The intensity of the Patriots' spying controversy became more acute when the Boston Herald reported that the team had taped a walk-through of the St. Louis Rams before Super Bowl XXXVI. After the commissioner acknowledged that no such tape has come forward, the newspaper issued an apology on Tuesday night.
It reads: "On Feb. 2, 2008, the Boston Herald reported that a member of the New England Patriots' video staff taped the St. Louis Rams' walk-through on the day before Super Bowl XXXVI. While the Boston Herald based its Feb. 2, 2008, report on sources that it believed to be credible, we now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walk-through ever existed.
"Prior to the publication of its Feb. 2, 2008, article, the Boston Herald neither possessed nor viewed a tape of the Rams' walk-through before Super Bowl XXXVI, nor did we speak to anyone who had. We should not have published the allegation in the absence of firmer verification.
"The Boston Herald regrets the damage done to the team by publication of the allegation, and sincerely apologizes to its readers and to the New England Patriots' owners, players, employees and fans for our error."
The newspaper's original story cited a single source for the basis of the report.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Patriots owner Robert Kraft complimented the Herald for apologizing but said he was "very disappointed" that the newspaper "wrote a story that was completely false and unsubstantiated."
Kraft also said he doesn't know why former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh didn't refute the story soon after it came out the day before the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants, ruining their quest for an unbeaten season.
"He could have said that a long time ago and defused it within 24 hours of the story coming out," Kraft said. "If you read the blogs or read people or talk to people, everyone assumed he was the source or was one step removed from the source. You'll have to decide why he waited."
Walsh told Goodell he did not tape the walk-through and had no knowledge that any other Patriots employees did so, Goodell said. The commissioner also indicated he considered the investigation over after meeting with Walsh.
"The erroneous story really led to a second round of inquisitions after September, and it really was a distraction. The sad part [is] that it took away from an 18-0 Super Bowl season," Kraft said.
"We said back in September that we had disclosed all of our actions as an organization to the league. You can see this is true."
The apology came a day after a meeting between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Walsh produced no major revelations about the team's taping procedures.
"I think I speak for all Patriot fans," Kraft said. "We're relieved that this is over and you see that this is nonsense and we were unfairly accused and we're moving on."
Later Wednesday, Sen. Arlen Specter issued a long statement detailing numerous instances of New England videotaping opponents, questioning the NFL probe and saying "an objective, thorough, transparent investigation is necessary."
Unless the league begins an independent investigation similar to the one that produced the Mitchell report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, "it will be up to Congress to get the facts and take corrective action," Specter's statement said.
Patriots spokesman Stacey James said the team had no comment on the remarks from the Republican from Pennsylvania.
The Patriots released a statement Tuesday afternoon that dealt strictly with the accusation of taping the Rams' walk-through.
"For the past three-and-a-half months, we have been defending ourselves against assumptions made based on an unsubstantiated report rather than on facts or evidence," the statement read. "Despite our adamant denials, the report ran on February 2, 2008, the day before Super Bowl XLII. That game was the second-most watched program in television history and it is unfortunate that today's news will not also reach an audience of that size.
"We hope that with Matt Walsh's disclosures, everyone will finally believe what we have been saying all along and emphatically stated on the day of the initial report: 'The suggestion that the New England Patriots recorded the St. Louis Rams' walk-through on the day before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 is absolutely false. Any suggestion to the contrary is untrue.'"
Kraft said he didn't think the report and NFL investigation would leave a lasting stain on his team's reputation. He did express concern how the public far from New England might perceive the Patriots, especially after the most-watched Super Bowl in history.
"All the people watching hear this allegation," he said. "So people in South Dakota or Idaho who we don't reach a lot, [we] had our brand damaged."
But might the team receive some sympathy now that the Herald said it was wrong and the NFL investigation found no walk-through tape?
"Our fans, I think, they will be in our corner," Kraft said. "For people who we either beat their teams or have some ax to grind, I don't know. They may not like us but they respect what we're about as an organization and how we handle adversity."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.