Passan: The Capitol Two-Step

Rich says it's time for the NFL Commish to show his very best dance moves...

This was supposed to be part two of News and Views, but the cause celebre that is Spygate has become too hot a topic to ignore. Therefore, News/Views part deux sits for one more week.

Now then . . .

The National Football League has come under some serious fire lately courtesy of the senior United States senator from Pennsylvania.

The firestorm caused by Arlen Specter's intervention is one that could cause a lot of unnecessary trouble for a league that has enjoyed a cozy relationship with Washington, causing Commissioner Roger Goodell to polish his Capital Two-Step.

The fact the New England Patriots were caught taping the defensive signals of the New York Jets during a game and subsequently punished by the NFL is not good enough for Specter, whose docket apparently isn't full enough to permit him to consider matters much more important.

And one wonders why Specter has decided now is the time to perpetuate Spygate, which erupted after the first week of the 2007 season when Jets coach Eric Mangini nailed the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick for illegally videotaping the signals of his defensive coordinator during the game.

Could it be that the senator still harbors bitter feelings over the fact the Patriots beat his Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005?

Specter, it would appear, is challenging the integrity of the NFL after Goodell couldn't come up with a satisfactory explanation as to why he ordered the Jets tapes to be destroyed. The commissioner said one of the tapes was leaked to one of the networks that televises the NFL and he did not want the others to be put out there, so they were destroyed. Not good enough for Specter.

Not certain what he, or anyone else for that matter, can glean from a bunch of tapes showing men waving their hands and arms in semaphore fashion to transmit defensive signals to players 20 or 30 yards away. No laws of the land were broken. Only laws of the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney not surprisingly leaped to Goodell's defense when the specter of Specter reared its ugly head.

"We consider the tapes of our coaching staff during our games against the New England Patriots to be a non-issue," said Rooney in a statement. "In our opinion, they had no impact on the results of those games.

"The Steelers fully support the manner in which Commissioner Goodell handled the situation and the discipline that he levied against those who violated league rules.

"We are confident that the Commissioner has taken appropriate action in his investigation of this matter and will do so again if new information arises which requires further investigation or discipline."

No surprise there. That's called protecting the 32-man exclusive and very private club known as the National Football League. All for one; one for all. We can police ourselves without outside help, thank you very much. Butt out.

To make matters worse, the league is now investigating claims that Matt Walsh, then working for the Patriots, reportedly videotaped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough the day before their Super Bowl date with the Patriots in 2002. Walsh says he has proof.

The big question is how was he able to be in a position to do it? How could an employee of the enemy get so close the day before the biggest game of the season?

The paranoia that emanates from teams in the NFL is such that it would be nearly impossible for anyone to obtain such visual information the day before the game. Wouldn't teams be the least bit suspicious of any hanky panky?

How could a guy like Walsh just waltz in and blithely tape what most likely were the Rams' first 15 or 20 plays on offense? Where was security for the Rams?

Now comes word that a $100 million lawsuit has been filed in New Orleans on behalf of a former Rams player, a Rams season ticket holder and a couple of Super Bowl ticket holders claiming the Patriots' victory over St. Louis in the Super Bowl was won fraudulently.

Gotta love lawyers.

Cheating in sports comes in various forms. In football, holding and grabbing and punching would not be considered cheating if you get away with it. That's why penalty flags are thrown.

Shaving points in a game is perhaps the most egregious form of cheating. And yes, it is possible to shave points in football. It would be hard to prove, but it is possible. This is, in no way, meant to suggest it goes on now.

But do you sometimes wonder why a receiver drops an easy pass? Or why a quarterback misses a wide-open receiver? Or why an offensive lineman whiffs on an easy block? Or why a placekicker shanks a can't-miss 27-yard field-goal attempt?

It's not cheating if you get away with it. It's cheating only if you get caught. If you believe otherwise, then every team at one time or another cheats.

If the Patriots had such an advantage over opponents via the video, how in the world did they win three Super Bowl championships by a total of nine points? That's right, three three-point victories. And their loss in the last Super Bowl was by three points.

If the Pats knew ahead of time exactly what plays the opposition was going to run, why did it take so long to win the first two titles? Adam Vinatieri kicked the winning 48-yard field goal as time expired in the Patriots' 20-17 victory over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. And he kicked the 41-yard game-winner with just four seconds remaining to beat Carolina, 32-29, in Super Bowl XXXVIII two years later.

And in their third title run against Specter's Eagles in 2005, the teams were tied, 14-14, after three quarters.

Where was the advantage? If Belichick and his minions had been taping the opposition's defensive signals during the game and using them to their advantage, the Patriots should have romped.

Maybe now that Belichick has been caught – exposed by Mangini would be a better way of phrasing that – and ceased his taping predilection, other coaches probably have shuttered their video cameras for that purpose and taken a hiatus until this all cools down. And it will cool down.

But why stop with Belichick? What? You thought the Patriots were the only team to cheat in this manner? This was exclusively a New England thing? Why not go around and check out other NFL coaches? This is not a one-team thing. Taping in this manner is not new.

Belichick said he misunderstood the rules. Believe that and you also believe in the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny.

Who knows how long he has taped the opposition? Perhaps as far back as his days in Cleveland as coach of the Browns. I wouldn't be surprised. The man would stop at nothing to get an edge on opponents.

(Sudden thought: It would also be interesting to hear what Romeo Crennel, the defensive coordinator for the Patriots in those championship years, has to say. He had to know what was going on. And one has to wonder whether he has ever sanctioned taping Browns opponents' signals on game day.)

The guess here is Belichick was going to keep taping until he got caught. And he never gave that possibility a second thought. Sort of an unspoken rule until Mangini violated it.

It's hard to tell in what way using this information gave the Patriots any distinct advantage. When you stop and think of the timing involved, it would be extremely difficult for them to adequately prepare to stop the opposing offense on any given play.

During huddle time, a play is communicated to the quarterback for the offense and signal caller for the defense simultaneously. How can the offensive play caller know what the defense is going to run if they are sent in at the same time?

Did it give the Patriots some sort of competitive edge? I'm not certain in what way. Did it affect the outcome of the games? Not from this perspective.

When the Browns ruled the NFL back in the early and mid-1950s, it was always my contention that the Browns were so good, coach Paul Brown could have instructed quarterback Otto Graham to announce to the opposing defense exactly what play was going to be run and the Browns would still have been successful.

The reason? Execution.

Knowing what the opposition is going to do is one thing. Stopping it if executed properly is quite another.

Some people complained that Belichick and the Patriots received only a slap on the wrist and a don't-do-that-again rebuke from the league. I wouldn't call a personal half-million dollar fine for Belichick and forfeiture of one of the Pats' first-round draft picks a slap on the wrist.

There are those who believe this whole mess could escalate into something far bigger than the NFL can handle. Even bigger than the Roger Clemens saga in Major League Baseball. Only difference is that Clemens is accused with breaking the laws of the land.

Somehow, I don't think that's going to happen because Goodell won't let it. He'll find a way to tap dance around it.

Probably getting better season seats to Eagles games for Specter.

Just kidding. Too bad Specter isn't.


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