Former coach Vermeil doubts spying helped Patriots beat Rams

Updated: February 4, 2008, 9:27 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Dick Vermeil, who coached the St. Louis Rams to their first Super Bowl championship in 2000, doubts dirty tricks prevented the franchise from winning it all again under Mike Martz in 2002.

Vermeil, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his home near Philadelphia, said Monday night that players win games, not schemes. He used the New York Giants' 17-14 upset over New England on Super Bowl Sunday as an example.

Personally, I don't think it had any effect on the game. That stuff's been going on forever and I don't think you gain from it.

--Dick Vermeil

"How was that game decided? By a receiver catching a ball on the top of his helmet," Vermeil said.

The Boston Herald, citing an unidentified source, reported Saturday that a member of the Patriots' video staff taped the Rams final walkthrough before the '02 Super Bowl. The Patriots were two-touchdown underdogs but beat the Rams 20-17 for their first title.

Others with connections to that game were keeping a low profile. Team president John Shaw issued his second no-comment through a spokesman on Monday and the agent for quarterback Kurt Warner, Mark Bartelstein, said his client didn't want to get involved "until things are flushed out." The agents for Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt did not return telephone messages.

Vermeil briefly retired after the Rams beat the Tennessee Titans in the 2000 Super Bowl and handed the job over to Martz, his offensive coordinator. The 71-year-old Vermeil thought such spying would be of limited value.

"Personally, I don't think it had any effect on the game," Vermeil said. "That stuff's been going on forever and I don't think you gain from it.

"But if people are doing it they must think it's making a contribution."

Walkthroughs are just what they suggest, players walking through elements of the game plan. It can provide insight into personnel groupings, formations that might be emphasized and plays that are likely to be used. Many coaches script several plays to be used in the first quarter, and Vermeil said it was typical for his teams to rehearse the first dozen in his walkthroughs.

Still, Vermeil thought such inside information would just as easily distract players.

"As a coach, you could get too caught up in it, too," Vermeil said. "By the time you play the Super Bowl, let's face it, you've seen them in 16 games plus the playoffs. You're walking through it. That's why they play the game."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined New England coach Bill Belichick $500,000 earlier this season and docked the team $250,000 and a first-round draft pick after league security confiscated a video camera and tape from a Patriots employee during New England's 38-14 victory over the New York Jets in the opener.

The employee was accused of aiming his camera at the Jets' defensive coaches as they signaled to players on the field.

The Herald cited a source close to the Patriots as saying a member of the team's video department stayed inside the Superdome in New Orleans following New England's walkthrough and then taped the Rams' session.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Saturday the league had been aware of the "rumor" for months and found no evidence in tapes or notes produced by the team, and that the team denied videotaping the Rams. Goodell used much of his state of the game address on Friday to say he didn't think the Patriots used such tapes to win previous titles.

"There was no indication that it benefited them in any of the Super Bowl victories," Goodell said.

Vermeil said oftentimes coaches can become paranoid about leaks.

During Martz's six-year stint as head coach in St. Louis from 2000-2005, the Rams erected a huge screen to prevent outsiders from scouting practices from a hotel across the street. The security director was outfitted with high-powered binoculars to scan the hillsides and tops of buildings for potential intruders.

Vermeil, whose first NFL job was with the Los Angeles Rams under George Allen, remembered Allen accusing opponents of sending coaches in carpenter's uniforms to pretend to make stadium improvements while they took notes.

"I just know it's been going on for years," Vermeil said. "It's more of an integrity issue than anything else."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press