This is most likely a load of garbage that has been prompted (see “unknown source”) to disrupt the Patriots tomorrow night. Either way, it’s interesting stuff and noteworthy news, even if it is yellow journalism.
According to the report, an unnamed source close to the team during the 2001 season said that following the Patriots’ walk-through at the Louisiana Superdome, a member of the team’s video staff stayed behind and taped the Rams’ walk-through– a non-contact, no-pads practice at reduced speed in which a team goes through its plays.
The cameraman was not asked to identify himself or produce a press pass and later rode the media shuttle back to the Patriots’ hotel, the source told the Herald. It is not known what became of the tape, or whether the cameraman made the tape on his own initiative or at someone else’s instruction, according to the report.
Mike Martz, who was St. Louis’ head coach during the Super Bowl game in question, spoke to ESPN.com investigative reporter Mike Fish about the allegations.
“I hope that is not true,” Martz said. “I have great respect for [Patriots head coach] Bill Belichick. It’s hard to believe that is true. It’s a serious allegation and I hope it is not true.
“Obviously if there is enough substance to it the league should look into it.”
In responding to the report, Patriots media relations official Stacey James said, “The coaches have no knowledge of it,” according to the Herald.
The next day, the Patriots upset the favored Rams 20-17 for their first Super Bowl championship. New England will play the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII on Sunday in a bid to become the first NFL team to finish a season 19-0.
Former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, currently with the Arizona Cardinals, told Fish that if the league has heard those claims, he is surprised it has not spoken to former Patriots video department employee Matt Walsh. He said if Walsh or any other source has information, it should be investigated.
Walsh, a former Patriots video assistant, has suggested to ESPN.com that he has information that could have exposed the Patriots prior to the NFL catching New England taping the New York Jets‘ defensive signals during the 2007 season opener. The Patriots were fined $750,000 and lost a first-round draft pick as punishment.
“If I had a reason to want to go public, or tell a story, I could have done it before it even broke,” Walsh told ESPN.com. “I could have said everything rather than having [Jets coach Eric] Mangini be the one to bring it out.
“If they’re doing a thorough investigation — they didn’t contact me. So draw your own conclusions. Maybe they felt they didn’t need to. Maybe the league feels they got satisfactory answers from everything the Patriots sent them.”
Told of the newest allegation, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press on Saturday:
“We were aware of the rumor months ago and looked into it. There was no evidence of it on the tapes or in the notes produced by the Patriots, and the Patriots told us it was not true.”
James reiterated that sentiment.
“The suggestion that the New England Patriots recorded the St. Louis Rams’ walk-through on the day before Super Bowl XXXVI is absolutely false,” James said. “Any suggestion to the contrary is untrue.”
Rams spokesman Rick Smith, reading a statement from team president John Shaw, said, “At this point, we have no comment.”
Walsh, 31, now an assistant golf pro at the Ka’anapli Golf Resort in Lahaina, Hawaii, worked for the Patriots from 1996 until the winter of 2002-03, when he was fired. He has hinted to ESPN.com that he has information that could be damaging to both the league and the Patriots but has declined to make it available, saying it could be seen as stolen property.
Walsh said he is fearful of potential legal action against him by either the league or the Patriots if he details what he knows. He refused to provide evidence of potential wrongdoing unless ESPN agreed to pay his legal fees related to his involvement in the story, as well as to an indemnity that would cover any damages found against him in court. ESPN denied his requests.
On Friday, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he had written NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seeking an explanation as to why evidence in the NFL’s investigation of the Patriots videotaping was destroyed.
“I am very concerned about the underlying facts on the taping, the reasons for the judgment on the limited penalties and, most of all, on the inexplicable destruction of the tapes,” Specter wrote.
Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the matter could put the league’s antitrust exemption at risk. In a phone interview with The New York Times, which first reported Specter’s interest in the matter, he said the committee at some point will call Goodell to address the antitrust exemption as well as the destruction of the tapes.
Goodell, in his previously scheduled news conference Friday from Phoenix, said, “I am more than willing to speak with the senator. There are very good explanations why the tapes were destroyed by our staff — there was no purpose for them.”
There were six tapes, according to Goodell — some from the 2007 preseason and the rest from 2006. He said he had them destroyed because he was confident the Patriots had turned over all of the tapes and notes the NFL had requested in its investigation. He also said they were destroyed in order to prevent leaks to the media — as some footage from one of the tapes was leaked shortly after the story broke.
“We wanted to take and destroy that information,” Goodell said. “They may have collected it within the rules, but we couldn’t determine that. So we felt that it should be destroyed.”
Belichick had little to add on the subject.
“It’s a league matter,” he said Friday during his news conference. “I don’t know anything about it.”