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Thursday, May 8, 2008
Minus a whistle-blower, Spygate will expire quietly

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Barring strong testimony to the contrary by Matt Walsh on Tuesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell probably will close the Spygate scandal and throw away the key.

None of the eight tapes reportedly presented by the former New England Patriots video assistant to Goodell's office involved pre-Super Bowl XXXVI walk-throughs of the St. Louis Rams or anything other than game-related taping. The tapes Walsh brought forth involved the recording of play-calling signals of five opponents in six games between 2000 and 2002.

Though Goodell didn't reveal it until shortly before the Pro Bowl in February, Patriots coach Bill Belichick readily admitted to Goodell last September that he has been taping signals during games since 2000. With that admission, Goodell levied the harshest franchise penalty in the history of the league. The Patriots lost a 2008 first-round draft choice and $250,000. Belichick was fined $500,000.

What games are on the tapes?

Here are the games included in the tapes turned over by Matt Walsh to the NFL, according to a letter sent by Walsh's attorney, Michael Levy:

Tape 1: Signals vs. Miami (Sept. 25, 2000)
The tape is labeled Sept. 25, but the actual game was on Sept. 24. That day in Miami, the Patriots lost to the Dolphins, 10-3, and dropped to 0-4. New England also lost its season finale to Miami, 27-24, on Christmas Eve. The Patriots finished 5-11.

Tapes 2-3: Miami defensive and offensive signals (Oct. 7, 2001)
The Patriots lost 30-10 at Miami to drop to 1-3. The Pats gained 149 total yards and fell to 6-14 overall under Belichick. (They're 99-26 since.) In a Dec. 22 rematch, the Pats gained 313 yards and didn't commit a turnover, winning 20-13 to improve to 10-5. Miami had three turnovers.

Tape 4: Buffalo signal camera (Nov. 11, 2001)
The Patriots beat the Bills 21-11 to improve to 5-4. The Patriots were actually outgained in this game, 242-205. In the rematch at Buffalo on Dec. 16, the Pats won, 12-9, and outgained the Bills, 335-310. Since this Nov. 11 tape, New England is 13-1 against Buffalo.

Tape 5: Coaches' signals vs. Cleveland (Dec. 9, 2001)
The Patriots won 27-16. New England barely outgained the Browns, 290-277. The Browns, however, turned the ball over four times. The teams didn't play again until Oct. 26, 2003, when the Pats won 9-3. Starting with that 2001 win, New England is 4-0 against Cleveland.

Tapes 6-7: Signals vs. Pittsburgh (Jan. 27, 2002)
In the AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh, the Patriots were nine-point underdogs, and Tom Brady was knocked out with an injured leg in the first half. However, Drew Bledsoe came in and led the Pats to a 24-17 win, thanks to a Troy Brown 55-yard TD punt return and a 60-yard return of a blocked FG for a TD. The Patriots intercepted Steelers QB Kordell Stewart three times, and Pittsburgh running backs were held to just 19 yards. Starting with that win, the Patriots are 5-1 against the Steelers, including a 30-14 win in the 2002 season opener.

Tape 8: Third camera vs. San Diego (Sept. 29, 2002)
New England lost at San Diego 21-14, its first loss of the season after a 3-0 start. Despite the loss, the Pats outgained the Chargers, 440-342. New England didn't play San Diego again until Oct. 2, 2005 and lost, 41-17. The Patriots have won all three games against the Chargers since.

-- Brett Edgerton, ESPN Research

Goodell all along has said he would reopen the investigation if new evidence emerged. The eight game tapes fall into Belichick's admission of trying to steal signals since 2000. The Patriots and Belichick have paid the price for that crime. Sensing that Walsh had nothing other than those game tapes, the Patriots and Belichick have said all along that they welcomed Walsh's coming forward and testifying because they didn't believe he had any additional evidence of other spying activities.

What probably will happen on Tuesday is that Walsh will meet with Goodell in New York. After the meeting, Goodell will hold a news conference. Unless Walsh has substantiated evidence -- which will be difficult to prove without tapes -- of Patriots' spying beyond merely stealing play-calling signals, then Goodell will announce that the case is closed. In the eyes of the league office, Spygate will be over.

Naturally, coaches and general managers of other teams will suspect Belichick or people in his organization did more than just spy on coaching signals, but their opinions are irrelevant without proof. Walsh was the one former employee who could reopen the case because he might have had some proof. Apparently, he didn't.

The fact that Walsh's attorney quickly admitted Walsh never said he had tapes of the Rams' walk-through and confirmed all of the tapes involved signal spying during games suggests Walsh won't be the whistle-blower to take away Belichick's coaching whistle anytime soon.

First of all, the sporting world has to understand Walsh's predicament. Spygate became an issue in September 2007, when another Patriots video assistant was caught taping signals of New York Jets defensive coaches.

Shortly afterward, Walsh's name became linked to the issue of NFL spying. Many reporters chased unpublished rumors of his prior involvement and tried to get him to talk. He didn't. Although he suggested he had some evidence of spying activities, he never indicated what he had.

When The New York Times first printed his name during Super Bowl XLII week, Walsh became a public figure. Suddenly he was in a vulnerable position. He was a former Patriots employee who left on bad terms in 2003 after a six-year tenure. With his name now public, Walsh would be hounded by reporters and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., until he told his story.

To protect himself, he hired a powerful Washington, D.C., attorney. As an assistant golf pro in Hawaii, Walsh needed a way to pay for legal fees, which ultimately led to negotiations between February and late April for him to be able to tell his story and not go in debt. Goodell and the league, according to sources, sensed all along he had only tapes of game spying and nothing else.

That turned out to be the case this week when he presented his evidence to the NFL.

No case is closed until final testimony is held, but you can sense what will play out Tuesday. Walsh, with his attorney present, will be asked if there was anything else other than signal spying. Unless Walsh can back up anything with evidence, he'll probably say he presented all the evidence he had.

By 5 p.m. Tuesday, Walsh will be free to meet with the media or Specter or anyone else, and Goodell will pound the gavel and say Spygate is over.

In retrospect, some things could have been done so that Spygate didn't have to drag on from September until now. It would have helped if Goodell had been clearer at the start in saying Belichick admitted spying on coaching in games since 2000. Given that revelation, Walsh would not have been caught in the media vise since Super Bowl week; he could have just told the league his tapes weren't anything new.

Walsh could have been quicker to acknowledge in February once there was admission by Belichick that his tapes wouldn't add anything. Again, we don't know what Walsh will say to Goodell on Tuesday, but the feeling here is that Tuesday will close the book on Spygate.

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