PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -Bill Belichick's hair was a little longer, and he wore a blue-gray shirt with palm fronds instead of his usual gray hoodie.
At least the color hadn't changed much. Nor had his answers to the inevitable questions: Nothing new will implicate him in the Spygate scandal.
In fact, as he faced the media Tuesday for the first time since the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots coach was pretty persuasive. He denied committing any illegalities beyond those for which he already has been fined a half-million dollars.
In other words, if the NFL, Sen. Arlen Specter and other interested parties finally get to see the tapes that former Patriots employee Matt Walsh intimates he has, there may not be anything there.
Belichick's forum was the annual AFC coaches breakfast, a session he more often than not has disdained. But he showed as promised Tuesday, either because he honestly wanted to state his case or because Robert Kraft, the Patriots' owner, told him to do so.
It was a good forum for Belichick. He sat with a dozen or so reporters who cover football regularly and whom he's gotten to know, by face if not by name. Not that the media are any great fans of Belichick's, or vice versa. But most of those he was dealing with respect his professional accomplishments. There was no accusatory edge to the questioning, something that might have turned Belichick into the Surly Bill the public knows well.
The bottom line: He was believable.
He was asked if he had seen a tape of the St. Louis Rams' final walkthrough before the 2002 Super Bowl, which the Patriots, two-touchdown underdogs, won 20-17.
``I have never watched tape of an opponents' practice. Not ever,'' he answered emphatically. ``Not in 34 years of coaching. Certainly not that one.''
Believe that or don't believe it.
The fact is Spygate saga has gone on too long. The Patriots want it over; commissioner Roger Goodell certainly wants it over; and so do the other 31 teams.
There is a draft coming up, then training camps and a 2008 season to play. There is labor friction on the horizon and other pressing issues facing the NFL, not including whether Troy Polamalu-Al Harris-Justin Smith length hair should be banned from covering the names and number on uniform backs. That issue was tabled Tuesday until meetings later this spring, or perhaps until next year.
Still, Spygate remains a pressing issue, which is why it was important for Belichick to be there, even if ordered by Kraft.
When he wants to, Belichick can prepare for a media appearance the way he prepares for football, although he's certainly not as good at news conferences as he is at winning football games.
The Patriots insist there was never any doubt he'd show. One senior team executive suggested the reason Belichick hasn't talked about Spygate since his punishment last September is that until Feb. 3 he gave priority to game preparation. In other words, Walsh and his wandering camera were distractions for a coach who doesn't tolerate those things.
On Tuesday, he never once tried to divert questions. There were a couple about his feelings on the new rule that will allow defensive players to get signals through communication devices in their helmets, a move that in part is a reaction to Spygate. Belichick was ambivalent, although the Patriots voted for it.
There was one question about Randy Moss' new contract, which he answered in Belispeak: ``We're glad to have Randy back.''
There was a question or two about the Super Bowl loss to the Giants and Tom Coughlin, one of the few opposing coaches Belichick seems to respect.
``Tom did a great job. They did a great job,'' said Belichick, more Belispeak to describe a result clearly still painful to him.
The session started with a question about his golf game, but Belichick knew what was coming: Spygate.
``I think they've addressed everything they possibly can address,'' he said, disclosing for the first time he had spoken with ``four or five'' people from the league office after allegations surfaced about taping the Rams in 2002. ``I've addressed so many questions so many times from so many people I don't know what else the league could ask.''
Is there anything else that could come out?
``Nothing,'' he said. ``Absolutely nothing.''
Believe him or not. But remember, this is an extremely smart man. If proved to be lying this time, he is likely to be out of pro football forever.
It's a lot more likely he'll be coaching as long as he wants.

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