The Patriots and the never-ending drama of "Spygate" were once again at the very busy center of NFL attention this week. The ongoing investigation into the team's videotaping practices involving opponents took what many hope will be the final step in the saga as former New England video assistant Matt Walsh met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York City. Later Tuesday afternoon, Walsh flew to Washington to meet with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the last man seemingly working to keep the story going.
The following morning in response to Walsh's testimony to Goodell, the Boston Herald -- the paper key to the "Spygate" story since it ran a Feb. 2 report stating that a member of the New England video department had taped the Rams walkthrough prior to Super Bowl XXXVI -- issued an apology to the team that included a front-page headline stating "Sorry, Pats: We own up to error on walkthrough story."
After emerging from a three-plus hour meeting with Walsh Tuesday morning in New York, Goodell said he expects no further punishment to be levied against the Patriots as a result of their involvement in the scandal and that the scandal had seemingly run its course.
Walsh originally turned over eight tapes of games ranging from 2000-2002 May 8 and Goodell played those for the media at the Intercontinental Hotel. The tapes displayed more of what the team was punished for last September -- video of opposing coaches and the scoreboard listing down and distance -- but no new information.
"Today, we were able to confirm that all of the details of (Matt Walsh's) activities while he was a Patriots employee ... the fundamental information that Matt provided was consistent with what we disciplined the Patriots for last fall and that essentially they were taping coaches signals against NFL policy," Goodell said.
"We were also able to verify that there was no Rams walkthrough tape. No one asked him to tape the walkthrough. He's not aware of anybody else who may have taped the walkthrough. He had not seen such a tape. He does not know of anybody who says there is a tape. He was in the building at the time of the walkthrough along with other Patriots video personnel. They were doing their job prior to the game. He in fact was even on the sidelines in his Patriots gear while the Rams were practicing. So it was clear that there was not an overt attack addressing access into the Rams walkthrough."
The Patriots released their own statement regarding the situation:
"We want to address the allegation that the Patriots taped the Rams' walkthrough prior to Super Bowl XXXVI. For the past three-and-a-half months, we have been defending ourselves against assumptions made based on an unsubstantiated report rather than on facts or evidence. Despite our adamant denials, the report ran on February 2, 2008, the day before Super Bowl XLII. That game was the second-most watched program in television history and it is unfortunate that today's news will not also reach an audience of that size. We hope that with Matt Walsh's disclosures, everyone will finally believe what we have been saying all along and emphatically stated on the day of the initial report: 'The suggestion that the New England Patriots recorded the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough on the day before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 is absolutely false. Any suggestion to the contrary is untrue.'"
The only revelations came when Goodell indicated there were a pair of allegations that will be further investigated. Those included a player on injured reserve practicing with the team, perhaps back in 2001, and a "non-competitive issue," which was the scalping of 8-12 Super Bowl tickets by players. Goodell said that he expected no further penalties against the team in light of the new information.
"I don't anticipate it," Goodell said. "As I said, I think the fundamental information provided today is consistent with what we knew last September, and that the discipline I took was unprecedented at that time, and I feel it was appropriate."
After the press conference finished, Goodell was walking to his car with the league's outside counsel Gregg Levy and remembered a piece of information he failed to disclose to the media. Levy then returned and gathered the group before delivering the following:
"Walsh was asked during the interview today whether after the (Rams) walkthrough, anyone asked him about what he had seen. He said 'yes.' He saw Brian Daboll, who I understand is an assistant coach for the Patriots -- or was at the time -- and Daboll asked him what he saw. Walsh said two things -- one, he had seen Marshall Faulk in a formation to receive a kickoff or a punt, and he had been asked about offensive formations, particularly about the use of the tight end. My understanding is that is not consistent with what we had learned prior to the interview, during the course of the investigation. At this point, it's uncorroborated, but it's something the league is going to look into."
Specter didn't leave his meeting with Walsh with quite the same message of conclusion that Goodell expressed. Specter held a press conference Wednesday in which he called for an outside investigation into the entire videotaping scandal citing a conflict of interest for the NFL in its own investigation.
"What is necessary is an objective investigation, and this one has not been objective," Specter said, before relaying a warning of potential governmental involvement. "If they don't (act), I think it's up to Congress to investigate and take corrective action. It might be hearings. My colleagues will know and have access to all the information I do, but let them decide."
The NFL issued a statement in response to Specter's call for continued investigations:
"We respectfully disagree with Senator Specter's characterization of the investigation conducted by our office. We are following up after (the May 13) meeting with Matt Walsh."
But as was the case when his original ruling was handed down back in September, Goodell seemed eager to put an end to the ordeal while leaving open the possibility of revisiting the situation should the need arise.
"I don't know where else I would turn," Goodell said, "but I reserve the right to review new information if it comes up."
And the Patriots are clearly pleased with the fact that the Boston Herald finally answered for its Super Bowl XLII-eve report, even if the apology can't undo the damage done by the erroneous story.
"I must compliment the Boston Herald for doing what is unprecedented in terms of recognizing their error in a major way," New England owner Robert Kraft told the Associated Press. "I'm really delighted with that, but I wish it never happened."
Now, it appears everyone but Specter is ready to truly put the entire "Spygate" saga in the history books.