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Football Notes

Tale of the tape, revisited

Missteps on clarity kept confusion alive

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / May 11, 2008

How did we get here?

On Tuesday, former Patriots employee Matt Walsh is scheduled to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss what he knows about the team's videotaping procedures. Walsh has already provided all materials he had in his possession - eight tapes from six games in the 2000-02 seasons - yet it was noteworthy that there was no tape of the Rams' walkthrough practice prior to Super Bowl XXXVI.

So how has this story, and Walsh's involvement, reached this point?

Looking back at the decision-making of the key parties, it seems everyone had their hand in keeping it alive.

Four days after the Patriots were caught illegally videotaping the signals of Jets coaches in the Sept. 9, 2007, season opener, the NFL came down with its ruling against the club: the forfeiture of a 2008 first-round draft choice, a $500,000 fine for coach Bill Belichick, and a $250,000 fine for the club. The decision, as noted by the NFL at the time, was based on a rule regarding the taping of offensive and defensive signals.

While the league might have been thinking that a decisive, immediate ruling was the correct course of action, the timing seemed to lead to more questions. Was there a thorough enough investigation? Also, why were the tapes turned over by the Patriots destroyed?

While the league insisted it was to ensure there were no tapes available to anyone, the destruction created the perception of a cover-up.

Still, perhaps the NFL's biggest misstep was its lack of clarity in explaining that the penalty was for the totality of the Patriots' actions, which extended to Belichick's first year as coach in 2000.

The Globe reported Sept. 22 that the penalty was for the totality of the team's conduct, yet it remained unclear what that was. Even at Super Bowl XLII, when Goodell held his press conference, questions lingered about the totality when Goodell referenced that six tapes had been handed over by the Patriots from the 2007 preseason and "primarily from late in the 2006 season."

While it might have been unintentional, Goodell was feeding the perception that the taping was only recent, when in fact it had gone on since 2000.

While some have criticized the involvement of Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania - citing his close financial ties to Comcast, which is at odds with the NFL - it would be difficult to argue that he did not add clarity to the situation.

It wasn't until Goodell met with Specter Feb. 13 that the totality of the Patriots' taping procedures became much clearer. Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, had requested the meeting after raising the threat of Congress canceling the NFL's antitrust exemption. Questioning why the NFL destroyed the tapes, Specter told the New York Times Jan. 31 that "the American people are entitled to be sure about the integrity of the game."

That set off a media firestorm at the Super Bowl, which is opportune for those looking to stir things up.

Unsatisfied, Specter turned his attention to Walsh, promoting a situation in which the former Patriots employee would feel comfortable coming forward.

After the NFL made its ruling against the Patriots in September, Belichick released a statement Sept. 14 explaining that he accepted responsibility for misinterpreting a rule. He also noted that he would not comment further.

Yet questions lingered. How could he have misinterpreted a rule that was clarified in a 2006 memo? What did the team gain from the taping? How long was it going on?

Much the way the NFL was not forthcoming in explaining the totality of the Patriots' conduct, the team itself could have helped in that regard.

Belichick answered some questions in a Feb. 18 Globe article. He described the impact of the tapes as "minimal" to preparations, rating them a 1 on a scale of 1 to 100.

But at that point, the story had shifted to a different focus. It was less about the impact of taping and the totality of the team's actions, and more centered on a Feb. 2 Boston Herald report in which an anonymous source claimed a team official filmed the Rams' walkthrough at the Super Bowl.

The team denied the report, and Belichick strongly disputed it in the Globe piece and to national reporters at the NFL's annual meeting April 1. Also on April 1, Belichick said he made a mistake by not following up with the NFL regarding its 2006 memo to see if his interpretation of the rule was correct.

Walsh's role was first brought to light in a piece published online by the New York Times Jan. 31. On Feb. 1, ESPN.com also published a piece with comments from Walsh, suggesting he had information that could be damaging to the Patriots. Then came the Feb. 2 Herald report that a Patriots official filmed the Rams' walkthrough, which did not cite Walsh.

The chain reaction brought the Patriots' videotaping procedures to the forefront again.

Walsh retained a lawyer, Michael Levy, and it wasn't until last Wednesday that Levy told the New York Times that Walsh was not the source of the Herald article, nor did he ever claim to have a tape of the walkthrough.

Had Levy or Walsh come out sooner and indicated that he was not the source in the Herald report - even as recently as April 23 when the agreement had been reached for Walsh to come forward with legal protection - the issue likely would have simmered.

Instead, it's led us to this.

Harrison a man of mystery

There remain more questions than definitive answers regarding the potential involvement of Colts receiver Marvin Harrison in a Philadelphia shooting April 29, but this much is known, according to reports from ESPN and the Philadelphia Daily News citing police sources: A gun owned by Harrison was used to shoot one man in the hand, and shattered glass from the gunfire cut a 2-year-old boy.

The shooting took place near a sports bar and car wash that Harrison owns in his old neighborhood.

Pennsylvania law states that the owner of a weapon involved in a shooting can be charged in the crime regardless of whether he fired the gun. Harrison is not a suspect in the shooting at this time, but with the NFL continuing to crack down on personal-conduct issues, he still could face a suspension.

The Colts have reserved comment until they feel more information is available on an incident that has shined an unfavorable spotlight on one of the NFL's most introverted players.

Few superstars in the NFL are as quiet and reserved as Harrison, who was touted by some as the anti-Terrell Owens in the media buildup to Super Bowl XLI. Teammates have noted that they never had the chance to get to know Harrison because he generally keeps to himself.

