Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis, left, is followed by media as he arrives… (Seth Wenig / Associated…)
The New Orleans Saints, already reeling from the bounty scandal, were confronted Monday with a different type of explosive allegation.
According to ESPN, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis had a device in his Superdome suite that allowed him to listen in on the game-day communications of opposing coaching staffs and did so in his first three seasons in New Orleans, from 2002 through 2004, before the device was dismantled in 2005.
Loomis is suspended through the first eight games of next season for his role in another debacle, the club's improper pay-for-performance program and cover-up, in which players were offered cash bonuses for injuring opponents.
The Saints have vigorously denied the ESPN report, with team spokesman Greg Bensel calling it "1,000% false" and adding that the club and Loomis are "seeking all legal recourses regarding these false allegations."
U.S. Atty. Jim Letten in New Orleans told the Associated Press that his office had been told about "general allegations" involving the Saints and possible wiretapping, but he did not elaborate. The local FBI office also has been informed, although it's unclear whether the alleged actions by Loomis would constitute a federal crime, especially because it appears the statute of limitations on any federal or state violations has passed.
However, the NFL probably would take action if it finds such evidence of cheating. In 2007, New England Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 after a team assistant was caught secretly videotaping the hand signals of New York Jets coaches. The Patriots were stripped of a first-round draft pick for that.
The report on Loomis, which was generated by the network's program "Outside the Lines," cited unnamed people familiar with the Saints game-day operations and gave specific details of the alleged misdeeds.
According to the ESPN report, when Loomis took his seat during home games, he was able to plug an earpiece into a jack that was under the desk in front of him. With the earpiece in place, he could toggle back and forth with a switch, listening to the game-day communications of either the offensive or defensive coaches.
The report also said Loomis had a metal box under the desk that contained two belt packs similar to those worn on the waists of NFL head coaches during games. The packs powered the listening device available to Loomis, which was hard-wired to the audio feed of the opposing coaches.
Bensel countered the report with quotes from Jim Haslett, the Saints' coach during the years in question, and Hall of Fame defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, who has worked closely with Loomis as a Saints advisor the last decade.
Although not specifically denying the possibility that the allegations could be accurate, Haslett, who coached the Saints from 2000 to 2005, said, "To my knowledge, this concept was never discussed or utilized."
During the three seasons in question, the Saints finished 9-7, 8-8, and 8-8.
Kennedy, who watches games from the GM's suite, was more strident in his denial.
"This is completely false," Kennedy said. "I have sat with Mickey for years, for multiple games, and I can say that when Mickey gets up to go walk around during breaks or halftime, I put his earpiece in ... it is WWL-AM radio ... I know this, because I have heard. Plain and simple."
Shortly after ESPN released the story, one of its employees, former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian, didn't question the veracity of the allegations but the value of the information Loomis allegedly obtained.
"There's something missing here," Polian told the network. "I don't know what kind of competitive advantage you could get. Mickey would have to know the verbiage of every other opposing team in order to translate, and then he would have to do it instantly and find some way to communicate with his coaching staff, and get it down to the field in time to be useful. That would be very difficult to do, in my opinion."