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Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Stench from this mess won't go away

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- If we are to believe the National Football League, the big Matt Walsh revelations Tuesday were that he scalped some Super Bowl tickets for Patriots players and New England practiced an ineligible player.

Oh, and those few seconds of a close-up shot of a cheerleader that somehow got mixed in with about 59 minutes and 45 seconds of signal-stealing video that Walsh apparently did shoot? Well, "Matt Walsh did not shoot that part," two representatives from his lawyer's firm repeatedly told anyone who would listen.

Roger Goodell
Former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh met for more than three hours Tuesday with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Aloha and have a good flight back to your home in Hawaii. That's what the NFL seemed to be telling Walsh, the former video department employee for the Patriots, whose 15 minutes of Spygate fame somehow turned into more than three months.

So this is how it all ends?

"I think as I stand before you today and having met with Matt Walsh and over 50 other people, I don't know where else I would turn,'' NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said.

The NFL wants to just turn away, and it's easy to understand why. This thing has been going on since September, when the NFL caught the Patriots shooting video of New York Jets coaches as they gave hand signals. It has lasted through months of media hype, grew wings on a report the Patriots filmed an opponent's Super Bowl walkthrough and made Walsh's name roughly the equivalent of Bill Buckner's in New England.

The Patriots want to just get on to a new season and forget about that loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. And the NFL seemed to brush Walsh aside after a three-hour meeting that didn't produce the smoking gun (a hinted-at video tape of a walkthrough by the St. Louis Rams before Super Bowl XXXVI) many expected.

Walsh looked boyish and harmless as he walked into and out of the NFL's Park Avenue office. But he told Goodell and other officials plenty behind closed doors and provided them with videotape of eight games in which the Patriots clearly were taping opposing coaches. Then, the NFL showed Walsh the door.

"The fundamental information Matt provided was consistent with what we disciplined the Patriots for last fall in that they were taping coaches' signals against NFL policy,'' Goodell said.

It's true Goodell was aggressive after the Jets told league officials they suspected their coaches were being taped. The league checked it out, confiscated the tapes, fined coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and the franchise $250,000, and made the Patriots surrender their first-round pick in this year's draft.

The punishment might fit the crime or it might not have been enough. That's the biggest thing to keep in mind: There was a crime, a long and calculated violation of league rules. Goodell said he long ago concluded Belichick had been taping opposing coaches since he joined the Patriots in 2000. Walsh might not have revealed anything new, but he did lay out exactly how the Patriots cheated.

Roger Goodell
"I don't know where else I would turn," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters.

"In great detail, we spoke about it,'' Goodell said. "Basically, he would videotape as part of his responsibility during the game, he would then take the tape, mark it and then hand it off to [longtime Belichick friend and assistant] Ernie Adams and he had no knowledge of where it went from there.''

That's where the questions start to pop up again. What was Adams' role in all this? Nobody's ever given much of a public answer.

While Goodell was visibly relieved that there was no evidence of a videotape of the Rams' Super Bowl XXXVI walkthrough, there was the troubling revelation that Walsh was in the Superdome during St. Louis' practice that day. The explanation was that Walsh and the New England video crew were setting up their equipment but not filming.

There might not have been tape and a camera, but Walsh said in his mind, he was recording what he saw: Marshall Faulk lining up to return a kickoff and formation tendencies by St. Louis' offense. Walsh said he relayed all that information to New England's assistant coaches, and it's anybody's guess how much of a role that played in a 20-17 victory against the Rams the next day.

It's also anybody's guess how much of a role any of the videotapes played in New England's run to become the closest thing we've seen to a dynasty this decade. But it's obvious that success came with a tarnish that's not going to go away, even if this somehow is the last we hear of Walsh or Spygate. The Patriots knew exactly what they were doing and they knew it was wrong.

"I think [the Patriots] were well aware of the fact that, at least according to Matt, he believed they were well aware of the fact this was something that shouldn't be done," Goodell said.

In September, Belichick told Goodell he didn't think taping opposing coaches for future use was against league rules.

"I think it's pretty well on the record here that I didn't accept Bill Belichick's explanation for what happened, and I still don't to this day,'' Goodell said.

That brings us back to Belichick's reputation for arrogance.

"[Walsh] actually described him at one point as the man behind the curtain as someone that he didn't see very often or didn't have any direct relationship with him or contact with him,'' Goodell said. Without further evidence, it might be impossible to further discipline Belichick. But don't let that curtain cover up the truth and don't point fingers at Walsh, Eric Mangini or anybody else for this mess. The man behind the curtain, ultimately, made the videotapes -- lots of them. He was the one cheating.

Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.