It's a story that won't go away. Just hours before the New England Patriots go for 19-0, their taping of the Jets' sideline signals back on opening day is back on the front page and a high-ranking government official has brought it there.
Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote NFL commissioner Roger Goodell this week. Specter was miffed by Goodell's decision to ultimately destroy the six tapes — from the 2007 preseason and 2006 — after he fined head coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and the Pats' organization $250,000 in addition to removing the Patriots' own 2008 first-round draft pick.
"We wanted to take and destroy that information," Goodell said during his annual State of the NFL address at the Phoenix Convention Center on Friday. "They may have collected it within the rules, but we couldn't determine that. So we felt that it should be destroyed."
Goodell said he didn't want leaks even though one of the tapes initially found its way into the hands of a Fox-TV correspondent in September. He contended this afternoon that no games were compromised.
"I think it probably had a limited effect — if any — on the outcome of any game," Goodell said.
Specter, the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania and a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan, reportedly was disappointed that the commissioner had failed to respond to two previous inquires and will call on Goodell at some point to address the NFL's antitrust exemption as well as the destruction of the tapes.
"It's not going to displace the stimulus package or the Iraq war," Specter said, "but I think the integrity of football is very important, and I think the National Football League has a special duty to the American people, and further the Congress, because they have an antitrust exemption."
Goodell remains satisfied with the league's action and believes the Patriots' tremendous campaign shouldn't be diminished.
"I don't think it taints their accomplishments. I think the action that we took was decisive and it was unprecedented and it sent a loud message not only to the Patriots but to every NFL team that you should follow the rules and you'd better follow the rules.
"I think what they did this season was certainly done within the rules and on a level playing field. And I think their record is extraordinary. We know it's never been done before at 18-0 and I think they should be congratulated on that."
There were other significant announcements from Goodell during his Friday news conference. He confirmed that the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints will meet at London's Wembley Stadium on Oct. 26. He added that the Buffalo Bills, the Jets' longtime AFC East rival, will host a regular-season games in Toronto, Canada, in each of the next five seasons and a preseason contest every other year.
"I think it was done to help regionalize the team on an even broader scale than they have. They have regionalized throughout western New York and that's helped the team be more successful from a business standpoint and marketing themselves more effectively," Goodell said. "They have a tremendous amount of interest north into Canada and the Hamilton-Toronto area."
Don't be surprised if the Jets are Canada-bound for a game vs. the Bills at some point over the next few seasons.
The large American market of Los Angeles hasn't had a NFL team in decades and Goodell wants that changed.
"We want to get back in Los Angeles," he said. "If and when we come back, we want to do it successfully."
As part of the league's current labor agreement, the ownership and the players have the right to terminate the deal in November. While NFLPA head Gene Upshaw threatened a possible strike if the owners opt out, Goodell thinks an agreement will be reached.
"I don't think it's any secret that a number of our owners are concerned with many aspects of the current labor deal," he said. "That's something we need to improve, something we need to address, and we will do that directly with the union and I believe we will come to a resolution that is good for the game, good for our players, good for the owners and good for our fans most of all."
Perhaps the most interesting topic broached today won't receive too many headlines but could have a dramatic impact on the league.
"We are going to look at the potential of seeding our teams differently after they qualify for the playoffs, so you could potentially make more of the regular-season games have significance to the postseason," the commissioner said.
There were no playoff implications when the Giants and the Patriots met in the season finale at the Meadowlands. They still played one of the most entertaining game of the season and will meet in 48 hours in Super Bowl XLII.
"One of the highlights to the 2007 season was the Giants and the Patriots game where there were no consequences to the postseason and those two teams played their heart out and they showed the spirit of competition and what I think makes the NFL great," Goodell said. "That was one of the proudest moments I had in 2007."