Troll Report: the Spygate body count
Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 13, 2008
(Ed. Note: This reaction to Spygate was sent to us by CHFF Troll Dario Beresford, one of our loyal readers from the United Kingdom. We were shocked to find that his English is flawless. Gotta love that progressive European education system. We'll have our own follow-up on yesterday's over-hyped non-story shortly, but thought Beresford touched on many of the key points about the Spygate debacle – an event that proves yet again the superiority of the Cold, Hard Football Facts over all other sports media. But more on that later. For now, let's have fun counting the bodies.)
By Dario Beresford
Cold, Hard Football Facts U.K. beefeater and (we assume) gin-swiller
In the film "The War of the Roses" there's a scene where lawyer Gavin D'Amato (Danny DeVito) addresses a client who is on the verge of plunging headlong into the shark-invested waters of divorce litigation.
The payoff line D'Amato feeds the audience is that, in divorce, there are no winners, only losers. Naturally, his advice proves prophetic: the main characters, Oliver and Barbara Rose, locked in a divorce battle, both end up dead in a bloody heap around a chandelier.
Well, if D'Amato was around to witness Spygate, he might have come to the same conclusion: it produced nothing but misery for everyone involved. Here's the Spygate body count: the losers in this sad, sorry tale of the NFL's own bloomless war of the roses, in all its gory Technicolor carnage.
Loser No. 1: The mainstream media
The mainstream media handled this story in typical fashion, its agenda-ridden prose and "punditry" compounded by a passion for sensationalizing non-existent stories and a bloodlust for personal destruction.
The original Spygate story that arose in September immediately fueled the most wild speculation imaginable, with media vultures using it to tear apart a coach, Bill Belichick, they already despised. At least there was some merit to the original story: the Patriots, we soon discovered, had in fact violated league rules when they taped Jets signals, along with those of other teams.
But then the Boston Herald went one step further in February, right before the Super Bowl, and reported that the Patriots had taped a walk-through of the Rams final practice before Super Bowl XXXVI in February 2002. Many newspapers were fed that line leading up to Super Bowl XLII, yet it went unreported until the Herald's John Tomase ran with it – curiously, just in time to benefit most from the attention that comes with Super Bowl weekend. It was a mistake to run the destructive, uncorroborated story, as the Herald admitted today.
But the veracity of the story was irrelevant: the fabrication was out in the public, and the media ate it up voraciously. The errant story even spawned frivolous lawsuits by St. Louis Rams fans and injudicious comments from ex-Rams players and coaches who really should have known better and kept their mouths shut until the facts came out.
Though never stated in the Herald piece, it was clear that Tomase believed Walsh to be the source and it was inferred that way by most media outlets.
Walsh, as we found out yesterday after months of speculation, had no such videotape. He never did. Now, the Herald's reputation lay in tatters and they are a laughing-stock in the eyes of many sports fans, reduced today to practically begging the Patriots for forgiveness. (Disclosure: CHFF's publisher also works part-time for The Boston Herald.)
But the Herald is not alone in their humiliation. Sure, they lit the match of the "Patriots taped the Rams" falsification. But the rest of the media eagerly poured gas into the fire with wild speculation for more than three months ... even though they knew that the spying, as practiced by the Patriots, was nothing new. In fact, it was quite common.
Several old-time coaches came forward in the wake of Spygate and admitted many of their own 'violations.' Yet the Patriots and Belichick continued to be singled out for their indiscretion, long after paying an unprecedented penalty for their violations.
As one reporter with a clue, Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune, pointed out in his piece May 9: "do not believe the course of football history was altered by Walsh's camcorder. Remember – every team in the league was stealing signals 'legally' over the same period of time by assigning an advance scout to monitor the sidelines from the press box."
Still, the mainstream media never let the facts get in the way of a good story. And today they look like jokers after three months of reckless speculation about a manufactured story. As the Cold, Hard Football Facts noted yesterday, Tony Kornheiser of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" summed it up best when he said that "foaming at the mouth" is what the media does best.
Loser No. 2: Sen. Arlen Specter
Is this guy a joke, or what? The Pennsylvania senator jumped on the sensationalized "Patriots taped the Rams!!" bandwagon – purely for the interest of the fans and the integrity of the league, of course.
But he ends up as big a loser as anybody. As sports fans discovered soon after he opened his mouth, Specter's interests in Comcast and its conflicts with the NFL hardly make him an objective figure in the case. Nor does his professed passion for the hometown Eagles, a team that lost a close game to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX.
Clearly, this guy's political compass is out of whack – sent to Washington to represent the people of Pennsylvania during a time of great international turmoil, he wants to take a starring role in a pro sports soap opera: Hey, who cares if Chinese spies are stealing U.S. military secrets at this very moment, the Patriots might have taped a Rams practice six years ago and we need answers!
Of course, Specter's quest for justice might have ended yesterday: when Walsh's meeting with the NFL turned into the biggest non-story since "dog bites man," the Senator met with the Walsh but delayed his own de-briefing press conference, presumably to wash the ostrich-sized egg off his face.
