Angry that the team he loved fired him and offended that former colleagues he once considered his friends had since shunned him, Matt Walsh suddenly found himself in position to strike back.
Shortly after the Patriots added Spygate to the American lexicon last September by violating NFL rules against videotaping an opponent's signals, Walsh, a video assistant dismissed by the team in 2003, reached out to one of the few former coworkers who would take his call. He left little doubt about his intentions.
"He sounded like a loose cannon," said the coworker, who asked not to be identified to avoid entangling his new employer in the controversy. "He was very bitter about how things ended with the Patriots and he seemed like he was keen on using whatever he had to get back at them by going public and really trying to damage the team."
The former coworker, who was questioned last month by an NFL investigator, was among more than 30 individuals interviewed by the Globe during a monthlong inquiry into Walsh's controversial role in Spygate - a saga in which Walsh has all but single-handedly continued to cast Patriots coach Bill Belichick and the Kraft family's $1.2 billion franchise under a lingering cloud of suspicion.
In an otherwise unmemorable career as a low-level staffer for professional football teams and golf clubs, Walsh has been able to command center stage in the Spygate drama by suggesting he possesses more damaging information - and physical evidence - about the team's video practices than the Patriots previously have acknowledged.
Amid news yesterday that Walsh is close to reaching an agreement to tell what he knows, the Globe found that Walsh broke league rules under orders from the Patriots by videotaping opponents' signals between 2000 and 2002, and could have video recordings to prove it, which has not been previously reported.
But if he illegally videotaped the St. Louis Rams in their final practice before the 2002 Super Bowl, as widely suspected, team and league officials say he must have done it on his own. One league source detailed the circumstantial evidence that persuaded NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to accept the team's explanation that it never sanctioned, or knew of, any spying of that sort.
In developing a portrait of Walsh, a personable sports lover now working as an assistant golf pro in Hawaii, the Globe also learned that he has exaggerated or misrepresented elements of his online biography, and that he was dismissed from the Springfield College golf team in 1995 after he played a dangerous prank on a woman.
Walsh, 31, did not respond to numerous requests for interviews and his lawyer, Michael Levy, declined to comment.
By all indications, life was good for Walsh before Matt Estrella, one of his successors on the Patriots' video crew, was caught taping the Jets' defensive signals last September at the Meadowlands. Goodell responded by imposing the harshest punishment against the Patriots in franchise history: the loss of a first-round draft pick, a $250,000 fine, and a $500,000 fine against Belichick.
More than 5,000 miles away in Hawaii, Walsh lived in relative comfort with his wife, Colleen, a physical therapist, and their infant son. He was 10 months into a new job as an assistant pro at the Kaanapali Golf Resort in Maui, a panoramic view of the Pacific among his daily treats.
Then the media started calling. Suspecting Belichick's video team had taped opponents' signals long before the Jets incident, a number of reporters contacted Walsh - the only former video staffer who worked under Belichick and no longer was employed in the NFL - and Walsh did little to dissuade them.
Individuals familiar with Walsh's interviews said he left open the possibility he possessed information that would reflect poorly on the Patriots but was not prepared to divulge it. He suggested he was hamstrung by a confidentiality agreement with the Patriots, though team sources insist no such agreement exists.
Only after the Patriots completed a perfect regular season, won two playoff games, and came within two days of carrying their 18-0 record into Super Bowl XLII against the Giants did Walsh go public. On Feb. 1, the New York Times reported that Walsh had information about Spygate that he would disclose only if the paper paid his legal fees and covered any court damages against him (the paper declined).
"There would be things I would be forced to answer that some people haven't taken responsibility for," Walsh said at the time.
He went further the same day in a story on ESPN.com, strongly hinting the Patriots illegally had taped opponents before he left the team in 2003.
A day later, the eve of the Super Bowl, the Boston Herald cited an unidentified source saying the Patriots secretly videotaped the Rams in their last practice - a walkthrough - before Super Bowl XXXVI at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Goodell immediately deployed investigators, their focus largely on Walsh. The commissioner previously had warned the Patriots that if Belichick or team officials lied about the extent of their videotaping practices when they were initially questioned, he would suspend Belichick for a year and impose similarly severe penalties on the team.
The Patriots, with their historic season further tarnished by the allegation, launched their own investigation. According to individuals familiar with the inquiry by the Patriots, every employee who could have been involved in taping the Rams, including video director Jimmy Dee, assured chief executive Robert Kraft that no one, including Walsh, did so unless the person acted without authorization, used his own video equipment, and never mentioned or showed the recording to anyone else in the organization.