Harrison seldom conducts interviews, which was one of the big story lines before that Super Bowl, because all players are required by the NFL to speak with the media. At the time, Harrison said, "My philosophy is that there is no need to talk."

That won't fly this time around. Soon enough, Harrison will be forced to do some talking about what happened in Philadelphia.

Bengals get their mitts on catchers

The Bengals have had one of the league's most explosive passing attacks in recent years - it's generally been the defense holding them back - but that looks like a question mark entering the 2008 season.

Receiver Chad Johnson is upset with the club and would like to be traded, but the Bengals are digging in their heels with him. Fellow pass-catcher T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who tied New England's Wes Welker for the NFL lead with 112 receptions last season, enters the final year of his contract. And Chris Henry, who last year was the No. 3 option, is no longer with the team.

So it was no surprise that Cincinnati loaded up with receivers in the draft, selecting Coastal Carolina's Jerome Simpson in the second round, Florida's Andre Caldwell in the third round, and Louisville's Mario Urrutia late in the seventh round.

"Got to reload," quarterback Carson Palmer said during rookie minicamp last weekend. "Chad and T.J. are both getting older [30] and it's part of the deal - you've got to restock for years to come."

Palmer couldn't wait to get a close-up look at some of his new targets, so he carved out his spot on the sidelines.

An added bonus for Palmer was the chance to check out the quarterback throwing to the new receivers - his younger brother, Jordan Palmer. The Bengals signed Palmer, a sixth-round draft choice of the Redskins in 2007 out of Texas El-Paso, back in January to compete for the No. 3 job.

Etc.

Kicker gets a foot in the door
A nice story with local ties unfolded last week in Minnesota when the Vikings signed rookie kicker Steve Hauschka to a free agent contract. Hauschka grew up in Needham but did not play football in high school. He went out for the Middlebury College team, and by the time he graduated in 2007, he owned the school record for career field goals, with 20. With an additional season of college eligibility, Hauschka went to graduate school at North Carolina State and won the placekicking job: He was 25 of 25 on extra points and 16 of 18 on field goals. While he is a long shot to earn a roster spot in Minnesota, where incumbent Ryan Longwell enters the third season of a five-year contract, Hauschka realizes his performance will serve as an audition for the league's other 31 teams. That's how countless kickers have earned a roster spot, with perhaps no better example than Bears Pro Bowler Robbie Gould, who got his start in New England alongside Adam Vinatieri.

Nowhere to hide
The NFL seemingly likes being part of a 12-month news cycle - gone are the days when February to July was a blackout period - but there is a downside to that. Dolphins rookie quarterback Chad Henne found that out firsthand last week when he had his final practice of minicamp - in which he had to run a lap after forgetting the snap count, and also overthrew some receivers - dissected by onlookers. A South Florida newspaper ran this headline: "Henne hits wall at final minicamp workout." Ouch. Never mind that Henne, one of the team's second-round draft picks, was in just his fourth practice as a pro. Seems like some football perspective has been lost with the intensity of year-round coverage.

Incentive is plain and simple
When former Redskins receiver Art Monk was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February, he told the story of how he arrived in Washington as a first-round draft choice in 1980 and was given a logo-less burgundy helmet. The message was that he'd have to earn his Redskins feathers. Current Redskins owner Daniel Snyder liked Monk's story, so he passed on the idea to first-year head coach Jim Zorn, who has adopted the approach. "Those young guys look at the logo and then they have a sense of something that they want to earn," Zorn said.

Quick quarterback count
Why such a short tenure for New Hampshire quarterback Ricky Santos with the Chiefs? Santos, who signed as a free agent after the draft, was waived last Tuesday after the Chiefs determined they were content to go with the other four quarterbacks on their roster: Brodie Croyle, Damon Huard, Tyler Thigpen, and David Greene. Basically, Santos was competing against Thigpen and Greene for the No. 3 and 4 spots, and the club made a rather quick determination that he wasn't an upgrade. The Chiefs have been especially impressed with Thigpen, a seventh-round draft choice of the Vikings in 2007 who was claimed when Minnesota tried to sneak him through waivers last year. Like Santos, Thigpen played at the Division 1-AA level, at Coastal Carolina.

Extra points
Former Boston College receiver Tony Gonzalez of Framingham has been invited to the Falcons' rookie minicamp this week. Thus the Matt Ryan-to-Gonzalez connection has a chance to continue in the professional ranks . . . Running back Shaun Alexander, cut by the Seahawks last month, has generated early interest from the Bengals and Saints. Both clubs visited with Alexander last week . . . The Cowboys will be featured on "Hard Knocks," the HBO training-camp reality show. The Ravens (2001), Cowboys (2002), and Chiefs (2007) are the other clubs that have been featured . . . Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters last week that it's 50-50 receiver Terry Glenn will play next season because of his knee injury . . . The fifth annual Linebacker School with Patriots Hall of Famer Steve Nelson and Pro Football Hall of Famer Andre Tippett is scheduled for July 6-8 at Curry College. Contact Skip Bandini (781-942-4521) or visit www.MastersFootballCamp.com for more information.

Did you know?
The 252 players selected in the draft represented 245 high schools. Of the seven schools with two players selected, two produced first-round choices: Tustin High in Tustin, Calif. (Falcons offensive lineman Sam Baker) and Los Alamitos High in Los Alamitos, Calif. (Chargers cornerback Antoine Cason).

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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