One of the few positives that emerged from the NFL trumping up charges on the Patriots for deflating footballs?
It allowed Bill Belichick to, for a brief moment in January 2015, do a drive-by on the last time the NFL trumped-up charges on the franchise, back in 2007, when it pinched the team for brazenly ignoring repeated requests to cut the crap with the sideline filming of opposing coaches.
“Look, that’s a whole ‘nother discussion,” Belichick said during the “Mona Lisa Vito” press conference after AP’s Jimmy Golen asked whether the team stopped “pushing the envelope” on the rules after Spygate. “The guy’s giving signals in front of 80,000 people, OK? So we filmed him making signals out in front of 80,000 people like there were a lot of other teams doing at that time, too. Forget about that. If we were wrong, then we’ve been disciplined for that.
“The guy is in front of 80,000 people, 80,000 people saw it. Everybody on the sideline saw it,” Belichick said. “Everybody sees our guy in front of 80,000 people. There he is. So, it was wrong and we were disciplined for it. That’s it. Again, we are never going to do it again and anything that’s close, we aren’t going to do it, either.”
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That brief but telling detour revealed that, while the Patriots acknowledged what they did and owned it, the absurdity of the league prosecuting the Patriots at the level they did – a first-round pick, $750,000 in fines – only served to cement the franchise’s belief they were being singled out and scapegoated.
This week, Eric Mangini – the former Jets coach who put the league onto the Patriots that day – said he’s still bothered that the request for sideline vigilance turned into a permanent stain on Belichick’s record.
“Spygate is a big regret,” Mangini told Brian Costello of the New York Post . “It wasn’t supposed to go down the way it went down.”
Mangini was as close with Belichick as any of his coterie of Cleveland coaches. After graduating Wesleyan – Belichick’s alma mater – Mangini became a Browns’ ballboy and PR intern in 1994.
He was with Belichick from there, through the time with the Jets in the late ‘90s and then in New England where he became Patriots defensive coordinator in 2005 before leaving to coach the Jets in 2006.
"He was my mentor. He taught me everything, and I respect him tremendously. That's not [BS],” Mangini told Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio in 2010. “That's how I feel. I hope at some point, we'll be able to sit down and talk about things and get back to a better relationship."
Judging by the context of Mangini’s comments to Costello, things haven’t been smoothed over.
“There was no great value in what they were doing,” Mangini said. “It wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth it to me personally. It wasn’t worth it to the relationship. … I cared about him. I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want to hurt the Patriots. They were a huge part of my life, too, and the Kraft family. The Krafts were always great to me. It wasn’t like I was thinking I really want to get these guys. My thought was I don’t want to put my team at a competitive disadvantage, no matter how small.”
Mangini was let go by the 49ers in the offseason with two years left on his defensive coordinator’s contract. He’s currently doing some analysis for FOX and is living with his family in Cleveland. I reached out to Mangini on Wednesday but he said he didn’t want to continue to rehash the events of 2007.