A new report from ESPN has dredged up the "Spygate" scandal, in which the Patriots were caught in 2008 filming another team's practice to allegedly learn their play-call signals. The report claims that not only was it far worse than originally acknowledged by both the league and the Patriots, but it had a direct effect on the later "Deflategate" scandal.
Initially, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said publicly the league found the Pats to have taped only six games of their opponents, reports CBSSports.com's Will Brinson.
However, the ESPN report claims the Patriots recorded 40 games of opponents from 2000 through 2007, and had them catalogued in a library detailing the various play calls of their opponents at the time.
The report claims league officials, during their three-day investigation into the scandal, ordered all the evidence destroyed -- an irony that probably won't be lost on quarterback Tom Brady, who was suspended over "Deflategate" largely because he allegedly destroyed his cellphone before submitting to an investigation.
The ESPN report claims to have acquired notes made by Senator Arlen Specter during his meeting with Goodell in February 2008, when Specter scribbled "No valid reason to destroy" about the Patriots tapes, which were "stomped" "into pieces" by "league executives" not long after they were found in Gillette Stadium.
"Inside a room accessible only to Belichick and a few others, they found a library of scouting material containing videotapes of opponents' signals, with detailed notes matching signals to plays for many teams going back seven seasons. Among them were handwritten diagrams of the defensive signals of the Pittsburgh Steelers, including the notes used in the January 2002 AFC Championship Game won by the Patriots 24-17. Yet almost as quickly as the tapes and notes were found, they were destroyed, on Goodell's orders: League executives stomped the tapes into pieces and shredded the papers inside a Gillette Stadium conference room."
The fallout from the scandal resulted in other owners being furious about the league treatment of the Patriots, whose owner Robert Kraft was instrumental in helping Goodell secure his job as commissioner in mid-2006.
The ESPN report claims one NFL owner said that the harsh punishment meted out to Brady over "Deflategate" was largely a "makeup call," intended to appease the owners still smarting over the "Spygate" scandal.
The Patriots issued an angry statement after the ESPN report was released, slamming "unfounded, unwarranted and, quite frankly, unbelievable allegations by former players, coaches and executives. None of which have ever been substantiated, but many of which continue to be propagated."
The Patriots' denial claims the initial reports on "Spygate" were retracted by the Boston Herald.
In a 2008 interview with CBS News, New England coach Bill Belichick denied he ordered his opponents be spied on, but did admit he stepped over the line when the rule about taping teams was clarified by the league in September 2006, outlawing "videotaping of any type" during a game
"I made a mistake," Belichick said. "I was wrong. I was wrong."
Goodell hasn't weighed in directly on the ESPN report yet, but he said Tuesday morning in an appearance on ESPN Radio: "I have not seen this report ... in any way, but I can just tell you I'm not aware of any connection between the Spygate procedures and the procedures we went through here. We obviously learn from every time we go through any kind of a process, try to improve it, get better at it, but there's no connection in my mind to the two incidents."