichick said. "Right now,
all of my energy and focus and attention is on the San Diego Chargers and our game Sunday night. So, that's where we're at."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Thursday night that he
would fine Belichick the maximum amount and dock the team $250,000
and a first-round draft pick next year (or a lesser pick if the
Patriots miss the playoffs). It was the biggest fine ever for a
coach -- it represents 12 percent of Belichick's scheduled 2007 salary, which is believed to be $4.2 million -- and would be the first time in NFL history a first-round
draft pick has been confiscated as a penalty.
In doing so, Goodell branded the Patriots as cheaters.
Belichick did say that video assistant Matt Estrella, whose camera was confiscated while he was on the Jets' sideline, will not be on the sideline for Sunday night's game. Estrella will not be punished, the NFL said.
"This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to
avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and
promote honest competition on the playing field," the commissioner
wrote in a letter to the team.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement Friday.
"I believe that Coach Belichick always tries to do what is best for the team and he is always accountable for his decisions,''
Kraft said. "He has been a very important part of what our organization has accomplished over the last seven years. In this case, one of his decisions has resulted in a severe penalty for our franchise. He has paid a heavy price and so has our organization. He has apologized for his actions. I accept his apology and look forward to working with him as we move forward."
Belichick was peppered with questions on the scandal again
Friday. But this time he seemed bemused by the repeated attempts to
get him to expand on his earlier statement in which he accepted
"full responsibility for the actions" that led to the punishment.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "It already happened. So right
now, we're focusing in on what's in front of us, and that's the
For Belichick, it is what it was.
Others weren't ready to put it in the past.
"Really, a sad day for the NFL," Indianapolis Colts coach Tony
Dungy said after practice Friday. "It's another case of the 99
percent good things that are happening being overshadowed by 1
percent bad. Again, people aren't talking about our product,
they're talking about a negative incident."
It's been that way all year for Belichick.
His marriage broke up after he was named as the other man in a
New Jersey divorce that set the gossip columns atwitter. Former
linebacker Ted Johnson accused Belichick of overruling the doctors
and sending him back onto the field too soon after a concussion.
And that's not to mention the loss to the Colts in the AFC
championship, a game in which the Patriots had a 15-point lead at
halftime. The Colts went on to beat the overmatched Chicago Bears
in the Super Bowl, a victory that could have given Belichick his
fourth NFL title in six years.
"All I know is there better not be an asterisk by any of the
Super Bowls I was with them," said Christian Fauria, a tight end
on the 2003 and 2004 title teams, who is now with the Carolina Panthers. "I better call my wife and tell her to put [my rings] in
The Patriots locker room was busy Friday with players at the
dominoes table or shooting baskets with balls made of athletic
tape. Fullback Heath Evans joked about taking up a collection to
pay Belichick's fine, but turned serious when asked whether the
scandal would tarnish the team's accomplishments.
"This organization's success speaks for itself," Evans said.
"I view Bill in my own way, and that's as my head coach and a man
I really respect."
Most insisted that the scandal has not affected their
preparation for Sunday night's game against San Diego. Some refused
to discuss anything but football. "I am looking forward to playing
the Chargers," quarterback Tom Brady said when offered the chance
to weigh in. "But thank you for asking."
Belichick did say that video assistant Matt Estrella, whose
camera was confiscated while he was on the Jets' sideline, will not
be on the sideline for Sunday night's game. "We will change our
procedure on that," the coach said.
Estrella will not be punished, league spokesman Greg Aiello
said, adding that there is no investigation into claims that the
Patriots have been doing this for years.
"Our goal is to stop this type of conduct going forward and
level the playing field," Aiello said.
The Patriots have been caught spying in the past. Last November, during their 35-0 victory in Green Bay, the Packers caught Estrella shooting unauthorized video and told him to stop.
Meanwhile, in a story on Sports Illustrated's Web site Thursday, Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli said he suspected the Patriots of using a videotaper for similar tactics during their game last season. Marinelli reportedly made an in-game phone call to the press box and told his staff, "There's a camera pointed right at our defensive coach making his calls. Is that allowed?"
According to the report, a Lions employee called the league's booth and the videotaper was stopped, but not for long.
"You don't really know for sure," Marinelli was quoted as saying on the Web site. "I mean, you don't know whether he might be doing something for NFL Films or a coaches' show or whatever."
In the same story, an unnamed Lion said: "At one point, we had a good drive going against the Patriots. Mike Martz really had 'em going. They were getting fouled up, lining up wrong, we were moving the ball. Then boom, the headset from the sidelines to the coaches' booth goes out."
In a statement issued two hours after the punishment was
announced Thursday, Belichick said he misinterpreted the league's rules but
acknowledged that "part of my job as head coach is to ensure that
our football operations are conducted in compliance of the league
rules and all accepted interpretations of them."
"I accept full responsibility for the actions that led to
tonight's ruling," the statement said. "Once again, I apologize
to the Kraft family and every person directly or indirectly
associated with the New England Patriots for the embarrassment,
distraction and penalty my mistake caused. I also apologize to
Patriots fans and would like to thank them for their support during
the past few days and throughout my career."
But Miami Dolphins quarterback Trent Green was among those
doubting the sincerity of Belichick's apology, comparing the coach
to the megalomaniacal Marine played by Jack Nicholson in the movie
"A Few Good Men."
"Belichick is sitting there, and you know he is getting peeved
that he is even in there -- the audacity to bring him in and
question him," Green said, laughing. "The visual I have is that
eventually Belichick kind of snapped and said, 'You're darn right I [did].' "
Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton was used in this report.