Thursday May 8th, 2008

So now that the shroud of mystery has been lifted and we know what Matt Walsh has on those tapes, I'm reminded of nothing more than what Gertrude Stein famously wrote of Oakland, and by that I don't mean the Raiders: "There's no there there.''

Just as I've presumed for a while now, the world's most notorious ex-New England Patriots video assistant never had in his possession the one thing that would have taken the Spygate story to a new level -- a tape of the Rams' Super Bowl walkthrough from February 2002. That leaves us with the question of why we had to wait three months to find out what we already knew?

The Patriots cheated by taping their opponents' coaching signals dating back to 2000. That's old news. Then Bill Belichick's team used that illegally gained material to crack its enemies' secret codes, and thereby better prepare to face them the next time. Check. We knew that too.

It's certainly not excusable, and by no means inconsequential that signals were stolen on both offense and defense. But it's also not a revelation. In reality, the NFL pre-empted the significance of what Walsh had long ago, when it acknowledged that Belichick admitted his nefarious taping practices extended back to the very start of his tenure in New England. From that point forward, Walsh not only didn't have a smoking gun in his possession, he didn't have a gun. His materials only re-confirmed what Belichick copped to when the NFL's I-team shined the big bright light in his eyes and put him through the third degree last September.

"This is consistent with what the Patriots admitted they had been doing, consistent with what we already knew,'' NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said via email to various media outlets Wednesday night.

That's pretty much the whole ballgame right there, isn't it? Walsh will have his long-awaited meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell next Tuesday in New York, and maybe he'll flesh out some more details of the Patriots' espionage. But we now know that there's no big hammer headline to come. No suspension to be handed down. For all we know, Walsh might even contend that a Super Bowl walk-through tape was shot, but he won't be able to produce one, and that's all that matters in this story.

I now fully expect next Tuesday to have a there's-nothing-to-see-here-folks kind of feel to it, with Walsh getting a rather dismissive "Thanks for coming, and drive home safely.'' To call it anticlimactic will register as understatement. And I can't say that I'd be able to blame the NFL or the Patriots if they're more than a bit chafed over the whole Walsh affair.

For just shy of 100 days now, Walsh and his legal team have certainly allowed the perception to linger that such a tape of the Rams' Super Bowl walk-through practice existed. It was the unspoken threat, and it was the clear presumption behind the league's prolonged efforts to negotiate terms to satisfy Walsh's request for protection against potential legal action by the NFL or the team.

But only now we hear otherwise from Walsh's attorney, Michael Levy, who told the New York Times on Wednesday night: "Mr. Walsh has never claimed to have a tape of the walk-through. Mr. Walsh has never been the source of any of the media speculation about such a tape. Mr. Walsh was not the source for the Feb. 2 Boston Herald article.''

Oh really now? What exactly took so long to make that clear? If Walsh never even intimated to anyone that he had a tape of the most famous walk-through practice in NFL history, what have we all been waiting for since Super Bowl weekend? Walsh might not have been purely bluffing when it came to the contents of his video collection, but he didn't have a strong enough hand to fundamentally change the dynamics of this game.

The truth is, that has been the belief within the NFL office for some time now, that Walsh didn't have the goods. At least anything it didn't already know about. But Goodell also knew his league would never truly put the Spygate story to rest until Walsh was induced to come forward for his hotly anticipated show and tell session. After Goodell unwisely opted to destroy the six tapes the league confiscated from the Patriots last September, the specter of a cover-up -- not to mention Sen. Arlen Specter -- would linger over the story until Walsh was heard from.

So now we know. Walsh has further documentation that the Patriots' practice of cheating dated to early in the 2000 season. But he doesn't have anything that proves they were guilty of the smarmy charge that they taped their opponent's practice the day before New England's first Super Bowl win in 2002.

Any way you cut it, that accusation was at the heart of the Matt Walsh saga. And it didn't stick. It didn't stand up. It remains nothing more than an unsubstantiated report. A rumor.

Not surprisingly, we're all left to look back and wonder what all the fuss was about? In the end, there was no there there when it comes to the Patriots and their opponent's 2002 Super Bowl walk-through. With that, Spygate finally seems to have at long last run its course. For Walsh, it will soon be time to head back to Hawaii and the golf course. His 15 minutes of fame lasted a lot closer to 15 weeks, but it's almost over.

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