Alleged locker room break-ins, secret tapes and Hamptons parties: The Patriots Way?

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Dan Wetzel
·Columnist
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Tuesday delivered the latest episode of "As the Patriots Turn," and it was pretty eventful, even by New England standards – "New England Standards" being that having a former star tight end convicted of murder this offseason was like the franchise's 14th biggest storyline.

It began with Tom Brady appearing on WEEI and discussing everything from the emotional toll of deflate-gate ("tough, challenging"), to the state of his marriage ("we're in a great place"), to whether he hoped two currently suspended locker room employees are allowed to come back to work ("of course"). He even gave his thoughts on Donald Trump ("a great friend"), although he wouldn't say if he'd vote for him.

It concluded about an hour later with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on ESPN's "Mike & Mike" expressing his fatigue with the disciplinary process after losing to Brady in federal court. Goodell said, in a rather newsworthy nugget, that he is interested in revamping his responsibilities: "I'm very open to changing my role in that."

This is a good news month for most places.

Not in New England, though.

Tom Brady and Roger Goodell in happier times. (AP)
Tom Brady and Roger Goodell in happier times. (AP)

Interviews with the chief deflate-gate protagonists were overwhelmed by the middle of the show when an ESPN report broke that concluded that Goodell's willingness to quickly sweep the 2007 spygate scandal under the rug to the benefit of the Patriots led to a vast overcorrection when presented with deflate-gate, hence the expensive and expansive investigation that hurt the Patriots.

So Goodell botched the first call and the makeup call? Of course, he did.

No one really cares about that, though, because many suspected as much already, and much of it is a rehash. The big news is in the details, of which ESPN has many. Most notably:

"Several [Patriots coaches and employees] acknowledge that during pregame warm-ups, a low-level Patriots employee would sneak into the visiting locker room and steal the play sheet, listing the first 20 or so scripted calls for the opposing team's offense. (The practice became so notorious that some coaches put out fake play sheets for the Patriots to swipe.) Numerous former employees say the Patriots would have someone rummage through the visiting team hotel for playbooks or scouting reports."

Wait, wait, wait … so the Patriots were flat-out breaking into locker rooms and visiting team hotels to physically steal play sheets and other material?

And we just spent millions of dollars on PSI levels? These acts are possible felonies and, by far, the most damning thing ever alleged against the team, or maybe any NFL team. This isn't videotaping opposing coaches from the sideline rather than the stands, which was allowed. This isn't a question over whether the Deflator just needed to take a leak.

This is straight up, big-time cheating, like holy-smokes-level cheating.

If true, there are no excuses or explanations for this. Every other item ever brought against Bill Belichick and the Patriots is minor compared to it. This is a monster of a charge.

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Which speaks to how wild the "As the Patriots Turn" soap opera really is? That item – that bombshell item – came 2,834 words into the ESPN story.

When it takes nearly three thousands words to get to that, you're having quite a morning. But, hey, it's the Patriots – nothing and everything makes sense at the same time.

Like any good drama, the entire morning begs a million questions. Here are a few:

• If the Patriots were covertly sending low-level employees into opposing locker rooms to steal play sheets, how in the world did New England ever lose a game? The Patriots had a defense featuring Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Richard Seymour, Ty Law, Rodney Harrison and other all-time greats. They also knew the plays the other team was running. Yet they didn't win each game 77-zip? Why did they always need Adam Vinatieri to bail them out?

Someone might want to fire Belichick for being such a lousy coach.

A new report alleges opposing teams feared Bill Belichick's Patriots were stealing their play sheets. (AP)
A new report alleges opposing teams feared Bill Belichick's Patriots were stealing their play sheets. (AP)

• Other teams were so certain that someone was breaking into their locker room and stealing their play sheets that they created fake play sheets to trip up the Patriots. (Can you imagine how bad Buffalo's fake plays were?) Why didn't they just set up a camera and catch New England's thieves in the process and get Belichick banned from football forever? Or have a security guy pop out of a locker in an otherwise empty locker room?

Honestly, if the AFC East is so incompetent they couldn't bust this, they deserved to lose every game.

• Of course, later in the story it was revealed New England considered the Dolphins and Bills in particular as being "less sophisticated" and thus easy targets. So it all kind of adds up in the end.

* Do you know one of the Dolphins coaches during that era? Belichick's close friend Nick Saban. Awkward.

* Back to The Donald. On WEEI, Brady said, "I've known him since 2002 when I judged one of his beauty pageants."

