The seemingly impossible has happened: Roger Goodell’s year just got worse.
One gate shuts and another gate swings wide open again.
“Deflategate” sort of goes away, finally, but now “Spygate” is back like an unexpected sequel newly in theaters, a wound reopened for the image-battered league and its marquee franchise.
Now, on the doorstep of the NFL season, we are invited to revisit whether the New England Patriots cheated their way to championships, and to marvel how Goodell, the blundering commissioner, has become the embarrassment that keeps on giving.
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Roger keeps pulling the cord, but the parachute keeps not opening.
The Patriots host Pittsburgh in the season-opening game Thursday night, and NBC commentators will be challenged to sneak a little football talk in amongst the engulfing controversies.
I’m still not convinced most fans care much about these off-field dramas. For every fan who does I’d imagine there are 10 who only care whether their team (real or fantasy) has a great year.
It’s hard not to care, though, about the latest development that arrived Tuesday (“Incoming!”) packaged as an ESPN Outside the Lines investigation reported on the network’s website. It turns out the “Bristol Stomp” wasn’t just an early ’60s song and dance craze. It’s also this latest bomb dropped on the NFL and the Patriots.
OTL concludes that Goodell going so hard after Tom Brady and the Pats over Deflategate was a “makeup call” to appease NFL owners still disgruntled over the commissioner’s earlier mishandling of the Spygate matter.
(Considering Goodell’s four-game Deflategate suspension of Brady was erased in federal court, the poor commish can’t even seem to get a makeup call right).
Of more interest to me than the link between the two “gates” is the detailing of the extent of New England and Bill Belichick’s improper videotaping of opposing coaches’ signals in order to gain a competitive advantage.
The 2007 Spygate punishment — a $500,00 league fine for Belichick and $250,000 plus a forfeited first-round draft pick for the team — stemmed from a videotaping of the New York Jets. There was little suggestion, then, that the practice had been widespread.
The new report leaves little doubt, though, that the cheating may have begun around 2000 and involved 40-plus games, many of them reportedly against AFC East rivals, including the Dolphins. There can be little doubt now that the Patriots’ three Super Bowl titles in four years (after the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons) have been tainted at least by reasonable suspicions.
This is a whole different ballgame than Deflategate. I still think the infinitesimal under-inflating of footballs was a misdemeanor of marginal impact that I don’t think sullies last season’s New England championship.
But videotaping to steal a team’s signals and know play-calls in advance? That’s bald cheating.
If it is true that this was a sustained practice of Belichick’s and hardly confined to one incident, then the “Beli-cheat” nickname is now permanent as a tattoo on his reputation. Even if Brady escapes guilt by association, I don’t know how Belichick can live this down. I think it could very well cost him a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, O., a destination that otherwise would have been foregone.
Meanwhile Goodell plays the bungler yet again as ESPN details how he ordered all Spygate evidence against the Patriots destroyed even as the call for a Congressional inquiry was heating up in 2008 — apparently to protect his friend Robert Kraft and his own league from a wider scandal.
“Goodell didn’t want anyone to know his gold franchise had won Super Bowls by cheating,” ESPN quotes a senior executive of one of the three teams (Rams, Panthers or Eagles) that lost a Super Bowl to New England during the new Spygate timeline.
I wonder if Congress might now be interested in that inquiry it never conducted before?
I also wonder how many more embarrassments will happen on Goodell’s watch before NFL owners decide to seek a better commissioner?
Tuesday you saw a wave of damage control. This league and this team are becoming practiced at that.
So the Patriots issued an indignant, broad denial, referring to “myths, conjectures and rumors” even in the face of new information detailing the extent and duration of the gall of Belichick’s cheating.
And the beleaguered commissioner, Goodell, denied any link between Spygate and his pursuit of Deflategate while all but pleading, “I want to get back to football.”
If only the NFL would let us.