Loser No. 3: Roger Goodell
The Gridiron Godfather was certainly a breath of fresh air when he replaced the limp-wristed Paul 'Tags' Tagliabue in 2006. He quickly earned his iron-handed reputation by whacking one member of the NFL family after another, ordering them to toe the party line, or else.
He certainly laid down the law during Spygate, issuing the Patriots unprecedented penalties. But he also blundered repeatedly.
Goodell had the chance to clear up any confusion over both the contents of the tapes New England submitted to the NFL back in September and the seriousness of the alleged crime that the Patriots had committed.
He did neither.
First, back in September, footage from one of New England's tapes submitted to Goodell's office were leaked to Fox and shown on national television. Not only was the video fairly innocuous, the leak undermined Goodell's position of authority and the league's position of responsibility.
Second, in a seemingly knee-jerk reaction to the security leak, Goodell ordered the destruction of all the tapes and notes submitted by the Patriots after just 12 days of investigation. The decision only whipped up the conspiracy theorists and the Patriots haters and – whether true or not – it reeked of a cover-up.
Third, Goodell insisted that the Patriots derived little benefit from the contents of the tapes. Yet then he imposed the harshest penalty the league had ever issued – a $250,000 fine for the Patriots, a $500,000 personal fine for Belichick and the loss of a first-round draft pick which could be a long-term, strategic detriment to the team.
Basically, Goodell contradicted himself and gave both sides of the issue valid grounds to question the punishment he imposed.
And now, for all the good that Goodell has done and will probably yet do for the NFL, a recent poll shows that a vast majority of football fans believe the commissioner fumbled when it came time to handle the Spygate controversy.
Loser No. 4: Matt Walsh
Former Patriots minion turned Hawaiian golf pro Matt Walsh was nobody until, advertently or inadvertently, he claimed his 15 minutes of fame by hinting that he had videotape revelations that would embarrass both the Patriots and the NFL.
It turns out that he had nothing on tape that the Patriots hadn't already admitted to the NFL.
To the Patriot haters out there, Walsh was a hoped-for modern-day Messiah who would deliver them from the evil reign of Bill Belichick. But make no mistake about it folks; Walsh was no Messiah, no Robin Hood who would nobly steal from the rich Patriots and give back to the common football fan.
Instead, he proved a fraud. He had a duty to speak up a long time ago, but didn't. He chose to tease the pigskin public with his sensationalist claims and, in the process, opened himself up to the full scrutiny of the media.
What the media predictably uncovered was not pretty and painted a picture of a vindictive young man who was a habitual liar and someone you wouldn't trust as an employee. (Of course, given the mainstream media's proven track record of fabricating stories and ruining reputations, Walsh could in reality be a saint who devotes his free time to saving the orphans of Calcutta.)
In the end, Walsh's evidence didn't bring down the big bad beast, much to the chagrin of those who wanted their pound of flesh from the Patriots. Indeed, his revelations proved to be a bigger disappointment than the Al Capone vaults.
But there is one final victim-and-villain whose carcass lies at the bottom of this tangled mess ...
Loser No. 5: Bill Belichick and the Patriots
Bill Belichick is heading to the Hall of Fame. He already has artifacts in Canton, including his gameplan from Super Bowl XXV, when he was a defensive coordinator with the Giants, and an entire display devoted to the record 21-game win streak he pieced together as head coach of the Patriots.
These mementos sit there, waiting to be paired some day with a bronze bust of a coach some already have said is the best ever.
But let's not forget the source of Spygate: Belichick was busted for filming his opponents signals, when teams were explicitly told not to do so. The allegations of filming Rams practice obviously proved false, but it was hardly inconceivable considering the tapes he had ordered made and that had surfaced in the past.
Now there will always be, at least in the eyes of some, an asterisk against everything he has achieved as New England's head coach.
And what he has achieved is historic: His playoff record of 15-4 (.789) is among the best ever and, barring a dramatic change in circumstances, he will probably end his career with a record for postseason victories (the current mark is Tom Landry's 20). Belichick has gone a staggering 66-14 (.825) over the last five season – 77-17 (.819) including playoffs – won a coach's record three Super Bowls in four seasons (2001 to 2004), and presided over the only perfect 16-game regular season.
All this with a franchise that, prior to Belichick's arrival, was a joke – not just in the NFL but in all of professional sports.
Yet now his reputation is tarnished forever, because he insisted on taping opposing signals even after a league memo, from an ass-kicking new commissioner out to exert his authority, explicitly said don't do it.
It was an arrogant move, and it cost him a cool half-million and, even more importantly, cost his team a first-round draft pick, which could have a long-term impact on the club's competitiveness.
Much more, though, he gave every person who hated his team's meteoric success a club they can use to bash the organization. Now, anyone can dismiss everything Belichick and the Patriots ever achieved with just one word: Cheaters!
Belichick has nobody to blame but himself.
In Roger Goodell and most everyone else's minds, Spygate is now dead and buried, as it really should have been a long time ago. And in the end, it's easy to agree with DeVito-character D'Amoto on this one: Aside from the lawyers, there are no winners here.
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