Ken Deininger, who served 20 years as the video director until Dee replaced him in 1999, spoke to Dee about the allegation last month at the Super Bowl. Dee and team officials declined to be interviewed for this article.
"Jimmy was adamant that there was no way [Walsh] could have done it," Deininger said.
A league source said NFL investigators found two practical reasons why the Patriots could not have used their video equipment to tape the Rams the day before the Super Bowl. First, the team's video crew did not take any battery packs to the Superdome because they planned only to set up the equipment, not to use it. Second, the league confirmed there was no electrical power available at the camera positions in the stadium.
In addition, an NFL investigator interviewed a Patriots employee who left the Superdome that day with Walsh and quoted Walsh as saying, "We should have taped that," according to a person familiar with the league's inquiry.
Walsh and his lawyer have not publicly addressed the allegation about the Patriots taping the Rams, but the lawyer has informed the NFL that Walsh possesses materials, presumably videotapes, from his time with the team. Walsh also told a former Patriots coworker, who was interviewed by the Globe, that he taped opponents' signals after Belichick joined the team in 2000 until he left the video crew after the 2002 Super Bowl.
If Walsh's tapes show only that the Patriots previously broke NFL rules by recording opponents' signals, the evidence would do little more than corroborate what Belichick already has acknowledged to Goodell - that he approved such taping from the time he joined the team in 2000, believing he was not violating the spirit of the rules (a position Goodell rejected). But if Walsh possesses a tape of the Rams' final preparations before the 2002 Super Bowl, it would be far more damaging and leave Belichick and the Patriots vulnerable to more severe sanctions.
The Patriots, through an NFL lawyer, have made clear to Walsh that they consider any tapes he might possess possible stolen property and would want the tapes returned.
The team, for example, is missing video of Adam Vinatieri kicking the winning field goal in the 2002 Super Bowl. The tape was recorded by an end zone camera Walsh operated during the game and also could have been used to record the Rams' defensive signals.
The NFL has informed Walsh's lawyer it will not pursue charges against Walsh if he turns over any property, gives the league any other evidence, and speaks truthfully about his tenure with the team. He also is a central figure in inquiries by Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and a class-action suit filed in New Orleans against the Patriots and Belichick.
"We have not been able to find evidence that there is a walkthrough tape, but we are interested in hearing what Matt Walsh has to share with us," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
More than a month into the standoff, the Patriots languish in frustration, unable to counter suspicions they engaged in more sinister video practices than previously reported, and Walsh remains an elusive figure, five years after his relationship with the team ended badly.
'A very malicious act'
Walsh's journey began in Coventry, Conn., a leafy suburb 20 miles east of Hartford, best known as the birthplace of Nathan Hale, the Revolutionary War hero who was hanged by the British as a spy.
Walsh played basketball and golf at Coventry High School, impressing his basketball coach - "If there was one kid who would put it all on the line every game, it was Matt," coach Ron Badsteubner said - and excelling in golf. He was a four-time all-star in the Charter Oaks Conference as a golfer and runner-up for the Division 3 state title his senior year in 1994.
After high school, Walsh worked a summer as a cart boy at his neighborhood course, Twin Hills Country Club, before he enrolled at Springfield College. He played one year of intercollegiate golf, establishing himself as the fourth best player on the team, before a disturbing incident in his dorm room in 1995.
According to the alleged victim, a woman who was dating Walsh's roommate, Walsh was so miffed that she and his roommate might spend time on his bed while he was away that he booby-trapped his sheets with a stainless steel, six-pronged blender blade.
The woman, whose account was corroborated by Walsh's former roommate, said she vividly recalls being startled and slightly injured when she sat on the knife-sharp object. She said the episode forever changed her view of Walsh, whom she had known since high school and Walsh's roommate had considered his best friend since childhood.
The campus police and dean of students were alerted, and though no charges were filed, Walsh soon was dismissed from the golf team.
"It was a very malicious act," the woman said. "The fact that someone you considered a friend would do something that could possibly harm you like that is very creepy."
His collegiate golf career scuttled, Walsh began to focus on football. He volunteered in a bit role for the Connecticut Coyotes of the Arena Football League in 1995, then got his foot in the door with the Patriots in 1996 as an unpaid game-day aide in the press box. (Despite his marginal role, he has portrayed himself in his biography, posted on his employer's website, as being part of the Patriots team that went to the Super Bowl in the '96 season.)
The following year, Walsh parlayed his volunteer job into a minimum-wage internship in media relations.
"He was a hard-working kid," said Don Lowery, a Patriots vice president until 2002. "He was very pleasant and seemed to love football. I thought he wanted to make a career there."
