Thursday, September 13, 2007

Patriot Games -- Time for the Wrath of Goodell to obliterate Bill Belichick

The pages of have been strong and decisive in our support of National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell’s NFL Player Conduct Code. Goodell has made it clear to any football player good enough to play on Sunday’s – you should consider it a privilege not a right to play on Sunday’s in the National Football League.

If the same ‘tough love’ applies to players, than it must equally affect to coaches and team officials who step over that mythical line in the sand and embarrass the National Football League. It appears the head coach of the NFL’s pre-season Super Bowl favorite, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has brought shame to the coaching fraternity Belichick stands accused and it appears guilty of cheating in the Patriots season opening game against the New York Jets. Ironically the Patriots beat the New York Jets 38-14 dominating the contest – not needing any assistance.

According to various media reports (and for the purposes of this Insider Report, we’ll put our faith in the worldwide sports leader ESPN and one of their finest football authorities Chris Mortensen): NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has determined that the New England Patriots violated league rules Sunday when they videotaped defensive signals by the New York Jets' coaches, according to league sources.

NFL security officials confiscated a camera and videotape from Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella on the New England sidelines when it was suspected he was recording the Jets' defensive signals. Sources say the visual evidence confirmed the suspicion.

"The rule is 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," the league said in a statement from spokesman Greg Aiello. "Clubs have specifically been reminded in the past that the videotaping of an opponent's offensive or defensive signals on the sidelines is prohibited.

Goodell according to Mortensen is considering severe sanctions, including the possibility of docking the Patriots "multiple draft picks" because Goodell believes it is the competitive violation in the wake of a stern warning to all teams since he became commissioner, the sources said. The Patriots have been suspected in previous incidents.

There appears to be little doubt that Belichick has committed the crime, he offered somewhat of an backhanded apology Wednesday afternoon reportedly after talking with Goodell.

"Although it remains a league matter, I want to apologize to everyone who has been affected, most of all ownership, staff and players," Belichick said. "Following the league's decision, I will have further comment."

Let’s make one issue clear – Bill Belichick has impugned the integrity of the National Football League.

The story first broke in Wednesday's New York Daily News when claims that Jets coach Eric Mangini, a former New England assistant under Bill Belichick, came armed with keen knowledge of the team's surveillance methods -- and finally decided to act where reported

"[The Jets] knew they did it," the Daily News wrote, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, who sent the newspaper an e-mail. "They caught the guy a year ago, but couldn't do anything about it. When Eric came, he said that's what they used to do. Bill is going to be [ticked] at Eric. He kissed and told."

In August, ran a wide-ranging series on cheating in sports. Jeffri Chadiha wrote the NFL portion of the package. Among the ways NFL coaches try to gain an advantage was trying to descramble signals sent from coach to player according to

"When Marty Schottenheimer coached the Cleveland Browns in the late 1980s, he routinely sent a scout to watch the signals opposing teams used to relay messages from coaches to players. When the scout returned, Schottenheimer's staff would watch the game film and match the signals to the plays that followed.

"[Herm] Edwards said the same is true today. It's common for coaches to watch standard game tapes [which include shots from the press box and end zone angles], sideline tapes [which usually wind up on highlight shows and include footage of players and coaches talking on the sidelines] and even the television shows of opposing coaches for tips."

What really is amazing – this reportedly isn’t the first time Belichick has done this, just the first time he has been caught – it’s time to for Coach Belichick to pay the price for what he’s done to damage the reputation of the National Football League.

The Boston Herald's John Tomase reported that, "the Packers and Lions also nabbed the Patriots filming their defensive signals, while the Bills suspected it and now are reviewing last year’s game tapes."

The Herald approached members of the Green Bay Packers asking why they hadn’t reported the Patriots if they believed the Pats had cheated the last time they met the Patriots.

“It bothers you that it’s cheating,” he said, “but it’s not the reason they kicked our (butt).”

It’s interesting too note a pair of comments after that game. The first came from Packers corner Al Harris, who praised the Patriots coaching staff at the time.

“It’s almost like they knew what we were doing, you know?” he said. “You have to tip your hat to them. They ran plays designed for us. They ran plays that made us check out of some things. I don’t know who calls their plays, but Belichick is pretty good. Honestly, he’s pretty good.”

"I think that the Patriots live by the saying, 'If you're not cheating, you're not trying,'" San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson was quoted as saying Tuesday. "I'm not surprised because you keep hearing the different stories (and) people complaining about the stuff that they do."

Is Bill Belichick popular among his peers – no, he wins all the time, they lose (more often than not to Belichick). Is he a fan favorite – same statement – only if you’re a Patriots fans. It doesn’t come as a surprise to hear other NFL coaches lining up to take their shots at one of the most successful coaches in NFL history.

"Usually where there's smoke, there's fire, so those rumors are founded on something," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, an NFL assistant coach for six years with Tampa Bay and Minnesota before being hired by Pittsburgh told the Associated Press. "No, it's not totally shocking, no."

"You hear rumors of things of that nature, but there's nothing new in terms of confirming it," he said. "It's never been confirmed in any incidence in my knowledge."

"We like to keep our methods private so we can continue to be successful," Tomlin said. "We don't spend a lot of time worrying about that, but we are sharp enough to protect ourselves versus the potential of something like that happening against us.

"Really, this is nothing new. You see offensive play callers covering their mouths, that's been going on for a long time, and that's the reason that's done."

