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Patriots should lift Spygate's shadow

February 05, 2008|Sam Farmer | ON THE NFL

PHOENIX -- Today belongs to the New York Giants.

If their 17-14 victory over New England wasn't the greatest upset in Super Bowl history, it certainly belongs in the argument. Both quarterback Eli Manning and Coach Tom Coughlin shed the yoke of mediocrity and, in astoundingly short order, carved out a spot for themselves in New York sports lore.

But long after the last piece of ticker tape floats to the ground, something else about the 2007 NFL season will linger in the air:

To what extent did the New England Patriots cheat?

Say what you will about Sen. Arlen Specter's (R-Pa.) very public speculation that the NFL participated in a coverup by destroying videotape the Patriots illicitly shot of New York Jets coaches sending hand signals to their defensive players. Some have suggested his comments were politically motivated and timed to steal a few moments of the Super Bowl spotlight.

Should Specter now walk away from the door he kicked open, that will tell us a lot. He butted his way into this fight, right or wrong, so it's up to him to see it through to its conclusion.

Can the Patriots gripe? No. They were nabbed secretly taping those videos and are not in a position to complain if speculation and allegations keep bubbling to the surface. Rest assured, until the air is cleared on the so-called Spygate scandal and the NFL conducts a transparent investigation that lets all fans -- and not just those of the Patriots -- believe that no stone has gone unturned, the story will not die.

The story will come up at the draft when, as punishment, the Patriots have to forfeit the second of their two first-round picks.

It will come up when the Patriots play the Jets twice a year.

It will come up when the Patriots play the St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers and Eagles -- all losers to Bill Belichick's teams in Super Bowls.

It will come up when the Patriots are playing for their next Lombardi Trophy, and there's every indication they will be a contender then.

"The nature of the situation is that the media and the public will never write it off and say, 'OK, we've heard enough,' " said Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney. "They'll never say that."

Not until some tough questions are answered.

Just check out this sampling of lines today from newspapers representing the country's largest media market:

From Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News: "On its biggest day, on its biggest stage, this was not what the NFL wanted. A nightmare. It was like someone reporting Santa Claus had been busted for shoplifting on Christmas Eve."

Wrote Rich Cimini of the Daily News: "The cheaters finally got their comeuppance."

From Kevin Manahan of the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger: "Your mom always told you, and you never listened: Cheaters never prosper. Now do you believe her?"

And the New York Times' Harvey Araton referred to Belichick's "efforts to maximize his DVD collection by surreptitiously taping at least one opponent, probably more . . ."

I believe that the NFL sincerely wants to get to the bottom of this. Remember, while Roger Goodell might be the commissioner, he has 32 different bosses with 32 competing interests. If the cheating wasn't confined to the six tapes the NFL has already seen -- some from last season, others from a 2007 exhibition game, and, of course, the tape of the Jets -- then those other teams would want to know, right? (Unless, of course, such cheating is common practice. Then we have a different story.)

The latest allegation is that the Patriots taped the Rams' final walk-through practice the Friday before New England's stunning Super Bowl victory at the end of the 2001 season, the one that started the dynasty.

Goodell is heading to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, and also hopes to speak to Matt Walsh, the former Patriots videographer who reportedly has indicated he knows of improper taping of opponents that happened long before this season. He's now a golf pro at a resort in Lahaina.

If someone says they have legitimate evidence against the Patriots, they should either step up or shut up.

Let's assume for a moment this is merely jealous persecution of the Patriots, an attempt by envious teams -- and, even after Sunday there are still roughly 31 of them -- to go to any means to tarnish what New England has accomplished.

Well, Belichick should want to put that to rest. He should want to explain himself fully, open up more than he ever has, and make all of this go away.

NFL fans deserve that. His team deserves that, because clearly the Patriots are good enough to win games without the help of secret tapes or deciphered hand signals.

The Patriots blew away 18 consecutive opponents. Now it's time for the team and the league to blow away something else: the fog of suspicion.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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