New England Patriots Spygate scandal (partially found tapes and documents of football coaching signals; 2000-2007)
On 9th September 2007, the National Football League's New England Patriots were caught illegally recording the New York Jets' defensive signals during the Patriots' 38-14 win. It was revealed that New England's video assistant, Matt Estrella, was filming from their sideline under the orders of head coach Bill Belichick. The scandal led to Belichick receiving the maximum NFL fine of $500,000, while the Patriots were fined $250,000 and lost their first-round pick during the 2008 draft.
During the NFL's investigation, commissioner Roger Goodell claimed the Patriots had given him all the tapes and documents relating to the scandal. In a controversial move, Goodell then ordered the materials be destroyed. However, former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh provided further Spygate-related tapes to the NFL, dating back to Belichick's appointment in 2000.
Spygate occurred during a peak of success for the Patriots. The early-to-mid 2000s saw the team win the 2001, 2003, and 2004 Super Bowls and achieve an unblemished 16-0 record during the regular 2007 season. All this occurred under head coach Bill Belichick, who had been hired in 2000 and subsequently gained a level of control over the team's day-to-day operations unique among his peers.
Week 1 of the 2007 regular season saw the Patriots visiting the Jets at Giants Stadium on Sept 9th. New England decisively beat New York 38-14, including a touchdown catch from new star receiver Randy Moss, and a record 108-yard kickoff return from Ellis Hobbs.
However, the game was overshadowed by an incident that occurred prior to halftime, where New England video assistant Matt Estrella was found to be filming the hand signals from the Jets' defensive coaches. NFL does permit recording of other teams' coaches within designated areas, and records of games to be utilised for strategic purposes. However, Estrella was recording at the Jets' sideline, violating regulations against videotaping of any sort within the sidelines and other locations that could be accessed by club staff members during games, so as not to interfere with their normal operations. The incident was reported to NFL security by New York's head coach Eric Mangini, who had previously been an assistant coach for the Patriots under Belichick. Estrella's camera was promptly confiscated, and an NFL investigation was swiftly launched.
Two days later, following a meeting between Belichick and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the coach made a statement apologising for the incident, now dubbed "Spygate". Belichick claimed that he believed footage could be legally gathered providing it was not utilised in the game itself. However, the previous season, NFL VP of Football Operations Ray Anderson had issued a memo affirming that no such taping could occur in the area in question. On 13th September, the league found that the Patriots had violated regulations regarding the "use of equipment to videotape an opposing team’s offensive or defensive signals". Belichick was fined $500,000 (a record for NFL coaches) and the team a further $250,000. New England also lost their first-round pick for the 2008 draft, Goodell believing that this would be a more severe sanction for the Patriots long-term than suspending their head coach.
Spygate Tapes and Documents
On 16th September, Goodell demanded that both teams turn over all Spygate-related material to the league offices. The Patriots seemingly complied with this, sending the commissioner a further six recordings of signals made during 2006 and preseason 2007 games. The original Jets tape would be broadcast on an edition of FOX NFL Sunday that same day, unauthorised by the NFL, prompting another investigation.
Four days later, it was announced the materials had been destroyed by the NFL. This attracted considerable controversy; Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter wrote a letter to Goodell expressing his concern and raising the possibility of Congressional hearings on the matter, especially since the sanctions against the Patriots were made prior to the revelation the team had sent further tapes. Specter and Goodell met to discuss the issue on 13th February 2008.
Specter concluded that the destruction of the Spygate tapes and notes meant many key questions about the extent of the scandal and the NFL's handling of it could never be answered especially after learning from the commissioner that the Patriots' had been taping other teams for many years, the practice having begun not long after Belichick arrived. Goodell, meanwhile, insisted that the destruction of the tapes was the "right thing to do" and that he ultimately "had nothing to hide".
The Spygate scandal intensified when former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh alleged that there were many additional incidents of the team taping offensive and defensive signals. Prior to a meeting between Walsh and Goodell, Walsh sent eight further tapes to the NFL. Among these were two tapes from the 2002 AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was also alleged by the Boston Herald that the Patriots had filmed the St. Louis Rams' practice walkthrough prior to Super Bowl XXXVI, prompting the losing Rams to take legal action against the Patriots, Belichick, and Kraft. However, it was later confirmed by the NFL that no such tape actually existed, forcing the Boston Herald to retract its statement and issue an apology to the Patriots. The lawsuit was subsequently dropped.
Ultimately, the NFL took no further action against the Patriots following its analysis of Walsh's tapes. Goodell et al concluded there was nothing on them that could further implicate the Patriots, underscoring the point by releasing seven tapes to the media in May 2008. One tape did attract some minor side controversy, as it featured uncomfortably close-up footage of San Diego Charger cheerleaders performing during a game.
In 2015, two reporters for the American cable sports network ESPN, Don Van Natta Jr. & Seth Wickersham, published a report accusing the NFL of downplaying the extent of the Spygate scandal. The report alleged New England had taped signals during a total of 40 games between 2000 and 2007, in addition to stealing opponents' play sheets from their locker rooms. This latter was supposedly so commonplace that opposing team coaches would produce fake sheets for the Patriots to steal.
