Saturday, February 2, 2008

specter, spygate & the super bowl

Let's start with this: For all the talk of his independence of mind, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) can be a blowhard and an opportunist. And for his latest stunt, he's demanding to know why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell destroyed evidence of the New England Patriots' alleged spying on other teams, a matter that first surfaced back in September and quickly went away after the league office handed down its punishment. Not one to shy away from hyperbole, Specter even suggested the NFL's action was on par with the CIA having destroyed interrogation tapes. You know, because lives are at stake and stuff. Predictably, Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe is outraged, going so far as to call Specter a "grandstanding yahoo Eagles fan with a lot of power," which, come to think of it, actually rolls right off the tongue with relative ease. Cynics (who? me?) will find it easy to point out that Specter waited until Nov. 15 to write a letter to the league office expressing his concern. Of course, cynics (me again) will also note the irony of Specter's having leaked this story to The New York Times just two days before the Patriots play the New York Giants in tomorrow's Super Bowl. All well and good. But then comes word that one Matt Walsh, a former Patriots intern and employee, may have information linking Bill Belichick to spying all the way back to when Coach Hoodie was in Cleveland. To say nothing of this Boston Herald report, which cites a source who says the Patriots taped the St. Louis Rams during a walk-through prior to Super Bowl XXXVI six years ago. Look, the Patriots are on the brink of something incredible, an undefeated season culminating with their fourth Super Bowl title in seven years. Personally, I think the NFL destroyed the tapes and levied the Patriots a fine and the forfeiture of a draft pick simply to make this thing go away. The hope, perhaps, was that everyone would focus on the punishment and forget about the possibility -- note I said possibility -- that this thing runs any deeper. If it did, it calls into question all of the Patriots' past achievements under Belichick. Shaughnessy, like most Patriots fans, takes umbrage in the notion that other teams were no doubt cheating, but that only the Patriots got caught. But not so fast. There's a distinct difference between stealing signals, which is and always has been gamesmanship, and positioning a video camera on the opposition's sideline in an attempt to steal signals. The league's rules are very clear on this. Considering the monumental achievement the Patriots are about to achieve by winning tomorrow, it's a shame. But the integrity of the game is the integrity of the game, and if there's more to this, we deserve to know. I do wonder whether this matter ought to be of any concern to Congress, but they do possess the subpoena power to compel witnesses like Walsh to testify. So expect more grandstanding from Washington, and more bellyaching from Boston. And in the meantime, let's all try to get on with our lives, OK?

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