Assistant Sports Editor
Take a gander around Springfield College and you’ll find numerous indicators of the schools most cherished sports accomplishment. Sitting outside of the Student Union, staring into the eyes of every individual who walks out, is good old James Naismith (referred to as Jimmy by his close friends), the inventor of basketball.
In Blake Arena, a hatched egg sits in the rafters, birthing a basketball into the world. And before sporting events, the same words our echoed, ‘Welcome to Springfield College, the birthplace of basketball.’
But could it be, that Springfield is the birthplace to something else?
Something, especially in this part of the world, special (or cheating, depends on what side you’re coming from)?
In 2000, a fresh-faced football coach took over the reigns for the New England Patriots, one Bill Belichick. In that same season, the Patriots drafted a lanky quarterback out of the University of Michigan, one Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr. (referred to as Tom by his close friends, and just about everyone else).
But although the Patriots began building what would eventually be one of the greatest coach-quarterback combinations in NFL history, they also began a more disappointing tenure.
According to former U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was told by Belichick that since 2000, the Patriots had been filming the sidelines of opposing teams.
Now, to the naked eye, this seems to be normal. Football games are filmed, teams view the film, and in all likely hood the sidelines would be in full view. But New England wasn’t filming the games and the sidelines, they were filming the game, and the sideline.
The Patriots were filming opposing sidelines and coaches, taking note of the defensive signals the coaches were making.
That’s where Springfield comes into play. Matt Walsh, a Springfield College alum and former New England Patriots video staffer.
From 1996-2003, Walsh worked within the New England Patriots organization. Originally as a public relations intern during his senior year of college, before becoming a video assistant and a college scout. During his stint as a video assistant is where he makes his claim to fame.
Walsh was promoted to video assistant in 1999 under Jimmy Dee, the Patriots video director at the time. Walsh was directed to tape the signals of opposing defensive coaches.
“They just told me to film the signals, pass the tape along to Ernie Adams,” Walsh told the New York Times in a 2008 interview following the breaking of Spygate. “I actually asked one of our quarterbacks in the information that I provided was beneficial in any way. He said, ‘Actually, probably about 75 percent of the time, Tampa Bay ran the defense we though they were going to run. If not more.’”
It began for Walsh during the 2000 preseason against Tampa Bay and continued for Walsh until he and the Patriots parted ways in 2003, including the 2002 Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams.
To avoid being figured out, Walsh would have reasons for his filmings to avoid any questions being asked.
“There were times when we had to give explanations, specially when we went to visiting team’s stadiums, for why a third video guy needed to be filming,” Walsh said in the 2008 interview. “It’s standard for having a wide-angled sideline camera and a tight end zone copy. It’s not standard to have a third video guy. Some of the reasons we would give would be, ‘Well, our coaches always want two end zone shots. Because we have certain coaches who always want to see our players’ backs and have it from that perspective.’ So that we would use my end zone and Fernando’s end zone together”
Along with Dee, Fernando Neto, the assistant video director, Ernie Adams, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Bill Belichick, and the team’s quarterbacks, Walsh was a part of the small circle that knew about the tapings.
Walsh ended up on the sideline for the 2002 Super Bowl, celebrating the second straight Super Bowl under Belichick. During the week leading up to the game, Walsh found himself on the sidelines following the Rams team picture while the Rams went through their walkthrough, setting up sideline printers for the game.
Walsh relayed the plays that he had seen, including Marshall Faulk returning kicks, as well as formations that the Rams had lined up in. Faulk would later talk to CSNNE.com’s Tom Curran about the plays that the Rams had been practicing during that walkthrough.
“We had some plays in the red zone that we hadn’t ran. I think we got to fourth down — we ran three plays that we hadn’t ran, that Mike drew up for that game. Bill’s a helluva coach … we hadn’t ran them the whole year [and the Patriots were ready for them].”
According to a 2013 article on cbssports.com, the only time the Rams ran those plays were during the walkthrough Walsh had managed to see.
The Spygate scandal would, of course, continue well after Walsh left the Patriots. But, there’s no denying, Springfield College may be able to lay claim to the Birthplace of Basketball, but, it appears it could be considered the Birthplace of Spygate as well.