Looking back, quarterback Kurt Warner says Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans is a blur. The underdog New England Patriots simply outschemed Warner's St. Louis Rams, parading out six and at times seven defensive backs and roughing up the Rams' sleek receivers to slow down an offense then dubbed "The Greatest Show on Turf." St. Louis, Warner says, just got beat. The final score read 20-17. That result can't be changed.
But for peace of mind, the two-time MVP wants the league to investigate reports that the Patriots might have benefited from a videotape of the Rams' final practice before that Super Bowl six years ago.
In the latest flurry of news surrounding the Patriots' videotaping activities, a report in Saturday's Boston Herald indicated that a member of the Patriots' video staff might have filmed the Rams' final walk-through in the Superdome the day before the game. The story cited a lone source, described as someone close to the New England team that season.
Rumors of the Super Bowl videotaping incident first circulated shortly after the "Spygate" affair this past September, in which a Patriots employee was caught taping the New York Jets' signals from the sideline, although ESPN.com has been unable to confirm the rumors. Matt Walsh, a former Patriots video assistant who has suggested he has information potentially embarrassing to the team and the league, has refused comment on whether he played a part in the alleged Super Bowl taping in February 2002.
"Really, it is nothing that I care to go on the record about or talk about," Walsh recently told ESPN.com.
Warner, who since has moved on to the Arizona Cardinals, was surprised to learn the league didn't speak to Walsh during its investigation of Spygate.
"It is obvious that it wasn't as thorough as it could have been," Warner says of the league's probe. "I don't have any information on why they didn't talk to him or how far back they went, but just knowing that there was somebody that was involved in that [video department], and he wasn't talked to or they didn't go back that far -- I guess it is disappointing. You would think that if they do an investigation for the integrity of the game, that they would try to do everything possible. And maybe they did, and they just missed it. But as a purist and someone who wants to see the integrity of the game stay where it is, it is a little disappointing that they didn't [look] under every rock to figure this out and to do something to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Warner spoke to ESPN.com about the rumors of Super Bowl spying before the Herald's story appeared. He did not return calls Saturday.
Reached late Saturday afternoon, Mike Martz, now the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers but the head coach for the Rams in that Super Bowl, told ESPN.com: "I hope that is not true. I have great respect for Bill Belichick. It's hard to believe that is true. It's a serious allegation and I hope it is not true.
"Obviously, if there is enough substance to it, the league should look into it.''
According to the Rams' itinerary from Super Bowl XXXVI, the team took the Superdome turf at 12:45 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, 2002, for its final practice, which came after the Patriots had completed their walk-through. The Rams were scheduled to take a team picture at 1:30, eat a box lunch at the stadium at 2 and catch buses back to the team hotel at 2:15.
Warner says he remembers little from the walk-through, other than that the offense ran some of its red zone plays.
Even if that practice had been taped and was available to the Patriots, the advantage might not have been significant, as the Rams weren't in position to use their red zone offense until the fourth quarter.
St. Louis had seven plays inside the Patriots' 30-yard line in the final quarter. At one point, New England stopped the Rams on four successive plays inside the 3-yard line. A holding penalty gave the Rams another play, and, after a timeout, they scored on a quarterback sneak by Warner -- a play that had not been part of Saturday's walk-through but was called by Martz on the sideline.
"It was really just us having some troubles putting the ball in the end zone," Warner says. "We stuck this play in because we had success with it before."
Warner says his suspicions about the Patriots surfaced only after they were busted for cheating this past September.
"Again, they had a great game plan," Warner says of the Patriots' performance in Super Bowl XXXVI. "Coach [Bill] Belichick has been known for that. They executed it very well. And I think you look back from our side and say, 'Well, we had played them once [that] year. They had a good feel for what we were doing and how to stop us. I go back and look at that game and say, 'The approach they took with us is that we're going to beat them up and beat them up and beat them up until the officials make a call.' And I think they went in with a premise that in a Super Bowl, the officials don't want to dictate the course of action. So they're going to be slow to throw flags, especially a bunch of flags.
"At the same time, I think everybody wonders to what extent did they [illegally tape opponents]? Was this something that was just done on game day, or was it something they did throughout the week? [Did] they go to practice facilities? And I think that is the question. And I think that is the unfortunate question, because New England has done a tremendous job. They have been very good for a long time.
