Joshua Prager wrote a book about The Shot Heard Round The World last year called The Echoing Green. The book grew out of an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal that revealed that it wasn't just Bobby Thompson's quick bat or Ralph Branca's meatball that accounted for the home run that brought the Giants the 1951 pennant. Prager did some fine detective work and revealed that the Giants had stashed someone with a spyglass in centerfield at the Polo Grounds to steal signs and relay them, via the scoreboard, to their hitters. It's an important twist to the story since that moment remains one of baseball's most vivid, giving birth to the most memorable radio call of all time as well as the best opening to a book ever, not Prager's but Don DeLillo's Underworld.
DeLillo isn't likely to send an older Cotter Martin to Sunday's Patriots-Jets game for the opening of his next novel but if he was it looks like he would have been present for two tainted contests. Word out of NFL offices is that Roger Goodell has determined that the Patriots did illegally videotape the Jets during Sunday's game. What seemed like a far-fetched joke yesterday has become very real.
NFL security officials confiscated a camera and videotape from Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella on the New England sidelines when it was suspected he was recording the Jets' defensive signals. Sources say the visual evidence confirmed the suspicion.
Goodell is considering severe sanctions, including the possibility of docking the Patriots "multiple draft picks" because it is the competitive violation in the wake of a stern warning to all teams since he became commissioner, the sources said. The Patriots have been suspected in previous incidents.
The Patriots will be allowed an opportunity to present their case by Friday, sources said, most likely via the telephone.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said on Tuesday that no official decision has been made and that the club has not been notified.
The league also was reviewing a possible violation into the number of radio frequencies the Patriots were using during Sunday's game, sources said. The team did not have a satisfactory explanation when asked about possible irregularities in its communication setup during the game.
Frankly, if this is true the stripping of draft picks doesn't seem like a harsh enough punishment. It's hard to separate the heart from the head here but if the Patriots gained one yard because they knew what defense the Jets were going to run they deserve to get the win stripped from their record. So would the Jets if they did the same thing to someone else, not that I believe they'd be smart enough to pull something like this off in a million years. This isn't Tedy Bruschi recognizing the QB's audibles or Tom Brady picking up on tendencies. Nor is it even studying the tape of a game after its over to analyze the signs or signals being sent. If you aren't smart enough to change up your calls against a team you've played multiple times then you deserve to get your ass kicked but every team deserves to feel secure in the belief that they aren't being spied on during the game itself. Not that I really understand what the Pats gained from the treachery. There are enough legal eyes on the field and on the other team that using a video camera and radioing back signals smacks of overkill of the highest order. If the league finds it so unconscionable that it's against the rules, though, it should be treated as a sin of the highest order.
As the ESPN article quoted above states the Patriots don't seem to be strangers to this kind of cheating which makes it strange that the league would just keep letting them get away with it. If this is proven true and the Pats are disciplined by the league for cheating it will, for me anyway, forever tarnish Bill Belichick's legacy as one of the game's brilliant minds. Not that criminal minds can't be brilliant ones but I tend to prefer terms like crafty, conniving and scheming to describe the kinds of people who resort to cheating. All of those times when announcers would shake their head in disbelief about how smart the Hooded Hoodwinker is and how he seems to always guess right about what the opposition is going to run. I wonder if they'll change their tune now that we know that he probably did know what they were going to run.
The Patriots aren't actually strangers to any kind of cheating. Back in 1982 they employed a convict on work release as a tractor driver during a game against the Miami Dolphins. The game was in December during a classic Noreaster and late in the fourth quarter neither team had beaten the elements long enough to score any points. The Pats had gotten close enough to kick a field goal, at least they would be close enough if it wasn't for the piles of snow on the field but Ron Meyer wasn't going to let a little thing like fair play get in the way of that. He called the tractor, equipped with a snow sweeper, onto the field, a courtesy that wasn't extended to the Dolphins, and cleared a spot for kicker John Smith to use for the only points in the game.