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A specter of intrusion
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Things that crossed my mind while trying to come up with all 57 states:

I’ll be up front about a couple of things. My background is in sports — heavily. I’m a huge New England Patriots fan. Have been. Will be.

I was dismayed but not shocked that the Pats had taped opposing coaches’ signals. I’m only shocked that they were the only ones caught, or least done so so publicly.

I’m not condoning cheating, but why is Congress getting its legal briefs in a wad over the Patriots taping methods, not long after the disgraceful sham that was the steroids in baseball hearings, complete with parts I (McGwire being there to not talk about the past) and II (Roger Clemens splitting the House panel virtually along party lines).

The damaging effects of steroids have been known for a while. Look at the tragic ends of former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Steve Courson and former Oakland Raider bad boy John Matuszak. Courson played on two Super Bowl winning teams, but steroids are believed to have damaged his heart. He died in an accident while cutting down a tree on his property in 2005, but before his death, he had begun to describe the widespread use of steroids in the NFL.

Matuszak and Lyle Alzado, another defensive stalwart from the Oakland Raiders heydays, both used steroids. Both died young. As Alzado told Sports Illustrated not long before he died, “My last wish? That no one else ever dies this way.”

The major professional sports leagues’ have unique places in business — specifically, their anti-trust exemptions. When Congress doesn’t like something they do, they threaten the anti-trust exemption. And that gets the major sports leagues’ attention in a hurry (Unlike Major League Baseball, which is classified as a sport and a not business and therefore not a monopoly, the NFL’s anti-trust escape allows it to collectively negotiate broadcast deals and split profits evenly among all franchises).

Sen. Arlen Specter, the esteemed and long-serving Pennsylvania member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, brought up the NFL’s anti-trust status when asking for an independent investigation of the Patriots and Spygate. The NFL commissioner said everything former Pats video assistant Matt Walsh told the league was consistent with what the Patriots had turned over to the league in the fall.

Make no mistake — the Patriots made several of them, going so far as to “misinterpret” an NFL directive that clearly spelled out that using video of the other’s teams signals was forbidden. So they got slammed with $750,000 in fines and the loss of a first-round pick in this year’s draft. They had secured another pick through a trade with San Francisco.

But Specter, and some conspiracy theorists, want to know why the notes and tapes the Patriots turned over were destroyed. Specter, by the way, was part of the Warren Commission investigation, which has spawned a whole cottage industry of conspiracy theorists.

Granted, our Congressmen could find better ways to spend their time — a war in Afghanistan that is now nearly seven years old, a conflict in Iraq that has lasted more than five years, gas prices that have shot through the roof and threaten the economic viability of the nation and half a dozen other issues are on the table.

The last thing the NFL needs and the last thing Congress needs is for the lawmakers to get involved. Our recent history with that has been laughable, and not a good laughable, either. Steroids, in most cases, are illegal, and maybe Congress was right to probe how deep and wide their use in baseball was, but it should have done that for all sports. Baseball, chastened by its superstars’ lackluster performance under the lights of House hearing rooms, finally has taken steps to eradicate performing enhancing drugs from the sport. Baby steps, but steps nonetheless.

I firmly believe that the fans of a game will ultimately decide if a league is being run properly — by either not going or not turning on a TV if they think things aren’t right or they think they’re being had.

Yet Specter knows just how the baseball hearings on Capitol Hill played to the public and he expressed in a news conference Wednesday that he wants no part of that.

He also challenged the NFL’s assertion that the Patriots didn’t get much of an advantage through their subterfuge. Specter, a diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan and one of the Senate’s best legal minds since the retirement of Sam Ervin, said that was “ridiculous.”

For what it’s worth, New England’s record in the six games that were known to be taped — 3-3.