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A sorry state

Belichick apologizes as probe continues

BILL BELICHICK Nothing to add BILL BELICHICK Nothing to add

FOXBOROUGH - Patriots coach Bill Belichick apologized twice yesterday - first to his players in a morning meeting and then via a written statement - as he awaits a ruling from commissioner Roger Goodell on the videotape incident that took place in Sunday's game against the Jets at Giants Stadium.

But what exactly he was apologizing for is unclear.

"Earlier this week, I spoke with Commissioner Goodell about a videotaping procedure during last Sunday's game and my interpretation of the rules," Belichick said in the statement. "At this point, we have not been notified of the league's ruling. Although it remains a league matter, I want to apologize to everyone who has been affected, most of all ownership, staff, and players. Following the league's decision, I will have further comment."

He did not elaborate in a 16-minute press conference before a standing-room-only media crowd yesterday morning at Gillette Stadium.

Wearing blue shorts and a blue-collared shirt with a Patriots logo, Belichick entered the media room at 10:50, and as photographers snapped pictures of his arrival, he stepped to the podium and said he had nothing to add to his statement before detailing his thoughts on the team's opponent Sunday night, the Chargers.

After Belichick's opening statement, the first five questions directed toward him were in regards to the investigation. Does he worry about it becoming a distraction? Did he know when a decision would be made?

"I don't have anything to add," Belichick said after the second query. "I'm sorry; I've said all I can say about it for right now. When something comes in, I'll have another comment on it."

Belichick did not answer when asked if he was making contingency plans in the event he is suspended. And when asked if he was embarrassed by the investigation, he looked to the crowd and went from interviewee to interviewer.

"Are there any questions about the Chargers? Do you want to talk about the football game?" he asked.

When asked if he felt he was putting his players in a tough situation, Belichick reiterated that the team was getting ready to face the Chargers before again asking if there were any questions on Sunday's home opener.

The next 15 questions were all related to the Chargers before a reporter asked Belichick to explain his interpretation of the NFL's videotaping rule. Belichick answered by saying that when the league makes a ruling on the investigation, the Patriots will have a statement. When a follow-up on the investigation was posed to the coach, Belichick asked if there were other questions on the Chargers and left the podium as a question on the videotaping rule was being asked.

Every NFL team has a security person assigned to it from the league, and the official assigned to the Jets stopped Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella during the first half of last Sunday's 38-14 Patriots romp in the season opener. The NFL security official confiscated the equipment Estrella allegedly used to film the signals of Jets defensive coaches.

Filming the signals of coaches is illegal, and the penalty could be suspension, fines, and loss of draft choices.

The league's game operations manual states that "no video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game." Teams are allowed to record games, but the manual also states that "all video shooting locations must be enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead."

In addition, Ray Anderson, the league's head of football operations, sent a memo to head coaches and general managers Sept. 6, 2006, that read: "Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent's offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches' booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game."

The rule is in place to prevent teams from gaining a competitive advantage by learning an opponent's signals. For example, a videotape of an assistant coach's hand signals could be matched with the overhead photos of each play that are available to teams during a game. In other words, a quarterback might know exactly what to expect from a defense (such as if a blitz is called).

The investigation into the Patriots drew strong reaction across the NFL.

Colts coach Tony Dungy said if the Patriots are found guilty, "that will be disturbing."

"You kind of feel like there is a code of honor, a code of ethics in the league," he said. "You want to win and you want to do things the right way. I'm going to reserve judgment and really not say anything until we find out what exactly [the NFL] does find."

Titans coach Jeff Fisher, co-chairman of the eight-man NFL Competition Committee that oversees the rules, said he never suspected the Patriots of illegally spying. But he would favor a strong punishment for any team in violation of the rule.

"There is no place for it," Fisher said. "Everybody clearly understands the rules. The Competition Committee's responsibility is to protect the integrity of the game. The technology the way it is now, things can get out of hand in a matter of weeks if we don't protect the integrity of the game."

One member of the Competition Committee theorized that the Patriots could have been using recordings from the defensive signals at halftime, which potentially would have helped them make better adjustments - specifically on blitzes - for the final 30 minutes. An assistant coach felt recordings of signals probably would be more useful for the next time the Patriots faced that team.

Former Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly, who now works for CBS, is a former member of the Competition Committee, and recalled that the first time he became aware of technological concerns that potentially compromised the integrity of the game was the spring of 2005.

"There were no teams mentioned, but the things we talked about were things like microphones being put on defensive linemen to catch audibles, hyperbolic mics to catch audibles, and that's where a rule was put in that any miked player had to be reported before the game," he said. "Subsequently, people had evolved to cameras with sound bites on them to do the same thing, getting the signals from the quarterback and tying them to pictures to get audibles.

"We nicknamed it 'Star Wars' in our meetings, and the question was, 'Where do you stop with this stuff?' If one has it, all 32 have to have it. How far do you go with technology? That's the same reason that during halftime, even though coaches tape every game, they're not allowed to use the tape at halftime."

This past offseason, the league considered having one defensive player with a communication device in his helmet - which would eliminate the need for signals - but the potential change was narrowly defeated in a vote of NFL owners.

How far a team goes to decipher signals was a topic of debate in various NFL cities yesterday.

Said Bills coach Dick Jauron, "People can take your signals and steal them legally. They just look across the field and see what you called, and if you don't change them, it's not that hard a thing to do. It's a big deal [to videotape] because it's illegal, against the rules. Whoever does it is breaking the rules and they know they're breaking the rules if they do it. It's an unfair advantage in that regard."

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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