In his first year as NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell has played the new sheriff in town by handing out stern punishments for off-field transgressions by players such as Michael Vick and Adam "Pacman" Jones.
Now, it appears that Goodell will be taking one of the league's most successful franchises and coaches to task.
The NFL is buzzing about accusations that coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots broke league rules in using a video camera to spy on the New York Jets during a season-opening 38-14 victory Sunday.
Goodell reportedly is considering disciplining the Patriots for videotaping defensive signals flashed by Jets coaches. Citing league sources, ESPN.com reported that Goodell was mulling penalties that included docking the organization "multiple draft picks."
A league spokesman, however, said the investigation was continuing.
Ravens coach Brian Billick, for one, did his best to stay out of the conversation yesterday.
"I've got no idea," Billick said during his news conference. "I've never been smart enough to do it. So I feel kind of bad that I haven't, because someone else is getting an advantage, and I'm not bright enough to do the same thing. But I don't know how much of that is real or not real or imagined."
Belichick issued a written statement yesterday apologizing for the commotion.
"Although it remains a league matter, I want to apologize to everyone who has been affected, most of all ownership, staff and players," Belichick said. "Following the league's decision [on penalties], I will have further comment."
Former NFL player Mike Golic, currently an ESPN radio and TV personality, said that while the egregiousness of the Patriots' alleged videotaping can be debated, the most pressing question is "Why?"
"That's what befuddles me," Golic said. "With all the technology and all the resources available these days to come up with a game plan, why resort to something like this?
"And [Belichick] got caught at a bad time," the ex-defensive tackle said. "He got caught with a new commissioner in charge who is laying down the law."
And because Goodell recently had warned teams about such unethical tactics, the Patriots' alleged video spying appears to be in direct defiance of the commissioner.
While high-tech spying may be outlawed in the NFL, figuring out what the other team is up to, whether it's by eavesdropping or espionage, isn't particularly new.
Art Donovan, the Baltimore Colts' Hall of Fame defensive tackle, remembered a time in the 1950s when coach Weeb Ewbank believed the Chicago Bears were spying on the Colts' workouts.
"Weeb was so sure that [then-Bears owner] George Halas was taking pictures of our practices at Memorial Stadium that we had guys with binoculars checking the upper deck, as well as all of the roofs of the houses on [nearby] 36th Street," Donovan said.
The Colts found no evidence that the Bears were spying, but Ewbank remained unconvinced, said Gino Marchetti, the Hall of Fame defensive end.
"Weeb was so paranoid that he'd have us try something crazy in practice, just to throw Halas off if he was watching," Marchetti said.
Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said it was only a matter of time before someone was caught crossing the line.
"We've always suspected that teams did that," Scott said. "Don't ask me who, I don't know. It's always been an urban legend, but that's why I think we should be able to give a defensive captain a mike and headphones - so that we can be able to communicate and the offense can't just come out and have an unfair advantage to go out there and call the play without talking to the sidelines."
Billick said stealing defensive signals is overrated.
"We've had guys from other teams that we've played sit there and know what the signals are because they were in the system and stand there and try to help us," he said. "Half of the time, they screwed it up. That's why they probably got cut - because they didn't know it. I don't know if it's an advantage or not."
During a conference call with the media that cover the Jets, Billick was asked if the controversy would taint Belichick's accomplishments with the Patriots.
"There's rules in the NFL," Billick said. "You adhere to them and if not, there is a price to pay. What that has to do with what has gone on in the past, what's real or imagined, that's again not for me to comment on."
Belichick, meanwhile, was in no mood to talk about the scandal at his news conference in Foxborough, Mass. He declined to respond to questions about the issue, answered football-related questions for 15 minutes, then walked out on reporters when the scandal was brought up again.
"Is there any other question on the Chargers?" Belichick said, referring to the Patriots' Sunday night opponents. "OK. Yep. That's all. OK. Thank you."
Belichick-bashers might now want to argue that New England's three Super Bowl titles are tarnished by the scandal, but Golic said the Patriots clearly won those championships on merit. And he said the fact that Belichick's teams have been so talented and well-coached only further emphasizes the foolishness of trying to cheat.
"All you can figure," Golic said, "is that it's either stupidity or arrogance."
Sun reporters Mike Klingaman, Jamison Hensley and Bill Ordine and the Associated Press contributed to this article.