WASHINGTON -- For Roger Clemens and Major League Baseball, Wednesday marked a conclusion of sorts in Congressional involvement. For Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL, it may have marked a beginning.
Goodell met for about an hour and a half with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), discussing the New England Patriots and defending the league's decision to destroy tapes and notes turned over by the Patriots in an investigation that has become known as "Spygate."
Specter, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, discovered the New England practice of illegal taping had evidently gone on for years and told Goodell there was potential for further Congressional investigation.
"There was confirmation that there has been taping since 2000, when Coach [Bill] Belichick took over," Specter said of the meeting. "The explanation given as to the destruction of the tapes and the notes is completely invalid. There was an enormous amount of haste."
In particular, Specter cited notes and tapes the Patriots had on the Pittsburgh Steelers in two games during the 2004 season. The Steelers defeated the Patriots, 34-20, on Oct. 31, sacking Tom Brady four times and intercepting two of his passes. But when the teams met again in the AFC championship on Jan. 27, 2005, the Patriots routed the 16-1 Steelers, 41-27, with Brady sacked twice with no interceptions.
"The commissioner sought to downplay the issue about the utility, but from information we've received, there was opportunity for the signal to be transmitted to the quarterbacks so they could utilize these signals that they taped in violation of NFL rules," Specter said. "I found a lot of questions unanswerable because of the tapes and notes had been destroyed."
NFL officials previously said their investigation revealed no evidence of illegal spying in the Patriots' 2002, 2003 and 2005 postseasons, each of which ended with a Super Bowl title.
Specter said the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers each caught the Patriots taping their signals in 2006 and kicked a Patriots employee out.
When the league discovered New England's illegal taping of the New York Jets' defensive signals in Week 1 of last season, it confiscated six tapes and notes from the team dating back as far as 2002.
Goodell said Belichick acknowledged spying since he became the New England coach, telling the commissioner he thought the practice was legal, and the league responded by issuing a $250,000 fine to the team, a $500,000 fine to Belichick and also stripped the team of its first-round draft choice in this year's draft.
But after that, the league destroyed all the evidence and said the Patriots were unlikely to face any further sanctions.
"I felt it was the right thing to do and I told the Senator that," Goodell said. "We had a violation which we detected, we disclosed it, the team admitted to it, and we took unprecedented discipline.
"The tapes are competitive. They contain nothing other than the coaches' signals that have any violation of our policy. I didn't want [the Patriots] to have access to that and I didn't want the other teams to have access to that."
One witness sought by Specter and Goodell is Matt Walsh, a former Patriots employee who allegedly taped a walkthrough practice by the St. Louis Rams before the 2002 Super Bowl. Walsh was not interviewed during the NFL's September investigation, and has refused to comment of late on his role in the Patriots' taping practices.
Specter previously threatened the league with Senate Judiciary Committee hearings if he wasn't satisfied with the commissioner's answers and, according to Goodell, reiterated Wednesday the threat of Congress canceling the league's antitrust exemption.
"We have a right to honest football games," Specter said.