Belichick issues apology, says he's spoken with Goodell

Updated: September 13, 2007, 3:30 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- This videotape needs no interpretation: New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick walked out of his news conference on Wednesday when pressed repeatedly about the sideline spying scandal that landed him on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's crowded docket.

Ten minutes before his regular availability, Belichick issued a one-paragraph statement apologizing to his team and confirming that he has spoken to Goodell about an "interpretation" of league rules that ban videotaping of the opposing sideline.

"Although it remains a league matter, I want to apologize to everyone who has been affected, most of all ownership, staff and players," Belichick said. "Following the league's decision, I will have further comment."

Belichick reiterated his statement Thursday about not commenting until after Goodell makes a decision.

"I'll make a comment when it's over," he said.

It was not clear whether Belichick was apologizing for his actions or the distraction it has caused his team as it prepares for Sunday night's marquee game against San Diego. But if he thought -- or even hoped -- that the standing-room crowd of media was there to talk about the Chargers, he failed to prepare in the manner that has made him one of the most successful coaches in the history of the league.

Never one to relish his interactions with the media, Belichick grimly refused to respond to a half-dozen questions about the scandal, possible punishments and the potential effect on his team. Begging for a football question, he seemed ready to abort the news conference after just a few minutes at the podium.

Cheatwave

In August, ESPN.com ran a comprehensive package on cheating in sports. Jeffri Chadiha wrote the NFL portion of the package. Among the ways NFL coaches try to gain an advantage was trying to descramble signals sent from coach to player:

"When Marty Schottenheimer coached the Cleveland Browns in the late 1980s, he routinely sent a scout to watch the signals opposing teams used to relay messages from coaches to players. When the scout returned, Schottenheimer's staff would watch the game film and match the signals to the plays that followed.

"[Herm] Edwards said the same is true today. It's common for coaches to watch standard game tapes [which include shots from the press box and end zone angles], sideline tapes [which usually wind up on highlight shows and include footage of players and coaches talking on the sidelines] and even the television shows of opposing coaches for tips."
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"Any questions about the Chargers?" he pleaded in his standard, other-things-to-do monotone. "Want to talk about the football game? If not, I think that statement pretty much covers it."

It appeared that there were none, before one reporter asked about Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

The prospect of defending against the reigning NFL offensive player of the year is not the sort of thing that usually cheers up opposing coaches.

But Belichick smiled.

"I think the Chargers are a concern. Their football team is a concern. That's what we're concerned about," he said. "Whatever happens out there Sunday night, out there on the field, that's when everybody will make their statement."

After another 15 minutes of football questions, though, the subject returned to the spying scandal.

"Is there any other question on the Chargers?" Belichick said before walking out. "OK. Yep. That's all. OK. Thank you."

NFL security confiscated a video camera and tape from Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella on Sunday when he was working on the New York Jets' sideline during New England's 38-14 victory. The league has confirmed that it is investigating whether the Patriots were taping the Jets' defensive coaches as they signaled to players on the field.

However, league sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that Goodell has already determined that the Patriots have violated league rules when they videotaped defensive signals by the Jets' coaches.

Goodell is considering severe sanctions, including the possibility of docking the Patriots "multiple draft picks" because it is the competitive violation in the wake of a stern warning to all teams since he became commissioner, the sources said. The Patriots have been suspected in previous incidents.

"It's really hard to say [they should] forfeit games," Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. "Draft picks would hurt a lot of teams; take away their first or second-round pick -- that would be a stiff penalty to make sure nobody does it again.

"You would hope that, during their run, when they were winning all their Super Bowls, all that stuff wasn't going on. You look back in the past, and we played them in the championship games, and you kind of wonder. It seemed like they were a step ahead of us at all times, but those games are behind us. There's nothing we can do about it. You just look forward and see what the commissioner will do."

Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, a co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee, said the league is trying to keep technology from overtaking the game.

"If they are in fact found guilty of this, it only shows that the steps the league has taken are good steps," Fisher said. "There's no place for it. Everybody clearly understands the rules. The competition committee's responsibility is to protect the integrity of the game. With technology the way it is right now, things could get out of hand in a matter of weeks if we don't protect the integrity of the game."

Jets coach Eric Mangini, a former Belichick assistant, also declined to comment. Asked if he had any knowledge of such shenanigans while he was in New England, he followed the form of his mentor.

"As I said with this whole issue, it's a league issue and they are handling it," Mangini said. "And we are really focused on the Ravens."

Patriots players also tried to focus on their game.

How it came to light?

NEW YORK -- A story in Wednesday's New York Daily News claims that Jets coach Eric Mangini, a former New England assistant under Bill Belichick, came armed with keen knowledge of the team's surveillance methods -- and finally decided to act.

"[The Jets] knew they did it," the Daily News wrote, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, who sent the newspaper an e-mail. "They caught the guy a year ago, but couldn't do anything about it. When Eric came, he said that's what they used to do. Bill is going to be [ticked] at Eric. He kissed and told."

Sunday's game was the fifth time Mangini has coached against Belichick since joining the Jets.

-- ESPN.com news services

"I'm the last person in the world to know any of that stuff, anyway," offensive lineman Matt Light said. "I could care less what happens outside of my little world."

But Goodell doesn't have that luxury.

In a busy year for his misbehaving minions, the commissioner has already banned Tennessee cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones for the entire season after repeated run-ins with police. Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick has been suspended indefinitely while he faces a likely jail term for his role in a dogfighting ring.

The Bengals had 10 players charged with crimes during a 14-month span, and both receiver Chris Henry and linebacker Odell Thurman are currently suspended. Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer wants Goodell to be consistent with his punishment, whether the offender is wearing a uniform or not.

"Hopefully there's a harsh enough penalty that it's not worth it to try to cheat and try to get any advantage that you're not allowed to get," Palmer said. "I hope the commissioner is just as harsh on them as he's been on individual players for making mistakes."

Other players reacted strongly.

"It just makes you wonder how long they've been doing this and has it really helped them win some games?" Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said on a conference call with Wisconsin media. "That's no different from the cheating ref in basketball."

Last November during New England's 35-0 victory in Green Bay, the Packers caught Estrella shooting unauthorized video told him to stop.

"When you look back, it's scary," Packers cornerback Al Harris said. "I don't want to say anything wrong towards their organization, because I think highly of their coaching staff and their personnel, but if that's the case, that's not right. I would consider it cheating. I honestly would."

Belichick sidestepped questions about the commissioner's timetable and about whether he had any contingencies in place should he get suspended -- the most drastic of the potential penalties Goodell could consider. The coach also refused to discuss whether he worried that the scandal -- dubbed "videogate" in the press room, of course -- would distract his players.

Also at stake is the legacy of the NFL's latest dynasty, one that memorably rejected individual on-field introductions before its first Super Bowl victory, instead "choosing to be introduced as a team." Stressing individual discipline and salary cap selflessness in a league where they tend to be in short supply, the Patriots won three NFL titles in four years and held themselves up as a model organization.

Now, they're being accused of cheating.

"That's not going to tarnish this team," running back Kevin Faulk said. "We know what we do and how hard we work."

Linebacker Chad Brown, who re-signed for a second stint with the team this week and landed in the middle of the tumult, acknowledged it would be embarrassing if the allegations turn out to be true. But he also said the videotaping is an offshoot of the gamesmanship all teams indulge in.

"I think that all the facts should come out before people judge this organization," Brown said. "I think we do things the right way."

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN's Chris Mortensen was used in this report.