U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter said yesterday that he has a list of witnesses and will pursue the "Spygate" case against the New England Patriots that he said involved four games against the Steelers, including two AFC championship games.
"I think Steelers fans have a lot to be concerned about this and I'm one of them,'' Mr. Specter told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an interview yesterday, adding that "maybe Steelers ownership should think about it a little."
In light of new revelations about Spygate, what additional action should the NFL take against Bill Belichick and the Patriots? Vote here.
Specter met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for more than an hour Wednesday to discuss why evidence turned over by the Patriots that documented their illegal videotaping of opposing coaches' signals was destroyed. He said he was not satisfied with Mr. Goodell's explanation.
"I questioned him very closely why they destroyed the tapes and notes,'' said Mr. Specter, a Republican and the senior senator from Pennsylvania. "He gave an answer that made no sense, saying they destroyed them so no one could gain a competitive advantage. But if they put them under lock and key, they couldn't have access to them."
Greg Aiello, NFL senior vice president of public relations, referred to Mr. Goodell's news conference on Wednesday, where the commissioner said, "I think we are going to agree to disagree on certain things, including my view that we had an admission of guilt and, therefore, there was no reason for the tapes to be kept."
Mr. Specter said he specifically asked if they had any notes on the Steelers that were destroyed, and said NFL lawyer Jeffrey Pass indicated notes turned over by the Patriots indicated that four games were involved -- the AFC championship games in Heinz Field at the end of the 2001 and 2004 seasons, and two regular-season games in 2002 and 2004. The Steelers lost three of those games, winning in the regular season in 2004.
"The commissioner confirmed the taping had been going on since the year 2000,'' Mr. Specter said. "He made no valid explanation for [destroying the evidence]. There are a couple other major problems he had, to say the least."
One problem, the senator said, is that Mr. Goodell imposed a $500,000 fine on Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a $250,000 fine on the team and docked them a first-round draft pick this year before the commissioner learned New England's illegal taping had been more widespread.
The commissioner issued the punishment after a Patriots cameraman was caught taping signals of the New York Jets in their first meeting this season. He then ordered the Patriots to turn over any evidence they had of such taping, including notes. Afterward, no other evidence of illegal taping was mentioned by the league at the time.
"The taping occurred on Sept. 9,'' Mr. Specter noted. "He imposed the fine on the 13th, didn't get the material until the 17th and destroyed it on the 20th. He imposed the fine before he had the notes and tapes.''
Mr. Specter said he may hold hearings into the case, which also possibly involved the Philadelphia Eagles, who lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl after the 2004 season.
He said one witness he's talking to is Matt Walsh, the former Patriots video director who may have been involved in taping the St. Louis Rams' walk-through practice the day before they lost to the Patriots on Feb. 3, 2002.
"Matt Walsh is the guy who supposedly taped the walk-through on the Rams game,'' Mr. Specter said. "The picture's starting to fit together. I've been talking to Walsh's lawyer.''
Mr. Specter said the lawyer indicated Mr. Walsh was being investigated "by a guy named Dick Farley, who is an NFL security guy and a former FBI agent.
"I asked Goodell about it and he said Farley does work for NFL security but that he didn't know anything about it.
"The plot thickens.''
Mr. Aiello said yesterday that Mr. Farley is looking at public records and verifying Mr. Walsh's employment history.
Mr. Specter said he's been informed that the practice of Mr. Belichick's staff illegally taping opposing coaches goes back to his days in the 1990s when he coached the old Cleveland Browns. He said Mr. Goodell told him they never looked into that.
"When you have a pattern,'' Mr. Specter said, "you look for when the pattern started.''
The senator said Mr. Goodell told him he has no more plans to investigate "Spygate.''
"He has a fair-sized stone wall erected,'' Mr. Specter said.
Said Mr. Goodell at his news conference Wednesday, "We're not following up; the senator said he wants to follow up."
Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, reached at his home in North Carolina yesterday, said:
"Is it an advantage to steal signals? Yes. Did it determine the outcome of the game? No.''
Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett also said that club officials believe that the results of the game did not hinge on stolen signals.
When new Steelers coach Mike Tomlin first heard about the incident with the New England cameraman in New York, he said at his weekly press conference, "Where there's smoke, there's fire.''
To those who believe the NFL is trying to cover up and minimize "Spygate," Mr. Goodell said Wednesday, "We are the ones who discovered the violation and disclosed it. If we were trying to cover something up, we wouldn't have taken the discipline we did and we wouldn't have brought the situation to light. We have been very clear about what happened. There was a violation of our policy."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .