PHOENIX – Just when we thought the Spygate issue was over, they pulled us back in. In this case, it's Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter doing the pulling.
A New York Times story appearing in Friday morning's editions indicated that Specter, a long-time Eagles fan, wishes to bring NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell before the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain why he had the tapes from the September Spygate scandal destroyed following the league's investigation.
Goodell held his state of the league address Friday afternoon and indicated he was willing to meet with Specter, the ranking Republican on the committee. Goodell fielded several questions on the topic, ranging from Specter's request to possible cover-ups to the league's competitive balance. He defended his decision to destroy six tapes, taken largely from late 2006 and the 2007 preseason, and notes that accompanied them.
"The reason I destroyed the tapes is they were totally consistent with what the team told me," Goodell said. "It was the appropriate thing to do and I think it sent a message. The actual effectiveness of taping and taking of signals from opponents — it is something done widely in many sports. I think it probably had limited, if any effect, on the outcome of games. That doesn't change my perspective on violating rules and the need to be punished."
Goodell added there were no indications that the taping had any effect on the Patriots three Super Bowl victories, the latter of which came against the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX and may have been the impetus behind Specter's sudden interest in the situation. Goodell even said an opposing coach was waving back at the offending cameraman on one of the tapes, an indication of how widespread the practice had become.
The commissioner said he felt the need to destroy the tapes because he was concerned with possible leaks, which actually occurred shortly after the incident broke when Fox aired a clip of one of the tapes during a pregame show the week following the scandal.
Specter said he felt the league needed to further explain itself and wished to meet with Goodell to do so.
"That requires an explanation," Specter said. "The NFL has a very preferred status in our country with their antitrust exemption. The American people are entitled to be sure about the integrity of the game. It's analogous to the CIA destruction of tapes. Or any time you have records destroyed."
The report indicated that Specter first wrote Goodell about the tapes on Nov. 15. After more than a month passed without a response, Specter wrote to him again. The league responded to Specter late Thursday afternoon. A spokesman said the letters did not reach the league office until late last week. The league added that it spoke to Specter's office several times during November and December, but that the letters were never mentioned. Specter said the league had told his office last week it would not respond until after the Super Bowl.
Joe Browne, the NFL's executive vice president for internal affairs, said, "The irony is that we have been in contact with the senator's office several times in recent weeks." He added that "the issue of these letters was not discussed."
Specter said Browne's response was "untrue."
"It's the same old story," Specter said. "What you did is never as important as the cover-up. This sequence raises more concerns and doubts."
While the issue of the government getting involved certainly could be considered curious, the Times report had a different twist that hasn't received much attention. Matt Walsh, a member of the organization from 1996-2003 and a member of the video crew in 2001, told the Times it's an issue he'd like to see resolved.
"Was it a surprise that they were doing it or a surprise that they got caught?" Walsh said. "I guess that if you're doing something that people suspect you of, and then you start doing it to your former assistant coaches, then you're pushing your luck.
"I'd like to see a resolution to the situation, so I don't have to have field media calls, especially after being out of the league for more than four years," he said.
Walsh is currently working as an assistant golf pro at the Ka'anapali Golf Resort in Lahaina, Hawaii, and declined to get into specifics, citing confidentiality agreements he signed with the team. Greg Aiello, an NFL spokesman, said the league did not have confidentiality agreements, but teams were free to make their own with their employees.
"After speaking to my lawyers and whatnot, I can't really talk to you about anything," Walsh said. "And I can't show you anything." Walsh also told the Times that he had been approached by two news organizations, a "sports network" and "another media outlet that doesn't even specialize in sports." He said he would talk about his experiences only on his terms.
"If someone wanted me to talk and tell them things, I would craft an agreement where they would agree from now until the end of my existence to pay for any legal fees that came up in regards to this, whether I'm sued by the Patriots, the NFL, anybody else," he said.
He also said he would want an indemnification agreement, with the news media company paying any fines or damages found against him in court. Walsh said he sought the legal advice after receiving telephone calls from the news media soon after the taping incident. He said he did so to protect himself and his family.
"If I ever got brought in for a deposition or something, then I would just face the whole gauntlet of questions," he said. "There would be things I'd be forced to answer that some people haven't taken responsibility for."
Prior to Goodell's press conference, Bill Belichick was asked about the report but the coach stuck with his mantra from the start, saying "it's a league matter, I don't know anything about it."