Bill Belichick has never been concerned about making fans happy. In fact, the only thing that he cares about is winning. As the man in charge of the New England Patriots, he’s certainly emerged victorious quite frequently.
However, the legendary NFL coach came under fire more than a decade ago for the infamous incident known as Spygate. The subsequent fallout included stiff penalties from the NFL. But Belichick also faced a lawsuit from one New York Jets fan who felt particularly slighted by the Patriots.
The Patriots faced tremendous scrutiny over Spygate
Turn the clock back to 2007. The Patriots entered the season as a Super Bowl favorite thanks to some key offseason additions. Tom Brady finally got some help at receiver in the form of Randy Moss and Wes Welker. On defense, Richard Seymour headlined a veteran group that also included Junior Seau, Tedy Bruschi, and Rodney Harrison.
On the field, the Patriots more than lived up to expectations. In fact, they shattered them. From the get-go, it didn’t take an NFL expert to realize New England’s offense could break every scoring record. However, the 2007 season included a highly controversial incident that has become synonymous with the Patriots: Spygate.
During a September 9 showdown with the Jets, the Patriots videotaped opposing coaches from their own sideline. A clear violation of the league rules, Spygate turned out to be one of the most infamous incidents in NFL history. After all, the Patriots had won three Super Bowls in a four-year span and looked to be well on their way to a fourth.
In fact, the team’s first Super Bowl victory against the St. Louis Rams came under intense scrutiny after an allegation surfaced that New England taped the Rams’ walkthrough practice prior to Super Bowl XXVI. That accusation—which Belichick denied—sparked tremendous outrage.
Viewed as the villains of the league, the Patriots had no choice but to accept the punishment handed down by Roger Goodell. And boy did the NFL commissioner make them pay.
Roger Goodell handed down a stiff punishment to Bill Belichick and his team
Violating NFL rules can lead to some hefty fines. In some cases, the punishment can be even worse. In the case of the Patriots and their penance for Spygate, the organization paid dearly.
On September 13, Bill Belichick got fined $500,000 for the “use of equipment to videotape an opposing team’s offensive or defensive signals.” The fine represented the largest one ever sanctioned against an NFL coach.
The punishment didn’t stop there. While Belichick actually got off rather light other than the hefty fine, the Patriots as an organization also had to pay for their sins. The NFL fined New England $250,000. Goodell also stripped the team of its first-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft.
Despite the distraction, the Patriots managed to go 16-0 during the regular season. Brady and Moss set the individual touchdown records for their respective positions. But in a cruel twist of fate, New England fell one game short of completing a perfect season. Thanks to Eli Manning and David Tyree, the Patriots finished the 2007 season with an 18-1 record.
A Jets fan tried to sue Belichick for $185 million
Watching the Patriots win multiple Super Bowl titles and dominate the AFC East already made Jets fans bitter. Finding out that the team violated league rules to ascend to dynasty status put one bitter Jets fan over the edge.
Season-ticket holder Carl Mayer filed a lawsuit in 2007 seeking $185 million in damages. The New Jersey attorney certainly had an interesting method to his madness, according to ESPN.
Mayer contended the games weren’t honest contests and sought $185 million in damages. Mayer came up with the amount by figuring Jets fans had spent $61 million to watch eight Patriots games from 2000 — Belichick’s first year as Patriots coach — through 2007 and then tripling it.
While Mayer had a right to be bitter, the court system ultimately failed to rule in his favor. A U.S. District Court dismissed the lawsuit in 2009. That decision got upheld a year later. The Supreme Court refused to hear the class-action lawsuit, which certainly had to make Bill Belichick happy.
Judge Robert E. Cowen wrote, “At best, [Mayer] possessed nothing more than a contractual right to a seat from which to watch an NFL game between the Jets and the Patriots, and this right was clearly honored.”