"But anytime you have something like this go on, and you get caught doing that, it raises questions. And I think rightfully so. I mean, to what degree did this go on? To what degree did this help them? For how long did it help them? Those are natural questions that you ask when somebody gets caught doing something like this. It does go through your mind. And then, at the same time, as a player, you say, 'OK, even if they had our signals, how much would it help?'"
Warner suggests New England would tape opponents' defensive signals from the sidelines, as it was caught doing against the Jets this season, to decode the communications and file them away for a future game against the same team. If the coaches know the defensive signals, he says, they can filter information to the quarterback through the headset in his helmet, which shuts off with 15 seconds left on the play clock.
"If teams kept their signals the same, then you could get a bead on them and be able to have that information," Warner says. "It would be a distinct advantage."
"No, I don't recall anything that would be suspicious for that game," Bledsoe says. "If that happened during that game, I didn't know about it."
Bledsoe also says a coach -- typically the offensive coordinator -- communicating with the quarterback doesn't have time to offer much more than the play call.
"If there is something that they saw that they can give me, give the quarterback, in two words, they'll do it," Bledsoe says.
As for the possibility of determining in advance the defense the quarterback is about to see at the line of scrimmage, Bledsoe says, "Generally, no. Now, if that is what the Patriots were able to accomplish, if they were able to tell Tom what defense is coming, obviously that would be a huge advantage. But whether they were able to do that, I don't know."
Bledsoe suggests that the scandal has been overplayed and that stealing signals always will be part of the game. As a freshman at Washington State, he received an award from his coaches after he stole offensive calls from the sideline in a win over California; he had been able to figure out when Cal was going to run, pass or screen pass.
"Listen, that kind of stuff has been going on for as long as there have been video cameras," Bledsoe says of the accusations against the Patriots. "I know people are trying to make this out like this is some huge scandal, but it is at every level. You talk about college, you talk about high school -- people are taping stuff, and that is what they do. And they try and gain an advantage that way. And that is what the Patriots were doing."
As for where teams cross the line of fair play, he says, "It is a pretty fuzzy line. Like in other realms in the world, in the business world, when you get into a highly competitive environment, people are going to try and do what they can get away with. That is not unique to football."
Another former Patriots quarterback, who spoke to ESPN.com on condition of anonymity, says that New England pushes the envelope further than most teams and that the Patriots were doing so long before they were caught in September.
Warner says he has no insight into the Patriots' methods, although he has heard from quarterbacks who gained an advantage because their teams stole signals.
"I've actually talked to people this year that said they played on teams that had the other team's signals," Warner says. "So as the quarterback, you go up to the line of scrimmage, and they're telling you in your helmet what coverage you are going to see, what play to check to. And those are obviously distinct advantages -- when you know what a team is going to do before you run a play and you have an idea as the quarterback where they are going to go, where you should go with the football. Now, bottom line: You still have to execute. You still have to react. You still have to block, throw and catch it. But it is a huge advantage."
The question is, did the Patriots enjoy that kind of advantage in Super Bowl XXXVI? Did they pick things up during the Rams' walk-through, during the practices in New Orleans leading up to the game or in a game St. Louis played in Foxborough earlier in the 2001 season?
As Warner paints the picture, that Super Bowl wasn't like any other loss. It derailed a franchise and damaged careers and reputations.
"Let's just say, for instance, that what they did had an effect on the second Super Bowl that I played in," Warner says. "And then to see the course of my career from that point forward -- there was some dramatic changes. Had I won two Super Bowls, some of the things may not have happened through the course of my career. Now, obviously, I put my faith and trust in a much higher source than any cheating that is going on, and believe that God has a distinct purpose in what goes on. But I'm just one example of how our situation in St. Louis deteriorated after the loss of that Super Bowl.
"After we lost the Super Bowl, the organization went into a little bit of a downward spiral, as you see with a lot of teams that lose the Super Bowl. You see how career situations were altered after losing that game. You look at Mike Martz. If he is a Super Bowl winner, that is a whole different thing. Or just maybe guys, that was their only chance to be in a Super Bowl. And to go away losing it instead of winning it, that is a huge deal.
"So if [the Patriots] did something that affected that game, I would hope that all the parties involved would do everything they could to make sure that it doesn't happen again. And to make sure that something that somebody earned wasn't taken away from them in any way, shape or form by somebody not doing or abiding by the league rules."
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.