Walsh returned to the Patriots after he graduated from Springfield in 1998 with a sports management degree. Still making minimum wage, he worked as a part-time scouting assistant, his duties primarily involving clerical chores and shuttling prospective players back and forth from the airport for tryouts.
"You could see he was kind of star-struck and loved being around the players," said Deininger, who remained with the Patriots until 2001 as director of football operations. "For the lack of a better term, he was a gofer, but I got the feeling he was trying to move up fast."
A month after Walsh turned 23 in 1999, he landed his first full-time job in Foxborough, serving as an assistant to Dee. When Belichick arrived a year later, the crew's duties expanded to include game-day taping of opponents' defensive signals, with Walsh generally drawing the assignment as the third member of the three-member team, according to sources familiar with the operation.
After videotaping his last game action - Vinatieri's winning field goal in the 2002 Super Bowl - Walsh secured a job in the scouting department. Though his biography states he served as an area scout and ESPN.com reported that he served as a college scout, team sources say Walsh never held either role. Instead, he primarily performed data entry and organized videotape to supplement scouting reports.
Walsh was not involved in scouting meetings and his role was so marginal that one former Patriots scout, Jake Hallum, said, "I never could really figure out what he did." (Belichick told the Globe he "couldn't pick Matt Walsh out of a lineup.")
Dismissed from Patriots
By early 2003, Walsh had fallen out of favor with his boss, Scott Pioli, the vice president of player personnel. In his final act with the team, Walsh secretly audiotaped Pioli criticizing his job performance during a meeting in Pioli's office, according to an account Pioli gave the Globe last month and from others familiar with the incident. A coworker who witnessed the taping alerted Pioli, who went to Walsh's desk after he left for the day, retrieved the tape, and listened to the unauthorized recording.
Pioli fired Walsh the next day. (Walsh's lawyer has called Pioli's account a "complete fabrication.")
Walsh told friends the Patriots dismissed him because he was close to qualifying for retirement benefits. He suggested he might sue the team for wrongful termination, but he never did.
Instead, he moved on. In 2004, Walsh finished his football career, working as a video assistant for the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe. Adam McFarlane, the team's video director, recalled Walsh saying little about the Patriots other than boasting he received a Super Bowl ring in 2002. Walsh told McFarlane he insured the ring for more than $16,000.
"He pretty much kept to himself in Cologne," McFarlane said. "The rest of us would go out to see the city, but he always wanted to stay back and listen to [sports talk show host] Jim Rome on the Internet."
Walsh performed his duties well, according to McFarlane and Bob Bicknell, the team's offensive coordinator.
"I was always amazed at the type of people we got to work for no money," said Bicknell, now an offensive line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. "Guys in his job made next to nothing."
Walsh, who lived in Providence in the offseason, also married Colleen Kennedy in 2004. He told the Providence Journal for a story on their wedding that his previous duties with the Patriots included "video/game-planning." But team sources say Walsh never was involved in game-planning.
By 2005, the Patriots had won two more Super Bowls and Walsh had given up football to pursue a career in the golf industry. He responded to an opening, posted on the PGA's online employment center, for an entry level position at Eastward Ho! Country Club in Chatham.
"If you want to get started in the business, I have a job for you in the bag room," the club's head pro, Brian Hamilton, recalled telling Walsh. Hamilton also was interviewed by an NFL investigator.
Walsh, 26 at the time, accepted the job, even though it typically was performed by a high school or college student.
He earned less than $12 an hour, which ranked low on the pay scale for seasonal workers on Cape Cod.
Hamilton said he never asked Walsh why he left the Patriots.
"I'm a big Pats fan, so when I saw his résumé, I thought to myself, it's a little bit weird that he would get out of that element," Hamilton said. "But some people get bitten by the golf bug and switch careers in mid-life. I had seen it before, so I looked at it like that."
Walsh left after one season for a similar job at Troon Country Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. But he continued to check the PGA website and tried to return to the Cape when Hamilton posted a job for an assistant pro in 2006.
"He thought he would like to come back," Hamilton said, "but he didn't have the credentials for the job."
So Walsh ventured further west, landing in Maui in November 2006. Ten months later came Spygate and a new chapter in his strained relationship with the Patriots.
Amid the saga, Walsh's PGA membership was suspended in December because he failed to meet expected progress with his educational courses, according to a PGA official.
Now, Walsh remains the chief protagonist in a drama only he can help complete. With his lawyer and the NFL close to completing negotiations for him to divulge what he knows, much of the sports world waits, wondering whether suspicions about Walsh's role in Spygate are overblown or he holds secrets that could make Belichick, Kraft, and their franchise football pariahs, their reputations disgraced.
Jim McCabe of the Globe staff and correspondent Pat Bigold contributed to this report.