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Friday, February 1, 2008
Latest spy news won't distract Pats

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- Think the latest Spygate news will be a distraction to the Patriots?

Think again.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., wants NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to explain why six tapes, handed by the Patriots to the NFL, were destroyed after Goodell took a first-round draft pick from the Patriots and fined New England and Bill Belichick a combined $750,000. He wants Goodell to appear before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to explain why the tapes were destroyed.

While all this should make for good offseason reading and fascinating stories, it won't change a simple fact: The Patriots will survive Spygate and, though slightly tainted, no one is taking any of their Super Bowl rings or Lombardi trophies. Belichick doesn't even look in the rearview mirror at these stories.

"It's a league matter,'' Belichick said during a Friday morning news conference. "I don't know anything about it."'

The Patriots have accepted their fine and moved on. In listening to Goodell during his state-of-the-NFL news conference, he didn't seem concerned about a Senate inquiry.

"I don't think it taints their accomplishments," Goodell said of the Patriots. "I think the action that we took was decisive, and it was unprecedented and it sent a loud message not only to the Patriots but to every NFL team that you should follow the rules and you better follow the rules."

End of explanation.

Once Goodell repeats that speech to the committee, not much else will happen. Maybe Goodell will find more evidence to use against the Patriots, but don't be too optimistic. Evidence that might be damaging to the Patriots might have been destroyed long before Goodell got his six Patriot tapes.

"I'm more than willing to speak,'' Goodell said. "I have a very good explanation why I had them destroyed because they were totally consistent with what the team told me. There was no purpose for them. I believe that it was helpful in us making sure my instructions were followed closely by not only the Patriots but by every NFL team. It think it was the appropriate thing to do."

Goodell said the tapes showed coaches making signals and indications of down and distances. According to Goodell, one of the tapes showed an opposing coach waving to the cameraman as if he knew he was being taped.

"I think it probably had a limited effect -- if any -- on the outcome of any game,'' Goodell said.

And so will this inquiry. Specter made the headlines, and there's nothing wrong with that. Years from now, I'm sure there will be more stories of Spygate. People love spy stories, and the Patriots make great copy. In the big picture, though, nothing will change. No one is taking the Patriots' name off the Lombardi Trophy.

John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.