PHOENIX - NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, revealing for the first time the extent of the Patriots' illegal videotaping of opponents, said yesterday the league had seized and destroyed tapes on six games dating to the 2006 season.
In September, Goodell fined coach Bill Belichick $500,000, the team $250,000, and took away one of New England's first-round draft picks after ruling the team illegally filmed defensive signals of New York Jets coaches in the season opener. The league also destroyed scouting notes that could have been related to the videotaping.
Although he levied record fines and penalties against the Patriots, Goodell downplayed the significance of the tapes in his Super Bowl press conference. He said one of the tapes included an opposing coach "waving at the camera, indicating they almost knew they were being taped.
"I think as far as the actual effectiveness of taping signals from opposing football teams or other sports is something that's done, and done quite widely, and teams prepare for that," Goodell said. "I think it probably had little effect, if any effect, on the outcome of any game."
Asked why he punished the Patriots so harshly, Goodell said: "That doesn't change my perspective of if you are violating the rules, you should be punished for that. You should be disciplined, and I think we did that very aggressively."
Goodell said he did not believe the tapes contributed to any of the franchise's three Super Bowl championships because the tapes were from 2007 preseason games and "primarily from late in the 2006 season" although he did not indicate if one of the exhibition games was against the Giants.
The Patriots and Giants play in the Super Bowl tomorrow and a win would cap off a perfect season for New England, only the second in league history (the 1972 Miami Dolphins). Goodell said the team's accomplishment hasn't been tarnished. "I think what they did this season was certainly done within the rules on a level playing field."
In answering 11 questions specific to the "Spygate" scandal, Goodell also defended the league's actions in destroying the tapes, a decision that has come under scrutiny from Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania.
"I think there are very good explanations for the reason why I destroyed the tapes or had them destroyed by our staff," Goodell said, noting he is willing to meet with Specter. "They were totally consistent with what the team told me. There was no purpose for them. I believe it was helpful in making sure my instructions were followed closely, by not only the Patriots but also by every other team. I think it was the appropriate thing to do. Our discipline sent a loud message."
Goodell pointed out that one of the tapes was leaked and broadcast Sept. 16, which was another reason he destroyed them.
"It was the best way to make sure that the Patriots had followed my instructions; I wanted to make sure that bit of information did not appear again," he said. "If it did appear, I would know they didn't hand me all the information.
"They certified to me, in writing, that they gave me all the information on tapes or notes, and that there was no further information relating to this incident or any other taping of games. Now I know if something arises, that I wasn't told the truth."
Goodell explained the tapes showed a coach making signals, then panned to a shot of the scoreboard, which included the down and distance. He described it as "not exciting."
The NFL also seized notes "that had been collected, that I would imagine many teams have from when they scout a team in advance, that may have been collected by using an illegal activity, according to our rules." Goodell was not sure if the notes were part of the illegal activity, but felt it was appropriate to take them because of the uncertainty.
Goodell noted multiple times that attempting to decipher signals is commonplace. Where the Patriots crossed the line was the vehicle they used to do so.
"I'm not sure there is a coach in the league that doesn't expect that their signals are being interpreted by opposing teams. That's why they go to great lengths," Goodell said. "I think it was Coach [Bill] Parcells earlier this season who said, 'Any coach that doesn't expect his signals to be stolen is stupid.' It's pretty simple but teams understand that it's a risk and they prepare for that. I don't believe it affected the outcome of any games."
Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft, who was present for Goodell's briefing and shook hands with him afterward, declined comment when asked to respond to Goodell's remarks.
Other league issues touched on by Goodell included:
The NFL is considering altering how teams are seeded in the playoffs, so more late-season games have meaning. That could potentially set up a scenario in which a wild-card team hosts a home game against a division winner if it has a better record.
He feels the league's player-conduct policy is working, citing a 20 percent reduction in incidents this year.
The league will return to London for the second straight year, with the San Diego Chargers playing the New Orleans Saints in a regular-season game Oct. 26.
The Buffalo Bills will play one regular-season game in Toronto each of the next five years, as well as one exhibition game every other year.
Goodell realizes there could be a brewing labor battle between owners and the players' association, saying: "I hope we'll come to a successful conclusion on that because it's good for the game." Owners can opt out of the current deal in November.
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.