Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Belichick doing his best to put Spygate behind him
By Pat Yasinskas
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- First, the tape recorders clicked on. Then, came the cameras.
For the next 45 or 50 minutes, there was talk of little else besides cameras. The hooded sweatshirt was somewhere back in New England and so was all the arrogance that's usually underneath it.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick wore a Hawaiian shirt and a humble mask as he addressed a few dozen reporters during a media breakfast session at the NFL owners meeting Tuesday morning.
"As difficult as the situation has been, we've taken it as a positive," Belichick said.
That's Belichick's spin as he tries to put Spygate in his past, which might be impossible. Since the Patriots were caught videotaping defensive signals on the New York Jets sideline, Belichick's been at the center of controversy.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has punished the Patriots by stripping them of their first-round pick in this year's draft and concluded the incident with the Jets wasn't the first time New England and Belichick have violated league rules on videotaping. Belichick said it was and will be the last on a day when he was far more jovial than usual with the media.
He talked of reform as a result of the incident, and was surly only a handful of times.
"We've done a lot of things in our organization,'' Belichick said. "We've reorganized a number of things in terms of just making sure that everything's being done on a more efficient, more accountable basis to make sure that a situation like this never comes up again."
Spoken like a man who's accepting his penalty and saying and doing all the right things. But this situation might not be done.
There's still the shadow of Matt Walsh, the former Patriots employee who has implied he might have hard evidence of wrongdoing by Belichick. Walsh reportedly has been asking for legal protection before revealing all he knows.
"I don't know what he really does have to say,'' Belichick said. "He made allegations a couple months ago. Nothing's really materialized since then. I don't know what's holding it up, but it's not anything I'm involved directly with."
Being directly involved with Walsh even when he was with the team is something Belichick isn't claiming.
"I had almost no interaction with Matt Walsh while I was there," Belichick said. "Now, he was there several years before I got there, but I had almost no interaction with him."
Belichick continued to deny that he ever has seen video of an opposing team's practice sessions, although The Boston Herald reported the Patriots filmed the St. Louis Rams before defeating them in Super Bowl XXXVI.
"This whole situation has been -- the league has conducted an investigation, asked questions, we got to the [Super Bowl] and at the end of the season, we had another [allegation] -- I don't know if I need to say more thorough because the first one was pretty extensive," Belichick said. "I think they've handled it. We've been forthright and truthful and answered every question. Twice that they've come to us, we've made everybody in our organization accessible that they wanted to talk to."
But it's still more than a little difficult to view Belichick as a sympathetic figure. The NFL sent out a memo to teams in September 2006, reminding them that it's illegal to videotape other teams' signals.
"What I should have done, I should have called the league and asked for a clarification of it," Belichick said. "But when I re-read that rule, I still interpreted incorrectly that as long as it wasn't used in that game, that it was OK. We paid the price for that mistake and it was my mistake."
Yes, Belichick is admitting a mistake for taping signals for future use, and the draft pick will be his penalty. That's good. But there should be no absolution or amnesia about his crimes.
Maybe Walsh comes forward with more damning information and maybe he doesn't. It doesn't really matter. Belichick's three Super Bowl titles won't be taken away, but they are tarnished by Spygate. They always will be.
"I know what the truth is," Belichick said. "Everybody's entitled to [their] opinion. I can't control what everybody thinks. I'm not going to try to do that. I'm just going to try to do what I've done since September of last year, which is to do the best I can and coach our football team, run an organization that's efficient and competitive with the other 31 teams in the league. That's what I'll continue to do."
Yep, the entire incident has forced Belichick and the Patriots to make some procedural changes in the way they do things. But Belichick's show Tuesday was hardly an act of contrition, and one morning of looking and sounding nice doesn't mean everything's changed.
Next fall, the Hawaiian shirt will be back in the closet and the hooded sweatshirt back on the sidelines.
Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.