A report by ESPN the Magazine speculates the NFL overdid its pursuit of Deflategate in response to the perception that the league let the New England Patriots off lightly in Spygate.
“It’s not surprising that there’s a makeup call,” one anonymous owner tells Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham.
Spygate stemmed from the Patriots taping the defensive signals of the New York Jets from the sidelines in the first regular-season game of 2007 after the NFL explicitly prohibited the practice prior to the season. The taping, which long predated the game against the Jets, allegedly enabled New England to determine against which teams the no-huddle offense worked best and to glean the nature of the defense that lined up across from Tom Brady’s offense. The article suggests the scheme worked better in theory than in practice.
The article claims that Bill Belichick boasted a collection of videos of opposing teams’ signals exponentially larger than admitted by the NFL, that the Patriots signed players recently released from upcoming opponents to mine information, that the franchise jammed radio transmissions used by other teams to communicate, and that New England dispatched “a low-level Patriots employee” to “sneak into the visiting locker room and steal the play sheet, listing the first 20 or so scripted calls for the opposing team’s offense.”
Despite ESPN apologizing to the New England Patriots earlier this summer for falsely reporting that the team taped the St. Louis Rams walk-through prior to Super Bowl 36, the article infers the possibility of that occurrence. The Boston Herald, which initially reported that story in 2008, ultimately retracted it. Since the NFL destroyed the Spygate tapes to ostensibly prevent Belichick from re-using the material for his team’s benefit, verifying ESPN’s claims that the league discovered 40 rather than six tapes remains impossible.
The article quotes players, including Hines Ward, by name on teams that lost to the Patriots expressing certainty that New England used foul means to achieve victory. But very few of the coaches and executives who supplied the authors with information put their names to their claims.