|Former New England Patriots videotape operator Matt Walsh arriving at NFL headquarters yesterday. (Louis Lanzano/Associated Press)|
Patriots never taped walkthrough, Goodell finds
Meeting with Walsh supports team; Herald apologizes for Feb. 2 report
NEW YORK - The Patriots videotaping saga that began eight months ago when the team was caught illegally filming signals of opposing coaches might finally have reached an end yesterday.
Former Patriots employee Matt Walsh met with National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell for more than three hours at league headquarters, and Goodell said afterward that no new corroborated information was revealed about the team's videotaping procedures. In addition, Goodell found no evidence that the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough practice before Super Bowl XXXVI was filmed by the Patriots, as the Boston Herald reported Feb. 2, citing an anonymous source.
In today's editions, the Herald acknowledged its error and issued a front-page apology for running the story without adequate verification.
The underdog Patriots defeated the Rams in that Super Bowl, 20-17, for the first of their three NFL championships.
Goodell, who stripped the Patriots of their 2008 first-round draft choice, fined coach Bill Belichick $500,000, and fined the team $250,000 last fall for illegally filming opponents' signals, said he doesn't envision any more penalties being levied. Asked if the story of the Patriots' videotaping procedures was now dead, he said, "Having met with Matt Walsh and 50 other people, I don't know where else I would turn."
Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is one of the league's most vocal critics of its handling of the videotaping probe, might disagree. Specter, who pressured the NFL to strike a deal that would allow Walsh to come forward, met with Walsh and his lawyer, Michael Levy, yesterday in Washington for three hours inside his office in the Hart Senate Office Building. But because Walsh arrived in town later than expected, a press conference was postponed.
Specter will address the media today at noon, but according to the senator's spokeswoman, Walsh and Levy are not planning to attend.
In New York, where Walsh and Goodell met at 7:30 a.m. and league officials later publicly showed footage from Walsh's tapes, Goodell said a key purpose in speaking with Walsh was to learn more about the alleged filming of the Rams' walkthrough.
"We were able to verify that there was no Rams walkthrough tape," Goodell said. "No one asked him to tape the walkthrough. He's not aware of anybody else who may have taped the walkthrough. He had not seen such a tape. He does not know of anybody who says there is a tape."
Levy told The
The Patriots issued a statement yesterday that reinforced their denial when the story was published.
"For the past 3 1/2 months, we have been defending ourselves against assumptions made based on an unsubstantiated report rather than on facts or evidence," the statement said. "Despite our adamant denials, the report ran on February 2, 2008, the day before Super Bowl XLII. That game was the second-most watched program in television history and it is unfortunate that today's news will not also reach an audience of that size.
"We hope that with Matt Walsh's disclosures, everyone will finally believe what we have been saying all along and emphatically stated on the day of the initial report: 'The suggestion that the New England Patriots recorded the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough on the day before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 is absolutely false. Any suggestion to the contrary is untrue.' "
The Herald said today that while it based its Feb. 2 report on sources it believed to be credible, "we now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed." The paper said it never possessed or viewed a tape of the walkthrough or spoke to anyone who had.
The Herald said it regretted the damage the report caused and apologized to readers, the team, and its fans.
Goodell explained that Walsh was present for the Rams' walkthrough in the Louisiana Superdome, as members of the Patriots' video department set up equipment for the next day's game. Goodell noted that Walsh was wearing Patriots gear at the time, which he described as an indication that it was not an "overt attack."
NFL outside counsel Gregg Levy acknowledged that Walsh said he spoke with former Patriots assistant coach Brian Daboll about what he saw at the walkthrough, namely that running back Marshall Faulk was lining up as a returner and how the Rams were utilizing their tight ends.
That, however, was inconsistent with what the NFL learned in its investigation, which included an interview with Daboll, said league spokesman Greg Aiello.
As for the eight tapes from 2000 to 2002 that Walsh provided to the NFL, the footage shown was mundane - a shot of coaches on the sidelines, the play from an end-zone angle, and a shot of the scoreboard to indicate the down and distance of the next play.
Goddell said Walsh told him he never handed the tapes over during a game, thus eliminating the possibility there was an in-game benefit.
In addition to signals, one of the tapes - from a Sept. 29, 2002, game against the Chargers - included up-close footage of a San Diego cheerleader. Walsh was not the camera operator for that tape. Goodell added that Walsh said he knew the taping was probably in violation of league rules.
Said Goodell, "I think I'm pretty well on the record here. I didn't accept Bill Belichick's explanation for what happened and I still don't to this day."
The day started early yesterday in the midtown area of New York, with Goodell arriving at the league's offices at 280 Park Ave. at approximately 6:35 a.m. About 55 minutes later, television cameras followed Walsh and his attorney from the lobby of the nearby InterContinental Hotel up 48th Street to league headquarters.
Michael Levy and Walsh left the building at 10:55 a.m., with Levy issuing a statement that Walsh was "pleased" to have "the opportunity to assist the National Football League in its investigation regarding the Patriots videotaping practices."
Other than videotaping practices, Goodell said, Walsh did provide "two new pieces of information of note" - allegations that the Patriots inappropriately allowed a player on injured reserve to practice in the 2001 season, and that Walsh had helped players scalp 8-12 of their Super Bowl tickets.
Goodell said the league is looking into those allegations, because Walsh provided a name for the player on injured reserve who was said to be practicing. Goodell said that if the story is verified, he will include the penalty as part of what the Patriots were already fined.
Goodell also noted that Walsh confirmed he was aware of no other violations of league policy by the Patriots - "no bugging of locker rooms, there was no manipulation of communication systems, there was no crowd noise violation that he was aware of, no miking of players to pick up opposing signals or audibles."
Mike Reiss can be reached at email@example.com; Christopher L. Gasper of the Globe staff contributed to this report from Washington.