Commentary

One tape turned over by Walsh shows Patriots also stole offensive signals

Updated: May 9, 2008, 4:39 PM ET
By Mike Fish | ESPN.com

From Day 1 of the Spygate saga in September, the controversy over New England's illicit videotaping practices has centered on the Patriots' efforts to steal their opponents' defensive signals. But the tapes delivered via FedEx to NFL headquarters in New York on Thursday morning also include evidence of an effort by New England to steal offensive signals, which would broaden the extent of the team's surveillance operation.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and staff members began viewing the eight tapes within hours of their long-awaited delivery, in anticipation of Tuesday's scheduled interview with former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh. As part of an indemnification pact reached last month with the league, Walsh agreed to turn over any videotapes or related materials he had from his tenure with the team.

Perhaps the surprise entry on the list of videotaping documents Walsh turned over to the league was tape No. 3, labeled "OFF Signals" from New England's game against the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 7, 2001. That is the only tape labeled as such on a copy of the list obtained by ESPN.com. Walsh's attorney, Michael Levy, confirmed it was the lone footage in Walsh's possession of offensive coaches' signaling from the sidelines.

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"[It] contains shots of Miami's offensive coaches signaling Miami's offensive players, followed by a shot from the end zone camera of Miami's offensive play, followed by a shot of Miami's offensive coaches signaling Miami's offensive players for the next play, then edited to be followed by a shot of the subsequent Miami offensive play," Levy said of the tape. "And that pattern repeats throughout the entire tape, with occasional cuts to the scoreboard."

Harvey Greene, a spokesman for the Dolphins said: "All the people who were here then are gone. We have nothing to gain by saying anything. Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano weren't around when that happened."

Goodell has made repeated references to the stealing of defensive signals by New England. That is, in part, presumably because the league has allowed direct radio communication from a coach to the quarterback since the 1994 season, diminishing the need for hand signals.

"We don't know [about attempts to steal offensive signals] yet because we haven't looked at the tapes," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Thursday before the league had completed its review of the new evidence. "All we have is the list supplied last night [by Walsh's attorney]. One of them is labeled 'OFF signals.' None of the others are listed that way. Let us look at the tapes and we'll have more to say about that.

Specter Seeks Cooperation

Sen. Arlen Specter warned the NFL not to rush to judgment Thursday, suggesting the league is premature in trying to put the Spygate saga to rest.

Specter, R-Pa., spoke as commissioner Roger Goodell and top league officials prepared to view videotapes turned over by former New England Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh. Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been critical of the investigation the league conducted into the Patriots' illicit taping practices.

"I think it is very unfortunate that the NFL has already started its 'nothing new' spin before watching the tapes or finding out what Matt Walsh has to say," Specter said. "Let's see where the evidence leads."

Walsh, employed by the Patriots from 1997 to 2003, is scheduled to meet with league officials Tuesday in New York. After that session, he is to travel to Washington and sit down with Specter and his staff.

Specter formally requested the league make available to him the evidence turned over by Walsh, which consists of eight tapes dating from 2000 through 2003. But as of Thursday night he had not gotten confirmation on when, or even if, he'd get the tapes.

"As a matter of basic fair play, I got to have the time to prepare," said Specter. "It's equal access … I'm waiting for them."

Goodell, however, suggested in a letter last Friday that Specter would eventually gain access to the tapes, saying: "Once I see the material I will be in a better position to respond … [I'm] confident we'll be able to make satisfactory arrangements for you or key staff to review the material."

Specter has complained about the lack of cooperation from the NFL as his staff has attempted to delve into the matter. Very few key individuals have spoken when approached by staff members. And attorneys for the Patriots and New York Jets have advised team employees against speaking with Specter.

"I got three pages of people who refused to talk to me,'' he said.

-- Mike Fish

"The rule which the Patriots violated was the policy that prohibits use of equipment for the taping of offensive or defense signals. I know there've been references to defensive signals, which is more logical. But let us look at the tapes and verify what is on there."

Although Walsh turned over eight tapes this week, the number of games in which he personally videotaped opposing coaches is unclear. One source told ESPN.com that it "absolutely" is not the case that the six games on the eight tapes are the only instances the Patriots taped opponents during Walsh's tenure with the team.

One of the eight tapes in the package was shot by someone other than Walsh. It is a Sept. 29, 2002, game against San Diego, which was shot after Walsh was promoted from the video department. That tape captures just the coaches on the sideline, and the scoreboard before the game action is edited in.

The Patriots declined the opportunity to comment on Thursday. Stacey James, the Patriots' vice president for media relations, said Wednesday he expected the team will wait to issue a statement until after Walsh meets with Goodell.

The advancing sophistication in New England's videotaping practices apparently is also evident on the tapes, which begin with a Sept. 25, 2000, game against Miami and run through that 2002 game against San Diego. It's also obvious throughout that the video shooter has one job on game day: to capture the opposing team's sideline coaches.

In one of the last tapes that Walsh shot -- the 2002 AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers -- the finished product includes sideline footage of the Pittsburgh coaches sending in signals, followed by a scan of the scoreboard that captures down, distance and game time, followed by two separate shots of the ensuing play, one from above the press box and the other from an end zone camera.

"The other seven tapes show the final product, which is a series of coaches' signals, followed by the play, followed by coaches' signals and then the next play -- all lined up one after another," said Levy, who represents Walsh. "So the final videotapes contain the opposing coaches' signals lined up directly with the play that was run, one after another."

Goodell is likely to quiz Walsh on these issues at their meeting scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. Walsh is scheduled to travel to Washington later in the day to meet with Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Specter has been critical of the NFL for destroying evidence turned over in September by New England, including six other tapes and notes from other taped games. Although those tapes only date back to the 2006 season, Aiello, the NFL spokesperson, said Thursday the notes dated to at least the 2002 season.

The notes were destroyed, and Aiello said he is uncertain whether there is any record of the games involved. He did say that Goodell previously informed Specter that details on the taping of the 2002 AFC Championship game, as well as three other games with Pittsburgh, were part of the notes.

Aiello said it has yet to be decided whether the Walsh tapes will be made public. But as the tapes arrived at the league office in New York, officials were relieved to find the package didn't include a long-rumored video of the St. Louis Rams' walk-through practice the day before the 2002 Super Bowl, which would have put a huge cloud over the league's marquee event.

"That is a fair assumption," Aiello said of the feelings of relief in the league office. "I'd rather leave those questions and answers to the commissioner, but it's unfortunate that that had been reported, and apparently there's no substance to it."

Quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who was on the Patriots team that beat the Rams in the Super Bowl, told the Boston Herald he's followed SpyGate in the media.

"To be honest with you, my take now is the same as it's always been," Bledsoe told the newspaper. "Every team in the league is trying to do everything they can to get ahead. I'm sure most, if not all, are bending the rules in some way, shape or form. This just happened to be one that was very public, and the organization has been reprimanded for it.

"As a player here, I never did see anything other than what was already reported. Was it a violation of the spirit of the rules? Absolutely, it was, but I think all of that has been readily acknowledged."

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at michaeljfish@gmail.com. Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.