THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Getting out tape measure

Broncos incident quite unfortunate

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / November 29, 2010

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This is unfortunate.

A week from tonight the 9-2 Patriots play host to the 9-2 New York Jets in the NFL’s Game of the Season. It’s the latest chapter in an epic tale of hatred and hubris and the story lines stretch from here to Exit 16W on the Jersey Turnpike.

So why are we talking about Spygate again?

Call it bad luck. Call it unfair guilt by association. Call it sour grapes by the haters.

Just don’t call it nothing.

Word broke Saturday that the Denver Broncos and coach Josh McDaniels each had been fined $50,000 because a former team video operations director illegally videotaped a San Francisco 49ers practice in London last month. An NFL investigation established that Steve Scarnecchia shot a six-minute video and turned it over to McDaniels. Scarnecchia has been fired. McDaniels said he never looked at the tape and the league is buying that story.

Unfortunate.

I don’t expect to hear much about this on any of the Patriots’ Pravda news outlets, but you can be pretty sure the New York tabloids are going to run hard with it. The headline in yesterday’s Daily News was “It’s Spygate II in Denver,’’ and the vaunted Post went with two stories, one titled “Pats’ coach will always be tied to scandal,’’ and the other with a subhead stating “Incident also has Belichick ties.’’

You bet it does.

Bill Belichick’s bio in the Patriots media guide proudly features a half-page section entitled “Bill Belichick’s Tree.’’ It reads, in part, “Bill Belichick has had strong influences on hundreds of coaching, personnel, and football operations staff, many of whom have been hired to coach and manage other teams.’’ The lengthy list includes McDaniels and Eric Mangini, both of whom broke into the NFL under Belichick. Young Scarnecchia also broke into the NFL with the Patriots. He is listed as a “video assistant’’ in the Patriots’ staff directories of 2002, 2003, and 2004. He is also the son of Dante Scarnecchia, a beloved presence as an assistant coach on the Patriots’ sideline for the last 27 seasons.

Dante Scarnecchia is one of the finest men you’ll ever meet. He has been a part of all six Patriots Super Bowl teams and currently serves as offensive line coach and assistant head coach. In 1992, he served as Patriots’ head coach for seven games when Dick MacPherson fell ill. He is certainly not responsible for the actions of his son.

But this is awkward. The Patriots were publicly spanked by commissioner Roger Goodell in 2007 when it was learned that the team had videotaped defensive hand signals in a game against the Jets in Week 1. The Patriots lost a first-round pick and Belichick was fined $500,000. The team was fined an additional $250,000, but the ultimate price of Spygate was that it armed jealous Patriots haters (and they are legion) for life. It tainted championships. We’ll never know how much the spying helped, or how many other teams were doing it. We know only that the Patriots were the ones who got caught.

Now we have the first spy sanction since then, and there are Belichick footprints all over the place. The head coach of the Broncos was one of Bill’s guys. The guy caught taping was one of Bill’s guys and is the son of one of Bill’s present guys.

Oh, and just for good measure, we learned that Steve Scarnecchia was one of Mangini’s video operators when the Jets ratted out the Patriots in 2007. More than that, some folks think Steve Scarnecchia was the one who ratted out the Patriots.

This from Hank Gola in yesterday’s Daily News: “[Steve] Scarnecchia headed the Jets video department under Eric Mangini and reportedly tipped the team off about the Patriots’ illegal taping operations . . . ’’

Are you kidding me? That’s like finding out that there’s White House money behind a third-rate burglary of Democratic headquarters.

It’s important that we remember that Saturday’s sanction was against the Broncos. It is not a Patriots matter. Asking Belichick or any of his people about this is wildly unfair. It’s strictly a matter between the Commish and the Broncos.

In a Saturday conference call, NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash was asked why Denver’s sanction was so much smaller than New England’s, and he answered, “Here you had a single incident as opposed to years of activity, you had an incident that . . . was carried out by a single employee without direction from a coaching staff or a club . . . ’’

Ouch. That hurts.

Ultimately, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen is the one who must answer to the league and to Broncos fans on this one. But once again, the trail of espionage leads directly back to Route 1, and that is . . . unfortunate.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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