Sunday, May 18, 2008

Matt Walsh Vindicated the New England Patriots!

Almost-semi-pro golfer Matt Walsh finally stopped in to chat with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the videotaping he did for the Patriots. According to the NFL, Walsh told them absolutely nothing they didn't already know, and they considered the matter closed (for the third time), given that they'd already punished the Patriots for that.

However, the punditocracy just couldn't let it go. And in the absence of any new evidence, they rehashed the whole episode, lied about what the Patriots said, did a closer read of what Walsh and his lawyer said, and guessed at the Patriots motivates. And of course, they concluded that there is still more to the story. After all, more Spygate means more viewers, more readers, and more stories about the most popular sports league in the country. And how can that hurt them, right?

So much as I hate to spend the time, I'll take on the worst of the idiocies I've read/heard since Walsh met with Goodell. And I'll give you the straight skinny on what really went on and where the pundits went wrong -- again.

Pundit BS #1: Walsh's tapes from the 2000 and 2001 seasons disproved Goodell's claim that the Patriots videotaping program wasn't widespread.

In point of fact, Goodell knew from the start that the Patriots had taped since 2000. Belichick 'fessed up to it at the very beginning of the scandal -- some nine months ago. This was all over the media at the Super Bowl, but I guess some people were too busy anointing Eli Manning the greatest QB since the position was invented to remember those insignificant little details.

The Matt Walsh-O-Meter: Patriots 1, Pundits 0.

Pundit BS #2: Even without a videotape of the Rams pre-Super Bowl walk-through, Walsh's claim he watched that walk-through and reported back to coaches is proof of foul play.

The reality is that Walsh's claim is questionable at best. Not only did Bill Belichick deny it, so did the coach who Walsh supposedly reported back to. And that coach has no motive to cover up for the Patriots, because he now works for their bitter rival, the New York Jets. Yet, Brian Daboll doesn't seem to recall that conversation with Walsh.

In truth, Walsh could still be telling the truth. But since Daboll denies it and has no motive to lie, we should probably err on the side of caution before lobbing more charges. Or more to the point, the media pundits should have erred on the side of caution.

The Matt Walsh-O-Meter: Patriots 2, Pundits 0.

Pundit BS #3: The fiction that the rule about videotaping was crystal clear has been repeated ad nauseum.

When pundits say the rule was unambiguous, they mostly cite the clarifying memo, not the original rule. The rule itself is long, but I'll print it and let you decide if the last six words allow for interpretation.

Any use by any club at any time, from the start to the finish of any game in which such club is a participant, of any communications or information-gathering equipment, other than Polaroid-type cameras or field telephones, shall be prohibited, including without limitation videotape machines, telephone tapping, or bugging devices, or any other form of electronic devices that might aid a team during the playing of a game.

Seems to me that if the NFL wanted a clearly understood rule, they would have cut off this messy sentence after the word "prohibited." That would have left no ambiguity or interpretation to it. But as written, it is far from the pristine piece of writing most pundits say it is. And they should know better; most of them write for a frickin' living.

(Aside to the NFL: I also think you should eliminate "in which such club is a participant" from the rule. That makes it too easy to think you could send a scout to a game in which you were not a participant and videotape signals from the stands. Consider the legal advice my present to you.)

The Matt Walsh-O-Meter: Patriots 3, Pundits 0.

Pundit BS #4: Since Walsh says he was told to keep his videotaping secret, that proves Bill Belichick *knew* the activity was illegal, which proves BB lied about "misinterpreting the rule."

First off, the Patriots deny this charge, and have shown their staff videotaping completely out in the open in Patriots garb. But even setting aside the dispute over whether or not Walsh was under orders to keep things secret, there are two legitimate reasons the Patriots would have had Walsh keep things under wraps, even if the team believed they were in compliance with the rules.

1. It doesn't pay to expose advantages you develop to your opponents. After all, when Don Shula invented the hook-and-lateral play, should he have reminded the opposing coaches that such a play was legal? Does anyone think that when Dan Reeves had John Elway catch a touchdown pass he was obligated to remind the other team that a QB in the shotgun was an eligible receiver? Of course not.

So if the Patriots thought their video program was legal, why tip off other teams to that fact? If the opposition didn't think it was legal, it would be a slight advantage to the Patriots.

2. The second reason is that if the other team knew they were recording defensive signals, they might make it more difficult to tape them. They could have the coaches sending in those signals move further apart on the sideline. They could have coaches act like they were sending in signals but really have someone else doing it.

It was written long ago that all warfare is about deception. And if the Patriots thought they were acting within the rules, they would have no reason to let the other teams know about it.

The Matt Walsh-O-Meter: Patriots 4, Pundits 0.

Pundit BS #5: And lastly, the idea that the Patriots were the only ones violating this particular rule has been repeated over and over.

When the story first broke, extremely well-respected NFL writer Peter King estimated that between 13% and 34% of the league was engaged in the same practice. Yet the pundits have recently said that the Patriots are the "only ones who misinterpreted the rule" and that they were the "one arrogant organization" that thought they could get away with it.

Well, when up to one-third of the league was doing the same thing, I'd say the rule needed to be rewritten or enforced across the board. But the Patriots were left holding the bag because you can be sure that when they were caught, all the other teams stopped doing it and destroyed any evidence that they ever did. But nonetheless, this pundit idea is as easy to shoot down as a blimp.

The Matt Walsh-O-Meter: Patriots 5, Pundits 0.

Looks like the pundits got spanked again. Maybe they'll learn someday. But until they do, I'll be there to try to set them straight.

Keep the faith,

- Scott