Sports Goggles

Spygate: Cracking the J-School 101 Code

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The most interesting portions of all the pre-Super Bowl XLII shows were those in which “Spy-Videogate” was discussed. While the “talent” and ex-NFL players at ESPN, almost to a man, freaked out about the possibility of the New England Patriots taping the St. Louis Rams walk-through before Super Bowl XXXVI, the reactions of the pregame crews of the NFL Network and FOX were vastly different. There was one person at each of the other two networks who appeared to be genuinely offended by the thought of videotaping the Rams’ final on-field maneuvers before Super Bowl game day. At NFLN Adam Schefter, former Denver Post sportswriter and NFL.com writer and Curt Menefee, the host of FOX’s pregame show.

It made me seriously wonder why and how those men at ESPN banded together and were so vehement in their seeming hate – or extreme dislike – of Bill Belichick and so willing to blindly believe what they heard about the videotaping of the Rams’ walk-through. They appeared to act with a hive mind and speak as one, with each trying almost too hard to trumping the other’s self-righteous stance.

Meanwhile at NFLN Schefter was fixated on the fact the Patriots won each Super Bowl by three points as if it was some sort of magic number while Menefee was going crazy over the lack of concern over the alleged incident by Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, and Jimmy Johnson.

Trent Dilfer told Schefter that if there was anyone to blame in the incident it was Dick Vermeil for having a final walk-through that was any more than a glorified excuse for the team to get together and expend some energy the day before the game. Dilfer, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens, went on to explain that there was no way the Rams’ offensive players were walking through their goal line plays.

On FOX, the ex-players and Johnson, Super Bowl winners all, took turns dispelling any importance on the videotaping of a walk-through, if there was one. However, when it came time for Johnson to talk, illuminating comments spilled forth from the ex-Dallas cowboys and Miami Dolphins head coach’s mouth,

Johnson told Menefee and the nation that one of the producers at FOX witnessed the Rams’ alleged walk-through. He then dropped these bombshells: the Rams did nothing more than drift around the field and gather for a team photo and, no one from the New England Patriots was there videotaping anything.

Menefee replied weakly and posed a hypothetical, what if there was someone would you be angry, question. After Long and Bradshaw laughed at Menefee, the host quickly quieted down and adroitly changed topics.

With all their resources, with Mike Fish and Gregg Easterbrook, NFL specialists John Clayton, Michael Smith and Chris Mortensen pumping up the volume on the importance of former Pats employee, Matt Walsh, who worked in the New England videotaping department, how is it that they all failed to know this information?

Easterbrook went so far as to play the “Journalism 101 card” in his article which acted to castigate anyone he must have felt who is an outsider and is questioning the veracity of ESPN’s reports of New England’s videotaping practices. That Fish and Easterbrook are hot-wired to Walsh, who might have breached his confidentiality agreement by possessing videotapes that are the property of the Patriots organization, and seem ready to stake their reputations on the seemingly shady character, there is ample information to quell the notion that the Patriots engaged in taping a St. Louis Rams walk-through the day before their Super Bowl game against New England.

In the pre-production meeting before NFL Countdown on the Super Bowl XLII Sunday, who met with or talked by phone the Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, Steve Young, and Mike Ditka? How is it possible that no one at ESPN had the information Jimmy Johnson had? NFL Countdown producer Jay Rothman surely had a hand in what information was to be disseminated to the public. But Rothman and/or his assistants probably – and rightfully – leaned on the information provided to them by the reporters covering the alleged taping incident.

At the same time, we were and are left to wonder what Steve Young’s Super Bowl Saturday “walk-through” experiences were. How about Emmitt Smith’s? After all, he played for Jimmy Johnson when the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the 1990s. How about Ditka? He in played in Super Bowls for legendary Cowboys head coach Tom Landry and was the head coach of the Chicago Bears Super Bowl-winning team. Perhaps they, unlike their peers on other networks lined up in various formations and discussed the execution of given plays; yet it is difficult to imagine Smith did, since he played for Johnson.

It appears that faulty information provided by ESPN journalists allowed for the NFL Countdown crew to tow the line and report the distinct possibility that a New England Patriots staffer – Matt Walsh? – videotaped the St. Louis Rams walk-through the day before their Super Bowl game against the Pats. Through this lens the countenance of Countdown crew can be understood and much of their vehemence toward the Patriots can be absolved.

However, what cannot be absolved is the J-101 lesson readers were treated to at the hand of Easterbrook:

Flash back to September. After the league made its strange decision to destroy the materials, then refused to say what they contained, several media figures, including me, did this Journalism 101 exercise: Current scandal involves current taping by the Patriots. Are there any former Patriots video officials from New England‘s Super Bowl runs? That led to a former New England scout and video department official named Matt Walsh, who now lives in Hawaii. Simultaneously, the NFL grapevine was alive with rumors — caution, rumors — that the Patriots were guilty not just of taping sidelines during games but rather of much more serious transgressions. The primary rumor, which was reported Saturday by the Boston Herald, was that the Patriots secretly taped the St. Louis Rams’ private walk-through before Super Bowl XXXVI, that the Pats knew some of the Rams’ plays and formations in advance.

Saturday morning, the Boston Herald ran a story asserting the Patriots secretly taped the Rams’ private walk-through before Super Bowl XXXVI. The Herald cited an unnamed source and did not name Walsh as the person behind the camera.

Also Saturday, Mike Fish reported on ESPN that St. Louis‘ walk-through was devoted to red zone plays — all new plays and new formations the Rams had not shown during the season. Going into that Super Bowl, the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” was the league’s highest-scoring team. In that game, St. Louis was held to a field goal in the first half. The Rams kept getting bogged down, as if New England knew what plays were coming. If the Patriots secretly taped the Rams’ walk-through, then stopped the red zone plays the Rams showed in that walk-through, then won that Super Bowl by three points, then logic says New England materially benefited from cheating in the Super Bowl. If true, this would be the worst sports scandal since the Black Sox.

Let’s put that in capital letters: IF TRUE. We don’t yet know whether the Super Bowl allegations are true. Then again, we are into only the second day of information going on the record and the league finally answering some questions about the subject.

The words scream out, ‘the worst scandal since the Chicago Black Sox!’ And these are preceded by the ominous-sounding:

“The Rams kept getting bogged down, as if New England knew what plays were coming.”

Be afraid of the hoodie, be very afraid; the boogie man cometh.

The words scream out, ‘Journalism 101’, if you didn’t take it, no one wants to hear a peep from you, your voice does not count.

I wonder if Jimmy Johnson took Journalism 101 long, long ago at the University of Arkansas because he seems to have remembered more from his class than either Easterbrook or Fish. Then again, isn’t investigative reporting an art unto itself?

Either way, with Jimmy Johnson’s divulging that the Rams did not walk through their goal line offense plays, that they had no walk-through at all, makes one think that J-101 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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