In 2007, when the NFL docked the Patriots a first-round draft pick for taping opposing teams’ signals, there were also accusations that the Patriots were jamming opposing teams’ audio communications. But at the time, those accusations went nowhere.
Now the Patriots are accused of interfering with the Steelers’ headset communications on Thursday night in New England, and those 2007 Spygate allegations will come back into focus.
While the Spygate investigation was ongoing during the second week of the 2007 season, Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported that “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.”
Shortly after Mortensen’s report, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that he was penalizing the Patriots for taping opposing teams’ signals. But Goodell said nothing about the Patriots violating any rules with respect to headset communications.
However, Mortensen then reported that taping opposing teams’ signals “could be the tip of the iceberg, and that the Patriots’ practices could include jamming the radio frequency in opponents’ head-sets, and miking the Pats’ defensive linemen to hear the offense’s audibles and the cadence between the center and the quarterback.”
No NFL discipline came from those allegations. And the fact that Mortensen was the reporter who broke the news of those allegations will lead many in New England to dismiss it. After all, Mortensen was also the reporter who incorrectly reported that 11 of 12 footballs the Patriots used in the AFC Championship Game were two PSI below the NFL’s 12.5 PSI minimum. If a false Mortensen report hurt the Patriots during Deflategate, then a Mortensen report about the Patriots in Spygate and Headsetgate won’t be received well in New England.
But the mere fact that the allegations existed — and that multiple teams have suspected the Patriots of headset tampering — means the NFL has a problem on its hands. There’s a perception that the Patriots cheat, and a perception that the NFL either isn’t willing or isn’t able to stop it.