NFL fines Patriots coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and team $250,000 for spying on opponent
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When he stands on an NFL sideline for 16 Sundays and a few more each year, Bill Belichick is an undisputed master, with a single-minded and cerebral approach that helped him win three Super Bowls during what might still be a Hall of Fame career.
It's everywhere else that he's had trouble.
The New England coach tried again Friday to move on from the sideline spying scandal in which he was fined $500,000 and ordered to forfeit a top draft choice -- the latest misstep in a year of distractions for the coach who preaches about avoiding them.
"It's over, and we're moving on," Belichick said. "Right now, all of my energy and focus and attention is on the San Diego Chargers and our game Sunday night. So, that's where we're at."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Thursday night that he would fine Belichick the maximum amount and dock the team $250,000 and a first-round draft pick next year (or a lesser pick if the Patriots miss the playoffs). It was the biggest fine ever for a coach and would be the first time in NFL history a first-round draft pick has been confiscated as a penalty.
In doing so, Goodell branded the Patriots as cheaters.
"This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field," the commissioner wrote in a letter to the team.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement Friday.
"I believe that Coach Belichick always tries to do what is best for the team and he is always accountable for his decisions," Kraft said. "He has been a very important part of what our organization has accomplished over the last seven years. In this case, one of his decisions has resulted in a severe penalty for our franchise. He has paid a heavy price and so has our organization. He has apologized for his actions. I accept his apology and look forward to working with him as we move forward."
Belichick was peppered with questions on the scandal again Friday. But this time he seemed bemused by the repeated attempts to get him to expand on his earlier statement in which he accepted "full responsibility for the actions" that led to the punishment.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "It already happened. So right now, we're focusing in on what's in front of us, and that's the Chargers."
For Belichick, it is what it was.
Others weren't ready to put it in the past.
"Really, a sad day for the NFL," Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy said after practice Friday. "It's another case of the 99 percent good things that are happening being overshadowed by 1 percent bad. Again, people aren't talking about our product, they're talking about a negative incident."
It's been that way all year for Belichick.
His marriage broke up after he was named as the other man in a New Jersey divorce that set the gossip columns atwitter. Former linebacker Ted Johnson accused Belichick of overruling the doctors and sending him back onto the field too soon after a concussion.
And that's not to mention the loss to the Colts in the AFC championship, a game in which the Patriots had a 15-point lead at halftime. The Colts went on to beat the overmatched Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl, a victory that could have given Belichick his fourth NFL title in six years.
"All I know is there better not be an asterisk by any of the Super Bowls I was with them," said Christian Fauria, a tight end on the 2003 and 2004 title teams, who is now with the Carolina Panthers. "I better call my wife and tell her to put (my rings) in a safe."
The Patriots' locker room was busy Friday with players at the dominoes table or shooting baskets with balls made of athletic tape. Fullback Heath Evans joked about taking up a collection to pay Belichick's fine, but turned serious when asked whether the scandal would tarnish the team's accomplishments.
"This organization's success speaks for itself," Evans said. "I view Bill in my own way, and that's as my head coach and a man I really respect."
Most insisted that the scandal has not affected their preparation for Sunday night's game against San Diego. Some refused to discuss anything but football. "I am looking forward to playing the Chargers," quarterback Tom Brady said when offered the chance to weigh in. "But thank you for asking."
Belichick did say that video assistant Matt Estrella, whose camera was confiscated while he was on the Jets' sideline, will not be on the sideline for Sunday night's game. "We will change our procedure on that," the coach said.
Estrella will not be punished, league spokesman Greg Aiello said, adding that there is no investigation into claims that the Patriots have been doing this for years.
"Our goal is to stop this type of conduct going forward and level the playing field," Aiello said.
In a statement issued two hours after the punishment was announced, Belichick said he misinterpreted the league's rules but acknowledged that "part of my job as head coach is to ensure that our football operations are conducted in compliance of the league rules and all accepted interpretations of them."
"I accept full responsibility for the actions that led to tonight's ruling," the statement said. "Once again, I apologize to the Kraft family and every person directly or indirectly associated with the New England Patriots for the embarrassment, distraction and penalty my mistake caused. I also apologize to Patriots fans and would like to thank them for their support during the past few days and throughout my career."
But Miami Dolphins quarterback Trent Green was among those doubting the sincerity of Belichick's apology, comparing the coach to the megalomaniacal Marine played by Jack Nicholson in the movie "A Few Good Men."
"Belichick is sitting there, and you know he is getting peeved that he is even in there -- the audacity to bring him in and question him," Green said, laughing. "The visual I have is that eventually Belichick kind of snapped and said, 'You're darn right I (did)."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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