Dan Reeves has spent 40 years working in the National Football League told New York Newsday he doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with doing what you need to do to win – telling Newsday, its part of how the game is played, but he made it clear -- Bill Belichick may have crossed that mythical line in the sand when it comes to the ethics of coaching in the National Football League.

"The filming, that's cheating. It's wrong. If it's done, it's wrong, and you should be penalized," Reeves said. "The league can't allow those things to happen. There's no place in football for that. Tom Brady doesn't need to know what their signals are. Give me a break!"

"There's no questions there are coaches that come from different schools, and I guess they think saying that gives them an advantage, I guess," Reeves said in the Newsday report. "But I never looked at it that way. I didn't want to have a guy listed as doubtful and then all of a sudden on Sunday he's playing."

"When you played someone that you knew was vague, you looked at it and took it with a grain of salt. It really didn't make too much difference in terms of your preparation, anyway," Reeves said. "I think there's a lot more read into that than what there really is. If you start to pay so much attention to that type of stuff, you lose focus of the game. There are a lot of things that are more important than that."

Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft Tuesday was asked when he expected the league to rule on the matter, but said those questions had to be directed toward Goodell and even appeared to be distancing himself from the actions of his three-time winning Super Bowl coach. At the same time, Kraft suggested “jealousy” may be a factor in the latest version of Patriot Games

“There is an investigation going on now, and perhaps an adjudication of it, and I think it would be inappropriate at this time to make any comment,” Kraft told reporters at a charity appearance Tuesday. “When you’re successful in anything, a lot of people like to try to take you down and do different things. We understand that.

“We worked very hard to try to put an organization together that we all could be proud of in New England, and we’re very proud of the New England Patriots organization and the record that they’ve established over the last 13 seasons and one game.”

According to a report – this type of football cheating extends well beyond the National Football League. Videotaping signals has even occurred on the college level. Atlanta Falcons and former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, when asked if sign-stealing occurring in college said: "Yeah, I think so. I think there have been some guys that have been identified in trying to do that. It's not what you're supposed to do. It's unethical and certainly there are always people everywhere trying to break the rules.

"Yeah, you can get an advantage. There's no question about it. We actually had a team last year we played (while at Louisville) that we heard was doing it so we had to have two people on the sideline signaling and going back and forth on whose live and who's dummy because you can certainly can gain an advantage."

"I don't think it's any different from baseball - if you know a guy is going to steal, you're going to throw a pitchout and throw him out," said Mark Whipple, the former University of Massachusetts head coach and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks coach in a Boston Globe report

"If you know what they're going to do, then you have a chance, and that's why coaches work so hard and work long hours. You try to turn over every rock and stone, and try to find something, especially in the National Football League, the most competitive league in the world.

"It always comes to one play, the fourth quarter, and if you can make that call, at that time, and you know what they're doing, it's a great advantage."

"If you know the coverage’s for the passing game and when a defense is going to come with a blitz, you can have the counter for those moves ready and it sure makes it a lot easier," he said. "Every offensive play and every defensive play has a weakness, and if you know ahead of time, your percentage for exploiting it is that much greater, which in turn increases your chances for success on that play."

Its clear Bill Belichick broke not only the rules of the National Football League but the spirit of fair play. Goodell has to come down hard on Bill Belichick if the statement he made on April 10, 2007 when he announced the NFL’s Player Conduct Code has any real meaning.

"It is important that the NFL be represented consistently by outstanding people as well as great football players, coaches, and staff," Commissioner Goodell said. "We hold ourselves to higher standards of responsible conduct because of what it means to be part of the National Football League. We have long had policies and programs designed to encourage responsible behavior, and this policy is a further step in ensuring that everyone who is part of the NFL meets that standard. We will continue to review the policy and modify it as warranted."

If Roger Goodell sees himself as an honest “guardian” of the National Football League, the protector of what the National Football League stands for he has to consider the following:

- Suspending Bill Belichick for three games and informing the Patriots Bill Belichick is to have no connection whatsoever in preparing the Patriots for those three games.
- Taking the Patriots second round picks in the 2008 and 2009 NFL drafts

In the five months since Goodell announced the NFL Player Conduct Code with the support of NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw has included the suspensions of Michael Vick, Adam “Pacman” Jones, Chris Henry and Tank Johnson – four football players whose on-field abilities suggested they were good enough to play on Sunday’s but lost that right when their off-field antics forced the NFL to suspend them.

By no means should the deviant behavior of Vick, Jones, Henry and Johnson be compared to what Bill Belichick has done, but none of the players’ actions threatened the integrity of the National Football League, and clearly what Bill Belichick stands accused of directly challenges what is in the best interests of the National Football League.

It wouldn’t be fair to compare the havoc Tim Donaghy has reigned on the National Basketball Association to what Bill Belichick stands accused of, but both me are guilty (to varying degrees) of knowingly breaking the rules of their respective sport to gain an unfair advantage. Shame on you Bill Belichick, your team looked to you for leadership, your team was good enough and instead you choose to break the rules of the game. Shame on you Bill Belichick, your team deserves better.

"You look at the New England Patriots, and you wonder, 'Have they been cheating all this time? Have they been getting an unfair advantage for their football team?' " said ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth. "It makes you wonder how much a factor that was during their three championship years."

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Boston Herald, ESPN, Associated Press, and Newsday

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