So we've got Brady, Trump and about 100 international beauty queens hanging out for a weekend in Atlantic City? Why, oh why, couldn't one of Brady's leaked emails been a detail-rich recap of this? Instead, we got complaints about pool covers.

• It's long been known that Goodell ordered the destruction of the original spygate tapes – which might be why he was so hung up on Brady's destruction of possible evidence. ESPN fills in some blanks, though, namely that the manner of the destruction was having three NFL staffers, including general counsel Jeff Pash, actually stomping on the physical tapes in a Foxborough conference room.

Ha. Jeff Pash is a Harvard-educated lawyer and former partner at Covington & Burling, one of the nation's preeminent practices. As such, the visual of this guy, in some outrageously expensive, tailored suit, jumping around, smashing and crushing tapes brings new meaning to the term white-shoe law firm.

• ESPN revealed that the Patriots' system for recording defensive signals on those attorney-destroyed tapes "would usually include three shots: the down and distance, the signal, and, as an in-house joke, a tight shot of a cheerleader's top or skirt."

Who wants to bet that despite the "Pash-stomps-the-tapes talk," Goodell may have kept himself a private stash?

• Then there is this: Turns out, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman, who vacated Brady's suspension and might wind up with a bridge or something named after him in Boston, happened to be at the same party in the Hamptons over the weekend.

Of course they were. The two reportedly "mingled," but the Patriots say it was only for a few minutes. Also present according to the New York Post: Oprah, Martha Stewart, Nancy Pelosi and enough others that, in terms of fun, it sounds like the polar opposite of the Brady/Trump Beauty Pageant weekend.

• On "Mike & Mike," Goodell denied that the NFL told the Patriots to suspended locker room guys John Jastremski and Jim McNally. This runs counter to many media reports that claim the Patriots acted only because the NFL was going to suspend them anyway. So someone is wrong here. Regardless, this is mostly semantics because Jastremski and McNally can't return to work until NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent approves.

Taking Goodell at his word – we know, we know – does that mean if this was solely the Patriots' call, the franchise can un-suspend them and attempt to bring them back as the ultimate troll job to the Colts and Ravens?

"I just feel terrible they are not with our team," Brady said, which caused the Indianapolis Star message board to combust in rage.

• In actual football news – or speculation – how will deflate-gate affect Brady this season, if at all? The man is maniacal about his complete preparation for the season, including monitoring his diet and sleep habits deep in the offseason. Clearly, this upset things. He sounded tired, both in a media availability Sunday and his WEEI appearance.

So does he enter the season rattled and not ready? Does he start great from adrenaline only to fade late in the season because of emotional exhaustion? Or, do he and Belichick go complete screw-you mode and throw 60 touchdowns as they run up the score on everyone: Take the over for that Week 6 visit to Indianapolis, aka the "Snitches Get Stiches Bowl."

• Apparently everyone who ever lost to New England now believes it was because their practices were secretly taped or something. We're obligated to remind there has never been any proof that any practice was ever filmed and the Patriots emphatically deny it.

Still, rumors and anger persist. Former St. Louis coach Mike Martz is adamant in the ESPN story that New England knew his red zone plays in Super Bowl XXXVI, even though the Rams made it to the red zone only once and they scored a touchdown.

• It's undeniable the Patriots knew Andy Reid would mismanage the clock in Super Bowl XXXIX. This was either via clandestinely recorded tape or the fact they watched any Eagles game Reid ever coached. Somehow, years of enraged callers on Philly sports radio also figured this out.

• Martz, in a damning item, said Goodell pressured him to release a statement saying he was fine with the NFL's quick investigation into spygate even though he wasn't. The story surmises that Goodell needed Martz's support to keep U.S. Senator (and Eagles fan) Arlen Specter from opening a huge investigation.

Martz did his part and no big hearing was ever held in Washington. This is everything you need to know about the NFL.

Where there may have been a real scandal, nothing much happened. To make up for that failure, everything happened where there may not have been any scandal at all.

So we know everything about Ideal Gas Law and nothing about locker room break-ins.

Meanwhile, Robert Kraft and Judge Berman mingle at a Hampton's hors d'oeuvres party, Tom Brady may or may not want to Make America Great Again, and not a single NFL team was capable of designing a simple defensive scheme to catch a bumbling play-sheet theft ring … yet we must apparently believe the same genius coaches came up with actual defensive schemes that would've worked if not for that cheating Bill Belichick.

Of course, that's just Tuesday's edition. Be sure to tune in Wednesday for more.

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