Searching For Justice

More than six years have passed since the high-flying St Louis Rams lost to the upstart New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. Was it one of football greatest upsets, or did some previously unknown event come into play on that evening in New Orleans?

Looking back at Bill Belichick and the Spy-gate episode of 2007, I sometimes wish NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would revisit this very delicate and controversial issue of spying on future opponents.

I actually think he initially did a fairly good job of handling the Spy-gate issue, although I believe that the forfeited first-round draft selection by the Patriots should have been awarded to the offended club (Jets).

The area I would like the commissioner to revisit does not involve Spy-gate, but rather involves Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans between the Patriots and Rams, specifically as it concerns the activities of Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh and the parameters of which I'm still not entirely sure you are familiar to the commissioner.

I would think that the potential of a possible scandal surrounding the Super Bowl would be of tremendous concern in his office; enough, in fact, that there would be a necessity — indeed an urgency — to investigate the charge in such a way that the NFL would leave no stone unturned in its search for a resolution to this matter. From what I saw last summer, that sense of urgency did not exist.

Yet today there is still an air of uncertainty over actions taken by Mr. Walsh, who has already admitted to violating NFL policy; actions that may very well have affected the outcome of Super Bowl and tipped the scales to the New England Patriots.

If the long-term integrity of the league, and/or the perception of it in the public eyes, is of paramount importance to the league, then the commissioner's overall ruling in this matter was, quite frankly, unsatisfactory.

The appearance of any impropriety surrounding an NFL game is a major affront to the game, but for such a question to loom over the NFL's biggest showcase, played on the largest stage for any one-day sporting event in the world, is absolutely unacceptable. It is simply too offensive to the sensibilities of fair-minded individuals, and justifiably leaves the NFL open to a great deal of criticism from its skeptics.

If I were able to speak to Roger Goodell, I would urge the commissioner to continue to exhaust all avenues at your disposal, to uncover the facts that need to be known about this incident and to be resolute in taking the action necessary to restore the kind of credibility that will leave no doubt forever in the mind of the public that anything less than fairness and equity will not be tolerated in the NFL.

Back in 2004, long before the "Spy-gate" incident, a former Rams player, related a story to me one evening after a workout at the Teams complex that I will never forget.

At the last practice in St. Louis prior to leaving for the Super Bowl, Mike Martz installed a "red zone" play that the Rams had not used once during the Pre-season, regular season or during our playoff run. When the team arrived in New Orleans, even with the beefed up security, Mike once again did not run that particular play (a wheel route to Marshall Faulk) until the club's final walk-through practice on the Saturday prior to the game.

"I think Mike had been saving this particular play for this one situation. And to tell you the truth, Tom, the play was unstoppable' said the now former player, ‘but when Mike inserted the corresponding personnel package, formation and made the call during the first half, the Patriots defensive players and virtually the entire Patriots sidelines were screaming to watch the wheel to Marshall! "It was as if they knew exactly what was coming."

Coincidence? Chance? I guess we will never be entirely sure that our loss (we were clearly the better team) wasn't directly related to their apparent covert actions prior to the absolutely most important game in my professional football career. But a very long time ago I resolved myself to the fact that we ultimately fell short of our goal on that "Black Sunday; and that's the way it has to remain I suppose.

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