Senator Arlen Specter finally met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday to discuss the league's handling of its investigation into "Spygate," and according to Specter, he was told the Patriots' taping of opposing teams' signals had been going on since 2000, when Bill Belichick took over as coach.
"There was confirmation that there has been taping since 2000, when Coach Belichick took over," said Specter, who met with Goodell in his office in Washington for 1 hour 40 minutes.
Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, had written the league requesting a meeting with Goodell to discuss why the league destroyed the tapes - Goodell has said there were six - and notes, which date to 2002, that were turned over by the Patriots. That came after the team was caught videotaping the defensive signals of the Jets during its 38-14 victory at Giants Stadium Sept. 9.
Specter, who represents Pennsylvania and is an admitted fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, the team the Patriots defeated in Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, has questioned the quality of the NFL's investigation into the Patriots' conduct and has raised the possibility of congressional hearings if he wasn't satisfied with Goodell's answers.
Specter has compared the NFL's destruction of the tapes to the CIA destroying evidence and raised the threat of Congress canceling the NFL's antitrust exemption. He reiterated that threat in the meeting with Goodell.
However, Goodell stood his ground, maintaining the league handled the case and the evidence it seized from the Patriots properly.
"I think it was the right thing to do," said Goodell yesterday about the tapes' destruction. He added, "I have nothing to hide."
Specter's request for a meeting became public in a
The NFL has stated that the penalties were for the totality of the Patriots' actions, not just those during the Jets game.
Goodell said yesterday that Belichick told him he believed the taping was legal, implying he's been doing it since he has been coach.
"He said that's always been his interpretation since he's been the head coach," said the commissioner. "We are going to agree to disagree on the facts."
Patriots spokesman Stacey James, when reached last night, said the team had nothing to add on the meeting.
In a Sept. 13 statement released by Belichick after Goodell's ruling and the resulting penalties, the coach said his interpretation of the rule regarding videotaping was incorrect.
"Part of my job as head coach is to ensure that our football operations are conducted in compliance of the league rules and all accepted interpretations of them," Belichick said in his statement. "My interpretation of a rule in the constitution and bylaws was incorrect."
In a memo to NFL head coaches and general managers Sept. 6, 2006, a year before the Patriots had a sideline camera confiscated in the game against the Jets, league executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson stated, "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 day before this year's Super Bowl, the Boston Herald, citing an anonymous source, reported that the Patriots had taped the Rams' walkthrough prior to Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. New England won that game, 20-17.
Both the Patriots and the NFL have been adamant that no such taping took place. Goodell has stated that the NFL was aware of the rumor, investigated it, and found no credible evidence that the Patriots taped the walkthrough.
However, Goodell has maintained that he reserves the right to reopen the league's investigation if new information is uncovered, and Matt Walsh, a former Patriots employee now working as a golf pro in Hawaii, has hinted that he has evidence that could be potentially damaging to the team.
The commissioner said last week that if Walsh, who has claimed that a confidentiality agreement he signed with the Patriots puts him in legal jeopardy if he talks, has any new, pertinent information, the league would want to speak with him.
Yesterday, Goodell said he has not heard from Walsh. Goodell said he has offered Walsh a deal whereby "he has to tell the truth and he has to return anything he took improperly."
Goodell has defended the NFL's actions in the investigation, citing the leak of one of the tapes to Fox Sports, and saying their destruction was one way to confirm that the Patriots had turned over all of the evidence he had requested, which the team had to certify to the league in writing.
Specter said the NFL should have preserved the evidence.
"There were a great many questions answered by Commissioner Goodell," said Specter. "I found a lot of questions unanswerable because the tapes and notes had been destroyed."
Specter wants to talk to other league officials about what exactly was taped and which games may have been compromised.
"We have a right to honest football games," said Specter.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.