It has been further suggested by others at ESPN that Goodell did not view the tapes personally, either before or after his decision to inflict sanctions on the Patriots. Instead, he had requested NFL executives Jeffrey Pash and Ray Anderson analyse and later destroy the materials. ESPN charged that Goodell and the NFL had covered up the full extent of the scandal to protect the league's reputation; it noted that Kraft, the Patriots' owner, had been crucial to securing Goodell's nomination for commissioner and the two men remained close. In the 2015 report was an interview with Rams coach Mike Martz claiming that he and others were forced by Goodell to write statements affirming the NFL's investigation of Spygate was sufficient and that the Patriots had not cheated. According to Marz, this was to head off the wider investigation threatened by Specter.
The 2015 ESPN report also suggested the accusations of favouritism and undue leniency towards the Patriots in this case influenced Goodell's decisions regarding the later 'Deflategate' scandal - in which Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was accused of demanding game balls be underinflated during the 2015 AFC Championship game, to illegally improve their grip.   It is true that the league's sanctions over Deflategate were notably severe: not only was Brady suspended for four games, the Patriots organization was fined $1 million and lost two draft picks in 2016.
Because Goodell ordered the destruction of the 2006/2007 tapes and documents, the majority are likely permanently lost, as the NFL claimed no copies were made. However, the Patriots' original film of the Jets was partially aired on FOX NFL Sunday in September 2007. The broadcast has yet to publicly resurface. Additionally, Fox reporter Jay Glazer claims to possess a copy of the original tape. According to Glaser Sen. Specter had attempted to obtain it from him, even threatening him with jail time. Glazer claimes to have shown the tape at various parties, but as of this writing has not released the footage online.
As for the later Walsh tapes, seven of the eight recordings were released to the media in May 2008, with one withheld due to time constraints. As part of his agreement with the NFL, Walsh was allowed to keep copies, and the NFL promised not to destroy theirs. Limited footage has resurfaced publicly, with clips included in a May 2008 Associated Press video. However, Walsh is forbidden to share the videos to any third parties. Thus, as a practical matter, the full tapes cannot be released. The fate of the 40 additional tapes ESPN alleged the Patriots made is entirely unknown.
- 1934 Philo T. Farnsworth broadcasts (lost early television demonstrations; 1934)
- 1938 Pennsylvania Quakers football season (lost early televised college football games; 1938)
- Brooklyn Dodgers 23-14 Philadelphia Eagles (lost footage of NFL game; 1939)
- Fordham Rams 34-7 Waynesburg Yellow Jackets (lost footage of college football game; 1939)
- NFL Blitz (lost arcade prototype; 1997)
- Super Bowl II (partially found live television footage of gridiron football game; 1968)
- History summarising the Spygate scandal. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- Sportskeeda listing the Patriots' Super Bowl wins. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- Pro-Football-History providing a biography on Bill Belichick. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- ESPN summarising the Patriots-Jets game on 9th September 2007. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- ESPN reporting on the Spygate tapes and evidence destruction, and Goodell believing it was the "right thing to do". Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- ESPN detailing the Spygate incident and reporting on Belichick's initial apology. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- ESPN detailing the legal practice of recording games. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- Archived The Boston Globe reporting on the Patriots not receiving further sanctions, and summarising the NFL rules deemed to have been violated by the team. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- Archived The Boston Globe summarising the sanctions the NFL imposed on the Patriots. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- Archived The Washington Post reporting on Goodell demanding the Spygate evidence from the Patriots. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- The New York Times reporting on the original six tapes that were destroyed by the NFL and the criticism that followed. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- ESPN reporting on the NFL investigating how the Spygate tape was leaked to Fox. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- NFL reporting on the Goodell-Specter meeting, the claim taping had occurred since 2000, and Specter believing many questions were unanswerable following the destruction of evidence. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- ESPN reporting on Walsh's claims of extensive illegal taping by the Patriots. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- The New York Times reporting on the eight tapes Walsh sent to the NFL. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- Archived The Boston Herald reporting on allegations the Rams' Super Bowl XXXVI walkthrough was taped by the Patriots. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- Archived Yahoo! News reporting on a lawsuit being established and later withdrawn concerning the Rams' Super Bowl XXXVI walkthrough allegedly being taped. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- ESPN reporting on the Boston Herald apologising for the Rams' Super Bowl XXXVI walkthrough tape that was deemed to not exist. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- The New York Post reporting on the NFL taking no further action upon viewing the Walsh tapes, as well as releasing seven to the media. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- HeraldNet reporting on the Walsh tapes showing "nothing new", and summarising the cheerleader controversy. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- ESPN's 2015 report into the Spygate scandal. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- The Guardian summarising the key aspects of the 2015 ESPN report. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- ESPN reporting that Goodell had Pash and Anderson view the evidence, later requesting they destroy them. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- SBNation summarising Deflategate and the sanctions imposed on Brady and the Patriots. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- Pro Football Talk reporting on Glazer claiming to hold a copy of the Spygate tape. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- r/lostmedia post discussing the destroyed tapes, the Fox broadcast, and Glazer claiming to possess a copy. Retrieved 8th Nov '22
- Archived The Boston Globe reporting on the deal Walsh and the NFL made regarding the Walsh tapes. Retrieved 8th Nov '22