A long, extensively reported article from ESPN’s Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. implies that the NFL’s harsh, doomed Deflategate punishments were a “make-up call” for how the league handled the 2007 Spygate scandal.
In 2007 the Patriots were caught videotaping New York Jets coaches with the intent to steal hand signals. The league fined Bill Belichick $US500,000, docked the team $US250,000 and took away a first-round draft picks, but the tapes were destroyed before they went public and the extent of the spying program was never fully detailed.
The ESPN report is full of alleged new details, and it makes Spygate look worse than previously believed. According to ESPN, the Patriots secretly filmed 40 games between 2001 and 2007 and built a library of their opponents’ signals. They then stole those signals during games and called plays to take advantage of what was coming. The program was carried out in secret, with the employees disguising themselves as NFL or “Kraft Production” cameramen to film opposing coaches.
The Patriots released a statement denying that they ever filmed any practices or walk-throughs, and dismissed the allegations as “myths, conjecture, and rumours.”
Here are the most damning allegations:
- The Patriots would send an employee into the visiting locker room to steal their play sheets during pre-game warmups.
- They would have someone “rummage through the visiting team hotel for playbooks or scouting reports.”
- They made their employees wear disguises, like shirts that said Kraft Productions, while they secretly filmed opposing coaches. They were also “provided with excuses for what to tell NFL security if asked what they were doing.”
- Sources with three different teams that lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl (the Eagles, Panthers, and Rams) think they spied on them and knew what plays were coming during the Super Bowl.
- Former Rams coach Mike Martz claims a Pats assistant coach told him he knew which plays St. Louis were going to run in the red zone in the 2001 Super Bowl, and that, “A little birdie told us.”
- The Patriots had “a library of scouting material containing videotapes” in a secret room that only Bill Belichick could access.
- They had a practice of “scrambling and jamming” their opponents’ radio equipment so the coaches couldn’t communicate with the quarterbacks.
- A former Patriots assistant coach told ESPN, “It got out of control.”
According to Van Natta Jr. and Wickersham, the feeling around the league is that the Patriots got off easy on Spygate, with the NFL brushing the details of the scandal under the rug. The league’s recent attempt to hammer the Pats for Deflategate, many believe, was a direct response to the impression from other teams that New England got away with a robust cheating program in 2007.
In a statement, the Patriots said, “It is disappointing that some choose to believe in myths, conjecture and rumours rather than giving credit for the team’s successes to Coach Belichick, his staff and the players for their hard work, attention to detail, methodical weekly preparation, diligence and overall performance.”
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